Interview of the Month / April 1980

‘There is so much competition, so much talent. Go and face that'
Karel Bonsink and his struggle for recognition at Ajax

Ajax has already got leftlegged Karel Bonsink in sight since his debut at DWS in the middle of the sixties. Bonsink is just fifteen years old when he signs his first youth contract at this club from Amsterdam. Already during the period at DWS, when he is also selected for the several Dutch national youth teams, he plays together with numbers of Ajax players. Still it does take a while before Ajax contracts the player, born and raised in Amsterdam, after years of supposed interest. “I first wanted to move up to the first team of DWS. At Ajax you can not expect that you immediately play in the first team.” After three years of DWS there still follow three more seasons at FC Utrecht and five years in Belgium at FC Luik and RWD Molenbeek. It isn't until July of this season the long anticipated transfer takes place.

Bonsink is immediately put back into his place by a few members of the Old Guard. Specially captain Ruud Krol labels the transfer of Bonsink as ‘absurdly'. Bonsink: “Krol called something like ‘what the hell should we do with Bonsink'. I have always played with Ruud in team Amsterdam, so I thought ‘what does he want with his big mouth'. Of course I do not have the fame of for example Simon Tahamata. I know Ruud Krol well, but I do not yet have a ‘name'. In his eyes I'm not the transfer he is waiting for. That isn't such a nice idea. But although I am a little fighter, so I do know how I need to respond. You screw a little higher spikes under the shoes and try to be a little more tough. You also have to, cause else you go down the drain.”

With the transfer a childhood dream is fulfilled for Bonsink. “Basically I have always been an Ajax player in heart and soul. Ajax is playing the most beautiful game and does not renounce that type of play.” That the transfer has taken so long was partly the fault of Bonsink himself. “There has always been some interest from Ajax from the sideline. When you are going to Ajax you are taken in for the good occupation of positions. The choice between a selection of 22, 23 men and a place in the starting line-up in the first team of DWS isn't that hard. So I have never responded to sitting round the table. Of course at Ajax you can not say ‘I shall immediately play in the first team'. So actually I have never needed to make that choice, cause I have broken of those contacts. I rather played in the first team of DWS.”

On his seventeenth Bonsink is regularly standing in the first team of DWS. From that moment it is over and done with the daily matches of street football in the Van Halstraat and the Bentickstraat in the Staatslieden neighbourhood, his life is totally about training. The matches which Bonsink played with DWS against Ajax, were ‘worldly': “Similar to Sparta-Feyenoord. Splendid. I played against Suurbier, Vasovic, Tonnie Pronk. Those were the matches. Great. It was a real derby in the Olympic Stadium and so for us there were 45.000, 50.000 people. Stadium De Meer was always sold out in that period. While Ajax was playing for the championship, DWS was playing against relegation, so we always had a difficult time. But we had such a crazy trainer (in a positive way), the Englishman Lesley Talbot, who brought in a lot of character, but when it comes to playing technical football we always ran short. DWS was actually more a team with guys from the market. From the Staatslieden neighbourhood. DWS really had a very common character. If you ask me Ajax was a lot less of a workers'team, a lot more professional.'

The interest of Ajax for Bonsink was always slumbering. “Before I went to Molenbeek there was also talk about it that Ajax was following me. Ajax has lists and I was on one, also because I was scoring a lot of goals at Utrecht. Every season I scored about nine, ten times, even at a club like FC Utrecht. My manager, Janusz Bekeffi, knew his way around at Ajax and said that Ajax was already interessted then. That did not happen and then I went to Luik. During three years I have had a good period at Utrecht. But the club had some problems and I liked to stay a full professional. At a certain moment mister Werkhoven, owner of a big floor company and sponsor, said that some players are earning a bit too much and that they should have to start working half days for the company. Utrecht had to cut back on the salary. So there was talk that we would have to do things in that company, as a representative or something like that, but I did not want to do that at all. I was 22 and so at that same day I have called my manager and told him that I wanted to leave. Then I went to Luik.”

During a training at RDWM Karel Bonsink is having a duel with clubmate Erik Dumont

Cor Brom with the Ajax-acquisitions of the season 1979/1980: Henning Jensen (on the left), Karel Bonsink (in the middle) and Peter Boeve (on the right)

After four years in Luik, Bonsink continues his form at RWD Molenbeek. After thirteen matches and ten goals Ajax is knocking at the door of Bonsink. The rumors that the contacts went through the board and without consent of trainer Cor Brom, are denied by Bonsink. “It was just Brom who attracted me. I experienced a fantastic season at Molenbeek. I was playing on the midfield together with Boskamp and Bennie Nielsen. I didn't really want to go away at all cost. I had a contract of three years. Then Ajax came. That was a childhood dream, which before this time and time did not happen. At Ajax I had to prove myself again. I came in and then you do not yet have a name. You are out of sight in Belgium, you can not be seen on Dutch television or heard on the radio. But I had a few good seasons at Luik, was the topscorer for three times in a row. Then I have earned my transfer to Molenbeek. The year afterwards Bekeffi said that Ajax wanted to have me. Molenbeek got about 10 million Belgian francs I believe, which was about 600.000 guilders, and there Hans Erkens was playing as well. Of course the club was satisfied.” Bonsink doesn't know a thing about a possible exchange with Simon Tahamata which was earlier mentioned in the press.

At Ajax Bonsink meets a reasonable selection to say the least. Henning Jensen is new just like Bonsink, he comes over from Real Madrid as player of the year. Together with Martin van Geel, Tscheu La Ling, Simon Tahamata, Frank Arnesen, Søren Lerby and Dick Schoenaker they will have to battle for seven positions on the midfield and in the offence. Bonsink: “I was attracted to play in the offence, although I'm a left midfielder. The place I would like to play and where I was also playing for four years in Belglium. With so much competition you wonder where you will end up yourself. I'm in the advantage that I can also play left- and right winger. This can be an advantage, but also a disadvantage. Just have face it. Then you have to fight for your place in the team.” Right after his coming Bonsink will depart to South-America with his colleagues. “I had hardly stopped in Belgium or we were already going to South-America with Ajax, to Argentina and Brasil. We were playing against River Plate. Against Luque, Passarella, Socrates. In Rio de Janeiro we were playing in front of 90.000 men. It was an incredible trip.”

In the competition it isn't going that bad at all then. Still trainer Cor Brom is already fired in September. Bonsink still doesn't know why Brom had to make place. The rumor that Cor Brom would have enriched himself (he would've accepted half a pig as a ‘gift' of a not mentioned club) is a thing Bonsink can not confirm. “I don't exactly know what happened. Probably it are political games.”

In the beginning of the competition Bonsink comes into action against Haarlem

During the Bernabeu-tournament in Madrid in September 1979 Bonsink is one of the stars

Bonsink shall not soon forget about the training camp of last winter in Ivory coast. “That was fantastic. We have been in Abidjan where we were sailing on a river, there were all kinds of beautiful women there. Harry Vermeegen has even made a film about it. But that was specially about Tahamata. I had a lot of contact with those Danish, so I also drank a lot of Danish beer, Tuborg. When once I drank a beer too much I dove in the swimming pool, but this turned out to be a bath. I came up and my head was covered in blood. I could easilly have broken my neck. Luckilly I have a thick neck”, according to a laughing Bonsink.

After the resignation of Brom the board pushes forward youth-coach Leo Beenhakker. The beginning of a difficult period for Bonsink, cause with the contracting of Beenhakker he ends up on the bench. “Not immediately, but still already quite fast. I still see him coming in with his file of the A1 under the arm. He has a few others he thinks he should bring along among other Tonnie Blanker. We are having enough players, and he puts in some more. The youth is very important for Beenhakker. From the moment that he was appointed I did not get a lot attention anymore.” Despite the fact that Bonsink is never injured and makes it to an acceptable level, Beenhakker mostly chooses for other solutions.

In the European Cup for National champions Ajax meets the Cypriotic Omnia Nicosia in the eighth final. The home-match on October 24th of last year in Amsterdam ends up in a demonstration match. While Bonsink is watching, Søren Lerby is stealing the show with five goals. Also the competitor of Bonsink Tonnie Blanker settled into his stride with three goals. The players of Ajax put Nicosia back on the plane with an arrears of two digits, 10-0. The away match on the island goes totally differently. The players of Ajax, who might be imposed by the on the island and in the stadium very prominently present military, step up with a very adjusted team (In 1974 Turkey took power of the Turkish part of Cyprus and since then the island is devided in a Greek-Cypriotic and a Turkish-Cypriotic part; which declares the large number of military on the island).

Free kick of Karel Bonsink in the top-class competition match against AZ'67

'Beenhakker doesn't put his trust in me unconditionally. I'm just not his choice.'

Ajax, with Bonsink in the starting line-up, loses with 4-0. “The common matter of underestimation. There was another line-up, some personal mistakes. Our left back Peter Boeve also wasn't in shape that day. We all weren't really motivated anymore, we were already on a 3-0 arrears at the break”, knows Bonsink. That he is allowed to appear again in an unimportant match is a writting on the wall to him that he does not have to count on anything anymore under Beenhakker. Specially in the competition he now has to focus on coming in as a substitute. That's why Bonsink isn't combative anymore: ''Look, when Beenhakker is lining up others, then I think ‘what the hell am I doing here'. That Brom had to depart is a disadvantage for me. Beenhakker has others, like Blanker. 'Beenhakker doesn't put his trust in me unconditionally. I'm just not his choice.'

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