Theo bedankt – Vitesse icon Theo Janssen brings an end to an excellent career
Sixteen years, four clubs, four trophies and five caps. Theo Janssen’s professional career narrowed down to numbers. But that doesn’t even tell part of the story.
The Arnhem born midfielder has spent almost half of his life with his local team Vitesse. A devoted servant to the club, he was just 14-years-old when he began his ascent through the youth sides of the team in black and gold. Today, at 32-years-old, he brings his long, illustrious career to an end while at the same club.
After winning the league title with FC Twente, a first for he and the club, as well as the KNVB Beker and Johan Cruijff Schaal and then lifting the league crown again with Ajax, Janssen’s career ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
His final season has been plagued by a cruciate ligament injury. It was typical of Janssen’s fighting spirit and defiant attitude that he rushed back in an attempt to play a part in another potentially historic campaign for the club as they challenge to bring an end to Ajax’s dominance. Hailed as a “medical miracle”, he said he was ready to return after only three months out. However, as expected, it proved too early and his agonising period was extended as he was ruled out for longer. The battle got the better of him and the midfielder’s career fades out.
He leaves, however, with dignity and nothing but the respect of not just the Arnhem faithful, but every fan of Dutch football.
A fiery, passionate player, Janssen was a good leader on the field and a bit of an interesting character off of it. He was very much a perfect fit for the club nicknamed FC Hollywood on the Rhine.
A drinker (he was involved in a car accident when driving under the influence in 2009) and a smoker, Theo was a bit wild in some respects. The prominent puffy bags under his eyes were exposed through close-ups on TV in every single game, giving viewers a suspicion that he may have been partying hard for the last three weeks without sleep. He hadn’t been, of course, but if anyone would do it, you got the feeling Theo was the man and you wouldn’t put it past him.
“So what? Plenty of people smoke,” he said with his usual honesty in one interview with Volkskrant.
“Are they bad people? I am the only footballer who is known to do it, but I see it every week. The rest do it secretly, in a corner. I don’t.”
He was, by his own reckoning, a stubborn chap. Who else, when ousted from Ajax after a title-winning year, would discount it as “a small part” of his life? A part which would “soon be forgotten”?
It’s no surprise that he had frequent arguments with coaches. In one case, he nearly came to blows with Aad de Mos because he was dropped from the team.
“I’m very difficult [for a coach]. I’m stubborn and I love discussion. Sometimes I look for it consciously, I seek it out even if I know I’m wrong. Sometimes I get really angry. Then everyone and everything is bad.”
He certainly wasn’t your typical professional athlete, it’s almost impossible to find a picture of him in which he isn’t carrying a bit of timber – he was rarely, if ever, his ideal weight.
Readers who are unfamiliar with Janssen may have already dismissed him as reckless, unprofessional or stupid. That’s simply not true. Assessing from admittedly a huge distance, you get the idea that Theo simply had the balls to live the way he wanted.
He was disruptive at some points, but he still turned up for training and did his job on the park.
And he did it so well.
“When you have a player like Theo Janssen, you always have an opportunity, you always have a chance,” remarked then-Twente coach Steve McClaren of the midfielder.
His passing, whether it be a five-yard pass or a 30-yard belt out to the wings from the middle of the park, was as smooth and as accurate as can be. His free-kicks, in delivery and shooting accuracy, were sublime, his first touch was exquisite and, at some points in his career, he even had speed (not the drug).
As his career progressed he changed from a dynamic, quick midfielder to one able to sit back and pull the strings from the holding midfield role.
He began his career as a teenager with Vitesse, and in 1998 he made his debut for the senior side, kicking off a decade in the first-team of his local club, stopping for only half a year as he was sent out on loan to Gent.
He was one of the brightest talents in the Netherlands for a while and he eventually made the step up to join Twente. In his first season (2008-09), the Tukkers finished second to Louis van Gaal’s AZ, but won it for the first time in the club’s history the following year, with Janssen scoring once and setting up five from midfield. In 2010-11 they lead for most of the season but lost out to Frank de Boer’s Ajax in the decisive last game of the season in the Amsterdam ArenA. Immediately after Denny Landzaat’s own goal made it 2-0 to Ajax, Janssen struck from 25 yards to give his team a fighting chance, but it wasn’t to be.
Despite the team’s failure, Janssen was crowned Dutch Footballer of the Year and was snapped up by Ajax in the summer. In his only full season with the Eredivisie powerhouse he lifted the league title once again and chipped in with eight goals and eight assists.
Unfortunately, his time in the capital came to an end early in the following campaign. De Boer, an incredibly demanding coach, wasn’t impressed with his attitude in training and soon cast him aside.
“If someone is not giving 100% in training, and at his age he should be the example, I can’t accept that,” De Boer told reporters after Janssen’s departure.
“Then it’s over and out. Theo did not fight for [his place].”
While De Boer had a slight dig at him in the media, Janssen kept his cool and passed up on the opportunity to fire back.
“I won’t say anything,” was all he said. “Everything remains between the coach and me. That won’t change.”
The furthest he was willing to go was admitting that his “trust in the coach is gone”.
Janssen returned to Vitesse that year and the fans were delighted to see him return. “Theo, welcome home. True love never dies” read the banner with a black and yellow striped heart in the middle of it.
Theo played a vital role in the midfield of a fantastic Vitesse team. Sitting deep and keeping everything ticking over with his magnificent passes, he freed up the dynamic Marco van Ginkel to focus on attacking duties and build a remarkable partnership with goalmachine Wilfried Bony.
Although playing as a holding midfielder, Janssen wasn’t too heavily focused on defensive duties, which often affected the side, but he got away with it. It’s Theo.
His most iconic game of the campaign was against his former team. As they looked to assert themselves as title contenders, Vitesse took on Ajax in the Gelredome in January. The reigning champions took two goal lead with 25 minutes left as they looked to have sealed the three points. However, the typically defiant Janssen wasn’t ready to lie down to his former employers, he had a point to prove. He halved his side’s deficit just minutes after the second goal and raised the fighting mentality in his team as they fought back to win 3-2 in an incredible, valiant display.
He was an inspiring character on the field in that game, but he showed himself to be an inspiring and caring person off of it that season. Club legend Theo Bos, better known as Mr Vitesse, died on 28 February 2013, an incredibly sad and difficult day for anyone connected to the club. It was Janssen who led the tributes to the iconic Bos around that period and was visibly devastated at losing a man for whom he had great respect. A clearly painful experience for Janssen, a sign of just how big an influence the 47-year-old was to him.
The side eventually faded out of the title race as Ajax marched to a third consecutive victory. This season has been the same, but for most of it, Janssen has been absent with a cruciate ligament injury.
Despite his best efforts to return and help out his team, the injury has kept him out for all but nine games of the season, but in those nine games he scored once and set up five, a more than respectable contribution.
We haven’t seen Theo since he picked up that injury in October and it’s a real shame we won’t see him strutting his stuff on the field again.
A fearless, unpredictable but enjoyable personality and player. Theo Janssen has enjoyed a fantastic career and it’s sad to see it fade out.
You will be sorely missed.