Retirement. Rob Rensenbrink stepped down this year – a quiet finish of illustrious career. He played his last football for Toulouse (France) and it was not a great season… 12 matches and 1 goal. One of the greatest heroes of the 1970s exited the game modestly. Well, his game was no longer the same for some time and considering his current state of health (diagnosed with Spinal muscular atrophy in 2012), injuries must had been the reason for his decline. He played football for a very long time, though.
Born in 1947, Rensenbrink debuted for DWS Amsterdam in 1965. In 4 years the very young left winger played 120 matches, scoring 34 goals – and he was noticed.
First by the national team coach and then by FC Brugge (Belgium). He debuted for Holland in 1968. The next year moved to Belgium, following in the steps of countless Dutch players. This move was both a blessing and a curse: he became true star in Belgium, but meantime ‘total football’ took the world by storm and he was not part of it. But he won his first trophy with FC Brugge in 1970 – the Belgian Cup.
And moved to the real thing at the time – Anderlecht – in 1971. However, his true international break-through was in 1974, when Rinus Michels made him a starter of his great team at the World Cup finals.
Rensenbrink became forever one of the great ‘flying Dutchmen’ and instantly a world-class star. Now he was expected to really shine.
And he shined, winning with Anderlecht the Cup Winners Cup in 1976. Now Anderlecht was the team taking over where Ajax left – and, with Rensenbrink, won a second Cup Winners Cup in 1978. And Rensenbrink was expected to replace Cruijff in the Dutch national team and lead it at the 1978 World Cup.
It was bitter-sweet time: Rensenbrink spent much time protesting his new role – he said he was no Cruijff and cannot play like him. Yet, he played well, Holland reached the World Cup final for a second time and… lost. If Rensenbrink scored… but the ball went to the goalpost and not in the net. “If the trajectory of my shot had been five centimetres different, we would have been world champions. On top of that, I would have been crowned top scorer and perhaps chosen as the best player of the tournament – all in the same match. That’s why I keep things in perspective.”, said Rensenbrink. Twice unlucky… he was injured at the 1974 final and managed to play only half of the game. And contributed little…
His last match for Holland was in 1979 and after that he was on the path to retirement.
Moved to USA to play for Portland Timbers in 1980 (18 games and 6 goals) – and against Johann Cruijff, at that time playing for Washington Diplomats. The photo shows what made many thinking Rob was the natural replacement of Johann: they looked so alike. As if looks equal style and position. Part of the controversy: Rensenbrink was similar to Cruijff, so that was why he did not play often for Holland. Sound true, but first of all in the early 1970s Dutch stars often preferred not to play for the national team, Cruijff included. As far as positions go, not Cruijff, but Piet Keizer was the real competition. And Keizer was at his best before 1974. All speculation about why Rensenbrink was not a regular before 1974 were born in 1977, when Cruijff decided not to play anymore for Holland – and grew bigger after. There was deliberate effort to put Rensenbrink in Cruijff’s position at that time – contrary to the player’s protests. Yet, many maintain this opinion to this very day – here is Jan Mulder: “Robbie Rensenbrink was as good as Cruijff, only in his mind was he not.” Coming from Mulder… who was expected to replace Cruijff in Ajax and failed totally. That was in 1973. In 1974, after the World Cup, Ajax tried to sign Rensenbrink for the same reason – to play as Cruijff. Muddy story… according to some, the negotiations fell apart. According to Rensenbrink, he was never fond of Ajax and did not want to play for the club. One of the main reasons he played mostly in Belgium, again according to him. Posing with Cruijff was one thing, playing as Cruijff – another and not up to him. Anyhow, he played in NASL only one season and moved back to Europe – this time joining French second division team. Toulouse. Did not play much, but still ended as champion – Toulouse won the second division championship. And that was the final chapter.
The whole ‘book’ in plain stats: Twice champion of Belgium (Anderlecht – 1972, 1974). Five Belgian Cups (FC Brugge – 1970, Anderlecht – 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976). Two Cup Winners Cup (Anderlecht – 1976, 1978), Two UEFA Supercups (Anderlecht – 1976, 1978), One Second Division title (Toulouse – 1982). Twice World vice-champion (Holland – 1974, 1978).
In numbers: DWS Amsterdam – 120 matches, 34 goals.
FC Brugge – 55 matches, 24 goals.
Anderlecht – 262 matches, 143 goals.
Portland Timbers – 18 matches, 6 goals.
Toulouse – 12 matches, 1 goal.New
Total: 467 matches and 208 goals.
Holland – 46 matches, 14 goals (1968-1979).
What else? He was a great penalty taker – he missed only two in his career. He and Eusebio are the all-time highest penalty scorers at World Cup finals – both scored 4 (Eusebio in 1966, Rensenbrink in 1978). In 2004 Pele named him among the 125 greatest living footballers.
What else? Anderlecht named him its greatest ever player in 2008. Ahead of Paul van Himst!
And those who saw Robbie Rensenbrink played consider themselves blessed. What a lovely player he was… but everything comes to end.