Philippe de Ridder Interview

Philippe de Ridder is a well-known name in Indian football circuit as he has been managing clubs, becoming Technical Director and playing (yes, precisely in this order) all around the country. Debojyoti Chakraborty of Goalden Times got a chance to take sneak peek into the inner world of this Belgian who has made India his second home. Here is the first part.

Being an ardent fan of East Bengal, one of the most famous clubs in India, I am no stranger to Philippe de Ridder. In fact, I had come across him on couple of occasions at airports but could not manage to engage him in conversation. Later when I finally got an opportunity to interact with him I very hesitantly asked him for a chit-chat session. And thankfully, the generous man did not disappoint.


I wanted to start the conversation by asking him about his early days – his first experience with a football, his first clubs and his dreams.

Early Days

DC : What is your first memory of an encounter with a football?

PdR : It started really early to be frank. When I was born, my father had put a football in my arms and it was like love at first sight. I was sleeping with it when others were going to bed with a teddy bear.

DC : Where did you start your journey as a footballer?

PdR : My uncles, my grandfather and my father were all football players and coaches, and they trained me since the time I started walking. Then my father’s friend, who was a top Belgian football player himself, Ronald Devleegelaer, registered me and his son in a youth tournament organized by Racing White Daring Molenbeek (RWDM).I was 7-8 years old then. Some scouts spotted me there and I was soon a part of the club.

DC : What was you preferred playing position?

PdR : I was fortunate enough to play in all the positions barring the one under the posts, but my favourite position in a 4-3-3 system was that of a number 7 (central midfielder) and  in a 4-4-2 system was that of a number 10 (attacking midfielder).However I have played as a central defender (a la Fabio Cannavaro) and right back (a la Roberto Carlos – think he meant Cafu here) in the national team across different age groups.

DC : Who was your favorite player during your growing up years?

PdR : As an attacker, it had to be Johan Cruyff. But on the defensive side of the game, I always looked up to another Oranje, Johan Boskamp as one of my godfathers in football.He played in RWDM and became the first foreigner to win the Golden Shoe in Belgium. I was part of the Boskamp Boys, a group of talented youth footballers he had handpicked and trained personally. Apart from being my hero, he had a telling influence on my whole life.

By this time I had a fair idea about the jovial nature of the man. So I was curious to know about his relationship with one of the most iconic figures among children and youngsters across the World and also with his friends from his younger days.

DC : Are you a fan of Tintin?

PdR : Absolutely! On top of that he’s Belgian and from Brussels, just like me (laughs). He must have influenced me a lot. His adventures took him all over the world – to America, Africa, China, Peru, Ecuador, India – and so did mine(smiles).

Absolutely! On top of that he’s Belgian and from Brussels, just like me (laughs). He must have influenced me a lot. His adventures took him all over the world – to America, Africa, China, Peru, Ecuador, India – and so did mine(smiles).

DC : Which Tintin story is your favorite and any particular reason for the choice?

PdR : The Blue Lotus, for its graphical research, style and energy. Also, maybe because of my love for Asia in general.

DC : Which character, if any, do you think influenced you the most in your childhood?

PdR : Tintin, Robin Hood, Geoffrey de Peyrac (Angélique, Marquise des Anges fame) and Johan Boskamp.

DC : You have played with quite a few footballers in your youth who have gone on to make it big afterwards like Patrick Vervoort, Marc Degryse, Stéphane Demol and Filip De Wilde. Can you share some of your fond memories on and off the field?

PdR : On the field, it has to be the qualification for the Under 18 European Championship in England in 1983. I also had a memorable encounter against the Dutch side featuring the great Marco van Basten – we proudly came out with a stalemate.  But I have had bad days as well, none so painful than the day I missed a penalty against Ireland.

Couple of years back I caught up with Stéphane Demol (an eminent Beligian footballer in the mid 80s) who had just taken over from Sven-Göran Erikssonfor BECT ero Sasana, a top division club in Thailand. We had a blast that night reliving our old memories.

Then I happened to meet Moussa Dembéléat the wedding of Faris Haroun, who was one of the first boys I had brought into my academy in Brussels (1994).Patrick Vervoort was Moussa’s agent then and Moussa told Haroun’s father that I was the toughest defender ever in Belgium according to Patrick.Haroun’s father was surprised as I am known to be a fine technician and tough does not go well with my personality (smiles).

Actually I thought the interview would be over by now. But de Ridder was very forthcoming and fortunately for me, he seemed to have opened up. So, I gathered a little more courage and pushed the envelope a bit further to enter one of the grimmest chapters of his life.

The injury and aftermath

DC  : You had captained Belgium in various age group levels till U20 but could not make it big after that due to serious injuries. Do you think had the injury happened 30 years later in 2015, with the advanced medical attention available, you would have been able to make a comeback?

PdR : Definitely yes. If it had happened today, I would have had a better operation, a better recovery process, better post-injury training, better psychological follow up, more professional people surrounding me and still be able to play at the top level in Europe.

DC : How did the injury happen?

PdR : I had two big injuries. First one was in my right ankle – it was due to my tough tackling nature that I was involved in a lot of contact and received a lot of bruises. Also, referees back then were not so protective of the players and I remember sometimes receiving more than 10 dangerous tackles from the opponent without a single warning from the referee to the players who were purposefully going for my leg.

Also I missed the guidance of a protective coach during my growing up years. Some coaches didn’t want to rest me when I was slightly injured; they convinced me to keep playing. I even played sometimes with injections. When you keep doing that for years, your ligaments become more fragile and an operation is the only solution to put your ligaments “tidier”.

The second injury came in a match when I blocked a guy from shooting towards the goal. It was a big, huge, powerful guy and I had blocked him with the inside of the foot but his shot was so powerful that it broke all the ligaments of my knee.

After that, doctors told me that I should consider myself lucky if I could walk again normally.

DC : Have you spoken to the offender after the incident?

PdR : No. It wasn’t the fault of the player or mine, destiny maybe.

DC : Did you ever think of a comeback, a last hurrah?

PdR : A division 2 team once offered me a trial. I did not agree – It had to be the first division or nothing.

A division 2 team once offered me a trial. I did not agree – It had to be the first division or nothing.

But destiny had the last laugh here as well. Much later, when I was 30, I had to play a couple of games with a Division 4 team in Belgium. I needed that money to help my three little brothers as my parents got divorced and I had to take care of my brothers for six months.  Incidentally, the coach was Hermanvan Holsbeeck, the R.S.C. Anderlecht General Manager.

DC : How do you see life in light of your injury? I mean have you found a new perspective to it or has the injury changed you as a person in anyway?

PdR : Maybe all these injury made me a more attentive coach, protecting some players instead of forcing them to play with injury or under injections.

For example:  recently my top and only striker had an ankle injury.I did not have any other good striker to replace him and it was a very important match for us. I could have influenced him to play, and he would have played, taking the risk to aggravate his injury and potentially get ruled out for the rest of the championship. Or even worse, he could have got a big injury like I had,forcing him out of the game for months or years. I chose not to select him for the match. We lost 2-0. I have no regrets about this defeat. We got four clear-cut chances to score and if he was there we could have scored at least twice and come back with a point. But I don’t mind that – I just reminded the club that we didn’t have enough funds to recruit a second good striker, it is not right to point fingers at others.

DC : How difficult was it post injury, specially accepting the fact that you won’t be able to fulfill your promise as a footballer?

PdR : Very hard.I had to go through two very difficult years of my life to find some new objectives. I couldn’t sleep well; my head was full of questions as I was born to be a football star.

DC : Were you always interested in a coaching career or you just wanted to be involved with the game after a premature exit?

PdR : No, I didn’t think about becoming a coach. I was lucky to find a job as graphic designer in a top elite management company called MCE – Management Centre Europe – in Brussels, where I met some of the world’s best management and marketing speakers for a period of five years. It helped me a lot in my future football coaching and management career. It was only when I was 27 years old – I was in USA then – that I started to get interested in youth coaching.

The following is the most fascinating part of this conversation – the East Bengal chapter. This is a phase of de Ridder’s life I had followed closely. And now I had the opportunity to ask him some questions that I always wanted to ask for the last 10 years.

Kolkata Calling

DC : How did East Bengal happen?

PdR : For my 40th birthday I wanted to travel to Asia to present the 360 CFT (Creative Football Training) that I had already conceptualized and successfully implemented for seven years in my academy in Brussels. In fact, the results were so good that I wanted to explore it even further. That is when I met Arunava, one of the starters of the site in Koln and explained my project to him. He insisted that Indian Football Association(IFA)would be interested to see what it was all about. So I came to India and gave a presentation at the IFA academy at Haldia. I think it went pretty well.

Coincidentally, East Bengal were also looking for a coach in the middle of the season and they called me for an interview. I had not heard about East Bengal or Mohun Bagan (their fierce city rivals) before and had no clue about their huge fan base.I was offered the job and I accepted it to experiment my method on a full team.

I’ll tell you an interesting incident that happened during the same time. I played an exhibition match in Kolkata, Salt Lake, and was offered a player position in a Kolkata team United Sports Club (then known as Eveready Association) after the match. I felt honored by the proposition but was not sure that my leg could withstand the pressure of a full season. So, I took up the East Bengal coaching job.

DC : Can you share the experience of a Derby win – have you ever witnessed such a massive and passionate crowd anywhere else?

PdR : The first derby (on 8th April, 2006) was a really extra-ordinary moment of my life, especially because we won it by 3-1 with some unknown players at the time like Gouranga Duta, Anupam Sarkar, Jayanta Senalong withthe legendary Bhaichung Bhutia who was not at his peak anymore. I had taken some strong decisions for that match – like dropping Mike Okoro, who didn’t want to train but was a big star then with a huge salary.I must admit that I had taken a lot of risks that day but I felt full of joy after winning the game. I believe that God wanted it that way. Fans that day were fabulous and players did respond well tothe 360 CFT training. It was one of thosemoments that you’ll never forget in life.I must say that the Kolkata derby is very special in its own way. There are other big derbies in the world but the Kolkata one has his own character, I would recommend it to any football lover.

DC : How much do you miss East Bengal, Kolkata, the food and Salt Lake City center (a place you were often spotted)?

PdR : Kolkata will always be a special place for me as it gave me all these great derby moments and fame. Kolkata people are emotional and have been always good to me, except 3-4 people lol (laughs). I still havegot some good friends there in the football and art world. I miss the city sometimes but on the pure footballing aspect,the clubs and the players have to grow.  Players are good but not good enough for international standard. Whose duty is it to produce better players? Why has it not been done yet?

The football education from grassroot level to the A-team has to undergo a serious transformation. Lot of people “talk” of giving good football education, but they only “talk”.The reality isquite different. Besides, good role models are important for youngsters when they grow up but sadly there are not many in that part of the world.

The football education from grassroot level to the A-team has to undergo a serious transformation. Lot of people “talk” of giving good football education, but they only “talk”

City Center, Salt Lake, was one of my favorite places to hang around as I was living close to it. Good food, good movies, good small coffee bar.

DC : Why do you think Kolkata clubs are not doing well enough in the I League despite the fervent enthusiasm for the game in the region?

PdR : Well,Mohun Bagan are doing well this year as they have been in the pole position for much of the season and should win it from here.

I think football has changed a lot from the 70’s and 80’s. Some people runningthe Kolkata teams didn’t pick up the evolution and were still thinking and taking decisions like they did in the 70’s and 80’s. The basics of today’s professional football were not there at the time.It’s improved in the last couple of years but it will take some time to get things realigned with rest of the world.

Second and final part of the interview can be find here.