Born in Rotterdam in 1923, Faas Wilkes is considered by many to be greatest Dutch footballer before Johan Cruijff. He was without a doubt, a player of tremendous skill and intelligence, but like so many of his talented peers, his international career was severely restrained by the KNVB’s short-sighted amateur policy. Despite being banned from the national team for six years, Faas Wilkes is still the all-time leading scorer in the history of Oranje.
Although he was part of an era that produced other greats such as Appel, Lenstra and Rijvers, Faas Wilkes stands out as the best. His international career began shortly after the War and almost immediately Holland started to book results. Wilkes’ skills caught international attention and he was voted onto the Continental team in 1947. In 1948 Oranje had qualified for the Olympic Games, and expectations were high as the team possessed almost the same level of talent as they had circa 1934. Wilkes joined Lenstra and Rijvers to form the legendary golden inner trio, but there were other greats on the team such as Bram Appel and Piet Kraak. Despite the talent Holland blew it in their second match and went out to a weaker British team.
Despite the obvious disappointment, the situation would normally have pointed to promising times ahead for the national team. They had, after all, soaked up the experience of an international tournement. They would learn from their mistakes for the next time. But there was to be no next time, Wilkes precipitated a watershed of Dutch talent to play professionally abroad. This supremely gifted player was Holland’s “second” professional player, joining Inter Milan in 1949 and later playing for Torino and Valencia. His departure instigated the foreign exodus. Everyone who left to play professionally abroad was no longer eligible for the national team. This meant that for six years Faas Wilkes was not selected to play for Oranje. The best player Holland had known until then was not welcome on the national team during his prime. The authorities had learned nothing from the Bakhuijs incident.
Faas Wilkes eventually returned to play for Holland when professional football was sanctioned in the mid-Fifties. While still playing for Valencia in Spain, Wilkes played his nineteenth match for Oranje in March, 1955. It was the first match in which professionals had ever been allowed to play for Holland. By 1957 he was playing for VVV but after a season he switched to Fortuna 54. The old golden inner trio was reunited for a number of matches and by the late Fifties Holland had developed into a decent national team again. But like the others of his generation, Wilkes’ best years were already behind him and despite giving some honour back to the Dutch game, he was part an aging generation without any apparent successors. Wilkes stayed around the national team as long as he could, and was still being selected to play well into the Sixties. But the mantle was eventually passed on and it was up to Coen Moulijn and his peers to see to it that Holland qualified for an international tournament again.
Wilkes became the highest scorer in the history of the Dutch national team, a record he still holds. He has gone into the record books with 35 goals in just 38 matches. This feat is even more remarkable when it is considered that he was banned from the national team for six years.