June 22, 1980: No one had him on the note. The Belgian national coach conjures the midfielder Wilfried van Moer out of his hat before the European Championship. After more than four years without an international game and as a part-time host, the 35-year-old is playing an outstanding tournament.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bernd Schuster, Michel Platini – the first three footballers in the Ballon d’Or election in 1980 are still familiar to almost every fan today. But the fourth-ranked Wilfried van Moer?
Outside of his native Belgium, there are probably only a few who know the “little general”. His story could be good for a Hollywood movie.
The future midfielder was born in 1945, shortly before the end of the Second World War. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to play in the Bundesliga later, because the Germans killed his sister. In any case, there should have been no shortage of offers from the neighboring country.
Van Moer works as an electrician after school, when his talent catches the eye of the scouts of Royal Antwerp. There he plays so strongly that in his first season in the highest league as a 21-year-old he is named Player of the Year. And it doesn’t take long for Wilfried van Moer to make his first international appearance in the autumn of 1966 in a 1-0 win against Switzerland.
Leg fracture stops high altitude flight
The director switches to Standard Liege, which he leads to three championship titles between 1969 and 1971. Van Moer was named Belgium’s Footballer of the Year two more times. But his flight to the heights was brutally stopped on May 13, 1972. In the European Championship qualification, the Italian Mario Bertini breaks his leg; participation in the final tournament in his own country is gone.
Van Moer will never be the same again after that, playing his supposedly last international match in 1975. He settles down in the province of Limburg, ends his career at the small KFC Beringen and runs a pub, the “Wembley”.
But when no one expects him anymore, Wilfried van Moer appears on the big stage again – and how! In the qualification for the European Championship 1980, Belgium does not really get up to speed. The TV presenter Rik de Saedeleer gives national coach Guy Thys the idea to dig up the old fighter van Moer. “Your team needs a leader. They need someone like Wilfried, ” says the presenter and Thys actually asks the 34-year-old.
Van Moer is considering the comeback well. “When we lose, people say I’m old and tired. I wasn’t sure it was smart to come back,” he recalls. “But I had talented, young players around me and we started well.»
In his first international match, the returnee scored a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over Portugal. After all, the “Red Devils” manage to qualify for the European Championship in 1980. And in Italy Wilfried van Moer trumps gross. Belgium draws 1-1 against England and then wins against Spain 2-1. A draw in the last group game and Belgium would be in the European Championship final.
And now the great hour of revenge strikes. After all, the opponent with Italy is the opponent who prevented van Moer from an even bigger career eight years earlier. The revenge succeeds. Van Moer – who, however, is replaced shortly after the break – and his Belgians get a 0:0 against the Azzurri and thus move into the final game. Belgium loses to Germany there, because double goalscorer Horst Hrubesch manages to score the 2: 1 winner in the 88th minute.