The next Dutch footballing legend to be inducted into the Football-Oranje hall of fame is Johnny Rep. Michael Bell takes a look back at the career of “De Blonde Engel.”

rep-oranjeThe golden age of Ajax was already underway when Rinus Michel’s handed a 19-year-old Johnny Rep his debut. The club had just won their first European cup in 1971 with a 2-0 win over PAOK months before, but club legend Sjaak Swart was ageing and Michels decided to bring in Rep, who the club had signed after Michel’s assistant Cor Brom watched him in action for amateur side ZFC.

A gangly right sided winger with pretty boy looks and a rock star haircut, Rep immediately fitted into the Ajax attack alongside Johan Cruyff and Piet Kiezer and the trio tormented Europe for the next two years, picking up another two European Cups, two UEFA super cup’s, a club world cup, two Eredivisie titles and one KNVB cup. Rep, who had blistering pace and a cracking right foot was more disciplined in his positioning than Cruyff, and liked to hug the touchline, before cutting inside, much like Arjen Robben does today. He was given the nickname “het goudhaantje” (the kingfisher) for his ability to score at crucial moments, including two in the club world cup win over Independiente and the only goal in the European cup win over Juventus in 1973.

Cruyff and Rep appeared to have the perfect partnership on the pitch, but speaking to Le Monde, Rep revealed the duo didn’t get along away from the stadium, “We did not get along well, except on the ground. If he gave you a bad ball, it was your fault. And when he does not like you, you can get another club.”

In 1974, Rep was unsurprisingly part of Michel’s Netherlands squad that headed to the World Cup in West Germany, spearheading the attack alongside Cruyff and Anderlecht forward Rob Rensenbrink. In the first game against Uruguay, Rep was outstanding, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win and he also netted another in the 4-1 victory over Bulgaria that cemented Netherlands place in the next round. Rep rounded off a 4-0 win over Argentina to take his tally for the tournament to four goals, and although the brilliant Oranje side would make it to the final, they were defeated by the hosts 2-1, despite the Dutch dominating for large periods of the game.

After the tournament Ajax’s squad fell apart, Michels and Cruyff decided to leave and eventually in 1975 Rep departed Amsterdam for an adventure in Spain with Valencia. His move to the Mestalla wasn’t a success, with the club lacking any direct leadership from their coaching staff and having a squad more interested in the city’s nightlife than matters on the pitch. Rep would score 22 times for Valencia, including two in a win over Cruyff’s Barcelona, but success did not come and after a fall-out with the club’s coach and president, a departure was inevitable.

Looking back on his two years at Valencia, Rep had harsh words to say about the club’s coach, “Heriberto Herrera is the worst coach I’ve ever had; He did not prepare anything, did not train anything and we never used a ball during the week. Now that he is dead I can say this. ”

A move back to Netherlands with Alkmaar was a possibility, but they could not finance a deal, and rumours of Real Madrid’s interest never came to fruition. Eventually, a move to France with small first division club Bastia was sealed, despite Rep never stepping foot in the club’s stadium which he thought was a training ground on first viewing.

In his first season, Rep guided Bastia to the final of the UEFA Cup, with the club knocking out Sporting Lisbon, Newcastle United, Torino, FC Carl Zeiss Jena and Grasshoppers on their way to a showdown with PSV Eindhoven. However, success was just out of reach for the winger, with the Dutch club triumphing 3-0 on aggregate to lift the trophy.

That summer, Rep picked himself up to join the Netherlands squad heading to Argentina for the World Cup, without Johan Cruyff, who had pulled out on safety fears. Rep once again joined Rensenbrink in the attack and the duo inspired Oranje to their second successive final. Rep scored three times during the tournament including a stunning long-range effort against Scotland. However, once again Netherlands were defeated in the final by the hosts, with Argentina triumphing 3-1 in extra-time. Rep couldn’t make an impact on the game and he was substituted before the end. Rep’s total tally of seven goals in the two World Cup’s is still a record for Netherlands and one that doesn’t look like being broken unless Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder or Robin van Persie score in the 2018 World Cup.

In 1979, Rep wanted to further his career again and he signed for Saint-Etienne, who were going for the French league title and had legendary midfielder Michel Platini in their squad. The Dutchman made himself an instant hero for the club, netting a hat-trick in the UEFA Cup first round second leg against Widzew Lodz, which overturned a 2-1 deficit. The performance that night would inspire local band Mickey 3D to release a song in tribute to the winger, called “Johnny Rep.”

Rep was an icon in Saint Etienne and he helped the club lift the league title in 1981. However, his time in France would end on a sour note with the Green and whites president Roger Rocher involved in a money scandal in 1983, which would see him jailed and the club forced to sell all its star players, including Rep.

Speaking to So Foot, Rep stated his time in Etienne was the happiest of his career, “My goal in the European cup final (for Ajax), obviously, it was an absolutely amazing time, but if you ask me where I was happiest, the answer will always be Saint Etienne.”

rep-etienneAfter leaving Etienne, Rep returned to Netherlands for short spells with PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord before he retired in 1987 at Haarlem, bringing an end to a career which saw Rep score 150 goals in 428 games, whilst earning 42 caps for Netherlands.

Away from playing, Rep’s life turned upside down, with the winger revealing that his second marriage ended due to alcohol problems, while he was left penniless and without a home. Coaching spells in charge of clubs such as Omniworld (now Almere City) and Texel’94 were not successful and he caused controversy in 2013 by admitting to taking amphetamine’s before a European cup game in the 1970’s.

He told RTV, “Indeed I took an amphetamine pill before a European Cup game. But that was not that extraordinary. Looking back you think there maybe was something. But what do you think about the South Americans we faced in the Club World Cup with Ajax? They were stiff through amphetamine.”

Rep revealed to Le Monde earlier this year that he now spends most of his life travelling in a motor home, whilst doing some small work for Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf to pay the bills. In looking for a job he turned to his first club Ajax, “I asked in vain to be a recruiter for Ajax but they do not want me,”

It’s a sad turn of events for a player who not only made himself an icon at Ajax and Saint Etienne but will forever go down in the history books as one of the greatest talents to put on an Oranje jersey.




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