Football heroes (4) - Rob de Wit
I remember the exact moment I predicted him a great future. We were on our way to the football training, just past the lemonade factory, a bit more to go, three of us on a bike. We were discussing the Dutch national team. Because of an injury they called Rob de Wit, left winger of the under 21 team who were still trying to qualify for some major tournament themselves. I remember my exact words: Should he come up as a substitute, the under-21 will never see him again.
Only a year before he was transferred from his hometown Utrecht to Ajax, where he had to become the next Jesper Olsen. His first season wasn't brilliant, but once in a while he showed that he had all skill to become a big star. At Ajax he was one of three young players from Utrecht, together with Van Basten and Vanenburg.
Rob de Wit did come up as a substitute that evening. Hungary away, they had already qualified for Mexico '86, the Dutch needed a win desperately, though in the first half did not create one single opportunity. A creative winger was urgently needed. De Wit came up, tried a few things and halfway in the second half made the goal that to me is still the best goal I have ever seen anybody make in an Orange shirt. Remember, I have seen Van Basten score against the Soviet Union in the euro '88 final. De Wit got the ball on the left wing, starts a dribble coming in from wide. With one great movement he crossed through the whole defence, in between two defenders, entering the box with the ball glued to his left foot. Alone before the goalie he threatens to shoot, fooling the goalie, waiting for the goalie to fall and then chips the ball over him into the net. 0-1 and the Dutch won the game.
They qualified for a play off against Belgium. Playing with ten men they lost 1-0 in Brussels and needed a win at home. Still our national coach, the famous Beenhakker, is too chicken to play De Wit from the start. At half time he comes up, has an assist and scores himself, the Dutch are 2-0 up. Single handedly he makes the Dutch team go to the World Cup in Mexico. Remember this is a team that already has Koeman, Rijkaard, Van 't Schip, Vanenburg, Gullit, Kieft and even Van Basten on it. They needed the brutal little winger from Utrecht to make it back to the world cup, where the real greats belong. Another coaching mistake gave the Belgians an away goal a few minutes before time. They qualify on the away goals rule and play their best tournament ever, 4th. The Dutch sit and watch at home.
Not Rob de Wit though. Summer 1986 during a game of tennis on his holiday in Spain he felt not well. He sits down and someone gets him a doctor. He had had a brain hemorrhage. Somehow he manages to remain optimistic. After recovering he wants to come back on the pitch. He gets as far as training with the group for a short while. Something goes wrong in the after treatment and he worsens again. Another year later he gets a farewell in the Meer, a full crowd is in tears as he staggers to the midfield circle.
In 1988 the Dutch win their biggest title. In the Euro 1988 tournament they beat the hosts in the semi final and then beat the Soviet union, 14 years after they lost their first final in the same stadium. They played without a left winger. They didn't have a real winger available. Started with Van 't Schip, a right winger on left, then played Koeman, a left midfield player out of position. Van Basten became a world star during that tournament, Rijkaard was the big star, Gullit was already a major hero. Rob de Wit should have been in that team.
A decade later he lives in a small apartment in Utrecht, owns a sandwich shop. He plays football once a week with a group of friends indoors. He can't walk properly, so he is the goalie. On the other side the goalie is one of the very few survivors of the Suriname air crash a few years before. If you hear him talk, you really need to concentrate to understand what he is saying, his face looks different, time has not helped him in anyway. His son is at an age now that he starts asking questions. Apparently he does have some video material. For me that one goal would be enough. Just sit in front of the television for a whole day play that goal, rewind it and replay it. Rewind and replay it. See the defence being stunned over and over again. See him chip the ball and run away, his look as amazed as most of us at home. Watch that one goal over and over. Dream of what could have been.