Having been involved in four World Cup squads throughout his 16-year career, Marc Wilmots epitomizes the fine crop of Belgian talent that succeeded the legendary Mexico 1986 squad.
Although he proved to be a divisive figure before retiring at the age of 34, he was an icon of the Belgian soccer team during the 1990s. Following his second spell at Schalke 04, where he made his reputation, the former Belgium player of the year finally retired from playing in 2003.
We met the so-called ‘Taureau de Dongelberg’ (Bull of Dongelberg). He has been playing football since his father was a farmer and was given the nickname by fans because of his background.
The candor of Wilmots has never diminished either, as he has never felt the need to please everyone.
Marc Wilmots First Break
The youngster had begun his career 16 years earlier with a team called Sint-Truiden, based near his home in Jodoigne. He says he was in the league’s top scorers at 17, the age of 17. At that age, I had a great set of fans supporting me.
He joined Mechelen in the summer of 1988 after they had lifted the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. In his first season there, Wilmots won the Belgian league title. In 1991, he moved to Standard Liege, where he helped them win their first trophy since winning the league title eight years earlier.
After a second season in which Marc Wilmots scored 22 goals, the team could celebrate yet again. “I have to say that my best moment was playing in the Belgian Cup final with Standard Liege in 1993.”
The German Experience
Within three years, the midfielder headed for Germany and Gelsenkirchen outfit Schalke 04. As Marc Wilmots reflected on the club’s UEFA Cup triumph in 1997, he could not help but express excitement in his voice. “We faced Inter Milan in the final.” he recalled.
“In the return match, we held on until the 88th minute after I scored the goal that made it 1-0 at home. Extra time followed, and the match then went to penalties. I was given the opportunity to take the winning penalty kick, and I buried it. We won the European Cup for the first time since we returned to Europe after 19 years.”
“Despite being on our side and with luck, we went all out and earned the victory. Our team averaged 30 years old and was full of players like me, working hard and making a real effort. That club helped me make my mark internationally.”
Memorable Moments Of Marc Wilmots
“It was a great experience and I wouldn’t change anything. Since I was a child, I have always been able to make my own decisions, and they have always suited my mentality and my sporting abilities. People predicted I was going to die at Schalke, and in my first season we won the UEFA Cup.”
He collected trophies at every club he joined, aside from Bordeaux. Even when Marc Wilmots’ wings were clipped by constant injuries, he invariably pulled himself back up. He stated with pride, “Even in the lows, I was able to climb higher“.
Marc Wilmots was known for his robustness. “During my lifetime, I had 13 operations. Without my mental strength, I may not have been able to recover. One of my greatest achievements is playing in the 2002 World Cup at the age of over 33. There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you have enough willpower.”
The fact that he was called up to play for the second leg of the Diables Rouges’ Europe Zone play-off against the Czech Republic more than five weeks after spending time on the sidelines earlier that year is also telling.
Marc Wilmots scored the game-winning penalty within thirty minutes remaining in Prague to secure Belgium’s place at the 1994 soccer tournament.
His Fondest Memory
One of his fondest memories is the FIFA World Cup 2002, not least because he was Belgium’s top scorer in Korea/Japan with three goals. However, he did not want to go. “I promised that after the qualifiers, I would give my position to a kid,” Marc Wilmots remembered.
I was convinced by Waseige, though. Because I was going to retire afterward, I went there in a relaxed mood. Russia’s match to qualify for the Round of 16 went flawlessly. As a result of the press criticism, the spirit was extraordinary, and we came together like never before.
“Ultimately, our campaign rallied the Belgian people behind the Diables Rouges. It was magnificent to go out like that.” The following season, Wilmots stepped down from the club game, bidding Schalke 04 farewell after one season.
Wilmots International Career
The War Pig scored 28 goals in 70 caps for Belgium National Team. His first international goal came in May 1990. He was involved in four editions of the biggest sporting tournament in the world, playing in three as a player.
After being an unused substitute in 1990, he played 54 minutes in 1994 without scoring but scored two goals in 1998 and three in 2002, making him Belgium’s leading goal scorer in World Cup history. Wilmots also played in Euro 2000, when Belgium co-hosted the tournament.
The FIFA World Cup was his first international tournament in 1990 when he was an unused substitute. In the 1994 tournament, he played 54 minutes without scoring.
World Cup Five Time Goalscorer
In 1998, the striker scored two goals, and in 2002, he added another three to his World Cup tally. He still holds the Belgium record with Romelu Lukaku, who scored five during the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
When he retired, Marc Wilmots was Belgium’s equal second top scorer with 28 international goals from 70 appearances. (Since then, it has moved to equal fourth spot) He also held the record for the most inclusions in a World Cup squad with Franky Van der Elst and Enzo Scifo with four.
Marc also holds the record for the fastest goal by a substitute when he second against France in 1992 after 1 minute 4 seconds.
Wilmots is likely busier than ever, even though such highs are behind him. Marc Wilmots and his wife have been running a company since 2000. During the summer of 2004, Marc Wilmots became manager of Sint-Truiden but was sacked two months later.
As one of the founding members of the Mouvement Réformateur party, Mark Wilmots served in the Senate for four years between 2003-07. Since his stint in politics, the attraction of soccer management came back.
He was named assistant coach of Belgium by Dick Advocaat. In addition to serving as interim coach, Marc Wilmots became Belgium’s permanent head coach, signing a contract through June 2014. FIFA World Cup 2014 qualification was achieved by Belgium. After topping the group stage with three wins, Belgium exited the tournament in the quarter-finals.
The Belgium Manager
Marc Wilmots became the Belgium national soccer team head coach in 2012. Over the next four years, he led his nation to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 UEFA Euro Championships. He also led the national team to its highest FIFA ranking in 2015.
Marc resigned after being knocked out of the 2016 UEFA Euro Championships by Wales 3-1 in the quarter-finals. The head coach’s record was 34 wins from 51 matches, only losing nine times. He became well respected for his 4-2-3-1 formation.
Belgium reached the highest FIFA ranking spot in its history in 2015 under the guidance of the War Pig.
Marc Wilmots International Experience
Marc Wilmots became the head coach of the Ivory Coast national team in March 2017. He was fired six months later after failing to qualify for the World Cup. Wilmots was appointed manager of the Iranian national team by Wilmots on a three-year contract in May 2019. However, he only held the position for six months.
In 2021, he became head coach of Raja Club Athletic in Morocco but was sacked after a year.
The people of Belgium and the football world will remember Marc Wilmots as an aggressive midfielder who constantly scored all-important goals in big matches. He will be seen as one of the best players Belgian soccer has produced in its history.
Marc Wilmots Facts And Figures
Full Name: Marc Robert Wilmots
Birthplace: Jodoigne, Belgium
- Sint-Truiden 1987–1988
- Mechelen 1988–1991
- Standard Liège 1991–1996
- Schalke 04 1996–2000
- Bordeaux 2000–2001
- Schalke 04 2001–2003
Total Appearances: 321 matches, 133 goals
National Team Career:
- Belgium 1990–2002 (70 appearances, 28 goals)
Marc Wilmots Teams Coached:
- Schalke 04 (interim) 2003
- Sint-Truiden 2004–2005
- Belgium National Team (assistant) 2009–2012
- Belgium National Team 2012–2016
- Ivory Coast 2017
- Iran 2019
- Raja CA 2021–2022
- 1988–89: Belgian First Division Champions
- 1988: European Super Cup Winners
- 1989: Amsterdam Tournament Winners
- 1990: Jules Pappaert Cup Winners
- 1992–93: Belgian Cup
- 1996–97: UEFA Cup Winners
- 2001–02: DFB-Pokal Winners
Belgium International Team
- 2002 World Cup: FIFA Fair Play Trophy
- 1989–90: Young Professional Footballer of the Year:
- 2001 and 2002: Best Belgian Footballer Abroad
- 2002: Belgian Sports Merit Award
- 1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002: Four FIFA World Cup participations
- 2013 and 2014: Belgian Sports Coach of the Year
- 2015: Raymond Goethals Award
- 2015: Globe Soccer Awards Best Coach of the Year
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!