Netherlands legend Rob Rensenbrink died on Friday. The left winger earned 46 caps for his country. He was one of the players in the legendary Dutch squad who came so close to winning the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. He will be particularly remembered for the latter final, in which he played a leading role.
It is one of those commentary lines that every Dutch football fan will remember. "Rensenbrink ... against the post. Rensenbrink against the post," Dutch television reporter Theo Reitsma shouted when the left winger hit the woodwork in the dying seconds of the 1978 World Cup final against Argentina. Never did the Netherlands get so close to winning the coveted world title.
Had the ball passed the goal line, Rensenbrink would have been the match winner and the top scorer of the tournament. As it happened, the honour befell to Argentinia ace Mario Kempes, who scored twice in extra time to bring home the world title.
The 1978 World Cup was the highlight of an impressive footballing career of a creative and stylish player, nicknamed 'the snake man' because of his phenomenal dribbles.
Rensenbrink earned 46 caps for the Netherlands, but played mainly for clubs across the border, in neighbouring Belgium. In 1969, he was brought to Club Brugge by coach Frans de Munck. Amsterdam amateur side DWS - the club for which Rensenbrink debuted and where he played for four years - received 450,000 guilders, the equivalent of roughly 200,000 euros.
His transfer to Belgium affected his international career. At the start of his Bruges period, he played two matches for the Netherlands (against England and Israel) before things turned quiet around Rensenbrink. It took another 45 months before the gifted forward would don the orange kit again.
That was exactly on time to participate in the 1974 World Cup, where the Netherlands, with Rensenbrink acting as left winger, managed to get through to the final, which they lost 2-1 against the hosts, West Germany. During the final, Rensenbrink was substituted at half time because a muscle rupture which he sustained in the semifinal. The injury hindered him to such an extent that playing on was no longer an option.
Rensenbrink’s return to the national side came after his transfer from Bruges to Anderlecht, where he achieved success after success in the following years. Playing for the Brussels side, he won three national championships, four national cups and two European Cup Winners' Cups. He finished second, after Franz Beckenbauer, in the 1975 Footballer of the Year classification. A year later, he won the Belgian Golden Shoe for the best player in the country.
Another two years later, in 1978, he came third in the Footballer of the Year awards, after Kevin Keegan from England and Austria’s Hans Krankl. If his effort in the World Cup final had hit the net instead of the post, the ranking would probably have been quite different.
Barely a year after the lost World Cup final, he played his last international match against Poland (a 2-0 defeat). Three years later, after a brief spell in the United States and France, he put an end to his career.
Rob Rensenbrink, who suffered from progressive muscle disease for years, passed away on Friday at the age of 72. The KNVB wishes his family and friends much strength in coping with this loss.