Exclusive Interview: Henk Wisman

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

(image source: NH Media)

JR: You became manager of Rijnburgse Boys in 2019. How are you enjoying managing the club so far?

HW: ''I am really enjoying my time at the club so far. I have worked a long time in professional football and subsequently working in Thailand for Changrai United. I also worked a long time for Ten Leede in amateur football and I am now in my second season at Rijnburgse Boys. prior to that, that I started my journey in professional football with FC Volendam - who I helped to get promoted to the Eredivisie. I was then working at Rijnburgse Boys around 20 years ago so I knew the club well and since returning to the club many things have improved. Cees Driebergen who was also the Director at ADO Den Haag has managed to improve a lot of things in terms of the facilities at the club and the accommodation - making Rijnburgse Boys a great club at the moment in the Dutch second division with an almost semi professional organization and environment.''

JR: You were also national team manager of Armenia. How do you look back on your time in international football and do you have any highlights or special memories?

HW: “Yes, I had a great time in Armenia. My assistant Johan Steur and I managed both FC Pyunik and the Armenian national team at the same time. Such a scenario has its advantages because when we arrived to coach the national team there were three or four players in the team from FC Pyunik and later on their were five or six players. We also won the Armenian League with FC Pyunik and won the Armenian Super Cup which were great times. Also with the Armenian national team we had many highlights in particular the match against the Dutch national team in Yerevan and before the game there were derogatory comments made about the Armenian national team and that the Dutch national team must win at least 7-0. With the tactical plan that we had for this game after an hour played it was still 0-0 and I saw my Dutch compatriots on the opposition bench starting to panic. At that time, Marco van Basten was the manager with his assistants Johan van't Schip and Robbie Witschge - that was a great sign for us that we were doing well in the match.''

JR: As a Dutchman was it strange for you to manage an international match against your own country and does such a scenario give you a strange feeling?

HW: “Yes it does give you a strange feeling but also a massive kick because when you hear the Dutch national anthem and I can guarantee you that despite the fact that you are playing against your country, you really want to win the game and perform as well as possible and such a feeling overcame us to be completely honest. After an hour of the game played we were satisfied and then the Dutch national team played in a more opportunistic way. They brought Jan Venegoor of Hesselink on as a substitute and they started to play the long ball and on the second ball in order to try and put us under pressure. In one of those situations, Jan Venegoor of Hesselink gave the ball on the edge of the 18 yard box to Ruud van Nistelrooy and he fired the ball beautifully in the top corner, the Netherlands won the game 1-0 and we thought it was a pity because we were well organized and defended well.''

JR: I wanted to ask you about your playing career. You played for FC Amsterdam and SC Amersfoort. How do you reflect on your playing career and do you have any special highlights or memories?

HW: ''I started out as a youth player for Ajax and in that time around half a century ago you could not start playing and training at the club until you were ten years old. So I started life at Ajax as a ten year old. I came through the youth setup playing in the different youth teams at different levels and my highlights were playing in the Dutch national youth teams at under 16 level, playing in the UEFA youth teams at under 18 level. I also played a tournament in Toulon in France with Jong Oranje and that was a beautiful tournament to play in against many good opponents. Then I chose to go to FC Amsterdam as an 18 year old despite the fact I received a contract offer from Ajax, perhaps that was a bit of stubbornness from me and after playing four seasons at FC Amsterdam where I did not play many games in the first team. Thereafter, I played a season for SC Amersfoort in the Dutch First Division and then at the age of 24, I received a contract extension but I felt at the time and looking at my future in professional football I wanted to finish my studies as a physiotherapist. I retired as a professional footballer quite early on in my career and then shortly afterwards, I began my career as a manager.''

JR: You managed Fortuna Sittard for one season. How do you look back on your time managing the club and do you have any particular highlights or memories?

HW: “My season at Fortuna Sittard was a disappointing season because the club had gigantic financial problems. At that time, there was talk of a fusion with the other Limburg clubs such as MVV Maastricht, VVV Venlo and Roda JC - they wanted to make one FC Limburg. Even though we started that season well, after receiving injuries and suspensions to players, our quality on the pitch was less and as a consequence of that, I was sacked in March. I have experienced getting the sack a couple of times in my career, it is something which remains attached to the profession of a football manager. There is not one single professional football manager who has not been sacked during his career.''

JR: You have accrued a lot of experience in professional football. How do you believe that the game has changed in the 50 years that you have been involved in football?

HW: ''I believe in the first instance that the physical attributes and demands of the players are a lot higher in this day and age. The training is also of a higher level. All the novelties and new things such as heartbeat monitors and being able to see how far and quick that a player has run. All the data that you can collect at the moment gives you so much information about a player’s physical condition. There has been enormous progression and improvement in that respect. Also, the spaces on the pitch are getting smaller and thereby the team that is in possession of the ball has to raise their tempo, handling speed and orientation on the pitch in order to find the solutions on the pitch. Also with the big spaces on the pitch in the past that was more attractive than nowadays but the difficulty degree in the game is now much higher due to the fact that the players now are much fitter and the spaces on the pitch are much smaller.''


James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.