In Breda in 1926, Cornelius “Kees” Rijvers was born. He grew up to develop into one of the most important players of his era. Rijvers made his debut for Holland in 1946 in the first post-war match. He was part of the golden inner trio of the national team with Lenstra and Wilkes. Together these three led Oranje to some impressive results in the late Forties. But like many of his generation he sought prosperity and professionalism in France where he became known as the “dribbler of the low lands”.
A small man, just 1.65 meters tall, Kees Rijvers knew how to use his size to his advantage. With his low center of gravity and his phenomenal dribbling skills, Rijvers was the player from whom it was impossible to take the ball. He began his career in his hometown with NAC Breda. It was there that developed his sharp fundamental skills. In his first international match in 1946, Rijvers stood alongside Wilkes and Lenstra. Little did he know that together they would adopt a legendary name such as the golden inner trio. Their fates were intertwined even though the three men only played ten times together as a trio.
In 1950 Rijvers followed the example of Wilkes and went abroad to play professionally. He did it mostly out of financial necessity. He earned so little in Holland that he was unable to afford to get married. Rijvers moved to France where he went to play for Saint-Etienne. Later, Rijvers transferred to Stade Français but quickly moved back to Saint Etienne. In 1957 he led his team to the title in the French championship.
The professional ban was eventually lifted, accelerated by the aftermath of the match played by Rijvers and the professionals in France against the French national team to raise money of the flooding victims. As of 1955 professionals were eligible for the national team, but Rijvers did not make his rentrée until 1957. He had come back to Holland and joined Feyenoord. Back on the national team, the golden inner trio were reunited for a few matches but the best years were behind them. Rijvers, who was the youngest of the three, continued to play for Feyenoord well into the Sixties.
Kees Rijvers played 33 international matches, 19 before his ban and 14 afterwards, with a total of 10 goals to his name. Unable to put football behind him, Rijvers took up coaching upon his retirement. He found the most success as a trainer with PSV. He led them to the UEFA Cup glory in 1978, making them only the third Dutch club to win a European title. This achievement culminated a period in which PSV had become Dutch champions in three seasons out of four. After his successes in Eindhoven, Rijvers was invited to take over Oranje. Unfortunately, Rijvers found less success at the helm of the national team. He steered them through two unsuccessful qualifications for the 1982 World Cup and the 1984 European Championship. He was then succeeded briefly by Rinus Michels and eventually Leo Beenhakker.
Today Kees Rijvers lives in France, but the Dutch public had a brief encounter with him again when he was asked to act as interim coach after PSV had fired Aad de Mos and before his replacement Dick Advocaat could vacate his position with the national team.