The Shrine of Lei Clijsters

Few people will argue when someone says that ‘talent runs in the family’. Great examples are the Hazard clan, the Milito brothers and the Sánchez brothers (of whom 3 became professional cyclists – Luis Léon Sanchez is best known – and one who plays for Real Madrid: Pédro Léon). However, none of these clans have (yet) accomplished as much as the Clijsters clan. This article commemorates a true KV Mechelen legend (09/11/1956-04/01/2009).

In all honesty, his daughter Kim (yes, the famous tennis player), has surpassed Lei by far. Kim was among the best at the end of the first part of career and regained this place upon return by winning two consecutive US Open titles, as a mother. Lei’s other daughter Elke was thought to be nearly as talented as her sister, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the World Championships in the youth doubles. While Kim is still going strong, Elke had to retire in 2004 due to a recurring back injury. But these are no reasons to ignore Lei’s performances.

He started his career at FC Opitter. Aged 17, Lei Clijsters was transferred to Club Brugge, a top team even back then. Achieving no success there, Lei decided to return to Limburg, his native soil. He tried his luck at Tongeren, Patro Eisden and Waterschei. It was here, in Waterschei, once a top club, that Clijsters finally hit it off and got his first cap for the national team. He became known for his tough love while playing as a defender. However, his real fame and legend status was earned after a successful transfer to KV Mechelen in 1986. He had an immediate effect on the team and was named captain from start to finish. He pushed, kicked, shouted and screamed his team to glory.  His first trophy was the Belgian Cup in 1987. Through this success, Mechelen were allowed to enter the UEFA Cup in 1988, which they eventually won, defeating Ajax in the final (1-0, goal by Piet den Boer). Mechelen continued to win trophies: in the season 1988-1989, Mechelen won the European Super Cup, beating PSV Eindhoven 3-1, and the league title. It was also this season that won Lei his first and only Golden Shoe.

As a prominent member of the national team, Lei gathered 40 caps. He played in the legendary squad that won Belgium its long lasting fame during the 1986 and 1990 World Cups. After retiring from playing at 36, he enjoyed brief spells as trainer of Patro Eisden, AA Gent, Lommel, Diest and Mechelen. He then retired from any public appearances to support his tennis playing daughters and be their manager. He supported them with the same tough love with which he gained fame as defender. There should be no doubt who was (and still is) Kim Clijster’s idol and motivation.

Lei briefly returned to the world of football during Kim’s retirement, managing KSK Tongeren from 2007 until few months before his death. A Mechelen/Belgium legend died on 04/01/2009 due to cancer at just 52.

Also, here’s a bonus video of fans of both Mechelen and Anderlecht singing a farewell song to Clijsters. You can follow Jens on Twitter, and you can write your own “The Shrine of” piece for Holding Midfield by using the contact details.

2 thoughts on “The Shrine of Lei Clijsters

    1. Well, I have to be honest and say I’m too young to really understand the impact they have had on football 🙂

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