Belgium's Player of the Century

                            An Exclusive La Cancha Interview
                                                                                                          by Gerard Robbins

Paul Van Himst at age 16 made his debut for Anderlecht, and at age 17 was selected for the national team for the first of 81 times.  Paul Van Himst is the footballer with the longest list of achievements in Belgium: with Anderlecht he was champion eight times and cupwinner four times.  Three times he was Belgium's top scorer, four times winning "De Golden Schoen", scoring 235 goals in competition football and 30 goals for the national team.  But it is not just the imposing honour roll that makes Paul Van Himst the best Belgian footballer of all times.  This "Brusseler" was a pleasure to the eye, an elegant, technically superb and refined footballer, who in his period  of glory was known as the white Pele, a genial but simple star, Paul Van Himst, with his extraordinary stong muscles, was a child of Anderlecht.  For fifteen years he was the architect and moulder of the Brussels team, the figurehead of the proud, academic football of the purple-white team.  His ball control and his slaloms  were as inimitable as the way he was able to curl the goal into the goal  with the outside of his foot. Van Himst scored goals of almost poignant beauty.  But he was also seen as the focal point and the opportunist of the team, with which he experienced both tragedy and triumph. During a bad World Cup for Belgian football in Mexico in 1970, Van Himst and the national team performed poorly, and when later everyone pointed the finger at him , he announced he was quitting the Belgian national team.  Only to make a cast-iron comeback in 1972 with Belgium ending number three in the European Cup.  Throughout his careeer Van Himst was know for his  affability. Grandiloquence was lost on him.  A style he continued when, among other things, he became trainer of Anderlecht, with which he won the UEFA Cup in 1983, and the national team that he took to the World Cup in America in 1994.  The aura surrounding the now 56 year-old Paul Van Himst remains immense, which is why he was offered the job of ambassador for the coming Euro.  

La Cancha was honored to have met and interviewed this giant of football during our recent tour of Europe while attending the FIFA Hall of Fame Awards in Brussells, Belgium. Below is the text of our exclusive interview with the great Paul Van Himst.

Top Right:  Paul Van Himst accepts the award for Belgium Player of the Century at the FIFA Hall of Champions ceremony in Brussells, Belgium.

Q: We'd like to ask you about the two largest competition that are coming EURO and World Cup 2002. First, what is yourv position on the EURO2000 being co-hosted by Belgium and Holland.
A: I think it is a very good idea. Belgium is not so big a country and an event as big as the EURO2000 is better hosted by both countries.

Q: What do think are Belgium's chances of winning EURO2000 particularly half of the games are being held on Belgium soil?
A: Winning I think will be very difficult for any team including Belgium.  However I believe that Belgium will play in the semi-finals while Holland will be in the finals.

Q: Looking farther ahead at World Cup 2002. Do you think a South American country will win or do you think that Europe will again bring back the cup and  if so, why?
A: I think a team from any continent can win the cup not only a European.

Q: And what is your view on having a World Cup every two years.
A: I think every two years is too much. I mean there are so many events such as the European Cup, etc.. I think a World Cup every 4 years is enough.

Q: Now looking at the team you played for Anderlecht, what is your opinion of Anderlecht's coach Aime Anthuenis?
A: I think he is a good coach. He coached Genk last year and he also has a very good team.

Q:  As you are aware, your former team Anderlecht played a wonderful game yesterday. Do you
believe they can win the championship this year and why?
A: I think that Anderlecht will win, not only because they are the best team, but because the other
teams are playing very bad at this moment. The other teams have lost so many points so I think there will be no problem for Anderlecht to win this year.

Q: When you were younger who did you admire watching.
A: I enjoyed very much watching another center-forward from Anderlecht. His name is Jef Mermans.  In this game you know, there are two positions which are spectacular. One is the forward player who makes goals, and the other is goalkeeper who saves goals.  The mid position player is not so exciting to watch but Jef Mermans was a mid position player who scored many goals. After Mermans came Pele. Pele played with his head. He was not only a great player but also is a great person off the field..

Q: I come from America and I'd like to know what you believe America has to do to improve it's level of play?
A: I saw USA in World Cup 1994 and they played very well. America is not so bad eh?

Q: What is your opinion of this years nomimees for World Player 1999?
A: I know them having seen them play on television... Beckham with Manchester United, Rivaldo with Barcelona and Batistuta playing in the European Cup.  I think Rivaldo is a very technically sound player. Although he does not play the forward position he makes many goals. I think that Batistuta is the best forward in Europe. In Italian league competition it is very very difficult to make goals even when you are considered a very good player.

Q: How would you rate today's player as compared with the players in your era?
A: That is difficult to say, we had many good players then as there are good players now. Also, the rules have somewhat changed and are still being modified as have training methods.

Q: Lastly, how do you feel about being honored by the FIFA Hall of Champions?.
A: To be recognized for one's achievements is always a wonderful experience. I am  very grateful and honored to receive such recognition. 


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