Having played in three World Cups over the course of 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 Belgian football during the 1990s.
Following his second spell at Schalke, where he made his reputation, the former Belgium player of the year finally retired from playing in 2003, and he promptly moved to Liege, Belgium. That is where we happened to meet the so-called ‘Taureau de Dongelberg’ (Bull of Dongelberg). He has been playing football ever since his father was a farmer. The candor of Wilmots has never diminished either, as he has never felt the need to please everyone.
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 with 30 minutes remaining in Prague to secure Belgium’s place at the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament.
His Fondest Memory
One of his fondest memories is the 2002 FIFA World Cup, not least because he was Belgium’s top scorer in Korea/Japan with three goals. However, he did not really 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 farewell after one season.
Marc Wilmots First Break
In fact, the youngster had begun his career 16 years earlier with a team called Sint-Truiden, which was 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 would have to say that my best moment was playing in the Belgian Cup final with Standard in 1993.”
Within three years, the midfielder was heading for Germany and Gelsenkirchen outfit Schalke. 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.
In spite of being on our side and with luck on our side, 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 really helped me make my mark internationally.”
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. 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 also became Belgium’s permanent coach, signing a contract through June 2014.FIFA World Cup 2014 qualification was achieved by Belgium. After topping their group with all three wins, Belgium exited the tournament in the quarterfinals.
Marc Wilmots became the manager of the Ivory Coast national team in March 2017. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup, he was fired six months later. 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.
The people of Belgium and the soccer 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.
Main Image: The Guardian
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!