Wilfried Puis lost the fight against cancer on October 21 1981. "His body was destroyed. He was only weighing 38kg", testifies his widow Micheline. He was only 38 years old. Gilles Van Binst remembers the day he died: "We knew he was sick, but we never realised it was this bad... He broke contact with all his friends. He didn't want anyone to see how he suffered. Typical for Puis."
Puis was born on Februari 18 1943 and played for Anderlecht during 1961 and 1971. He won the Golden Shoe in 1964 and played 49 international games. Van Binst knew him very well and tells the story about Puis. "I knew de Puzze very well. But few can say the really knew Puis. Chang, that's what we called him. When he laughed, he had eyes like Chinese people. And he laughed a lot. Plaskie always said: 'Did the Chinese arrive in Bredene? It's not possible Puis is a Belgian, is it?' ... (thinking) He was the first I saw when I arrived at Anderlecht. Chairman Roossens as showing me the locker room at 7pm and Puis was still taking his bath. A special man, yes."
Laurent Verbiest was a guy from the coast, just like Puis. Laurent took care of Wilfried. "I thank my whole carreer to Laurent", Puis once said. They became good friends, going to the coast together once in while. Laurent was his hero, also because the introvert Puis had been lonely during his youth. Wilfried had been living with his grandparents, because is steph father saw him as a source of income. He got married in the Scottish Gretna Green. When Verbiest left in February 1966, Puis also got into trouble. "He even carried Verbiest's bag. I remember how Verbiest once just dropped his bike and Puis picked it up and nicely garaged it. They've doing everything together for years. Verbiest was the serious one, Puis was the cunning one. He was funny and he was a dare-devil. He also liked to joke around. Jean Cornelis was his favourite victime, because he had a big nose. It almost ended in a fight between those two (laughs). He was one of the first football players who smoked sigarettes. And after the game they were off to the bar with Trappeniers, Plaskie and Kialunda."
But the fans knew Wilfried Puis as a quiet person. He repeatedly said: "As long as I can play my game on Sunday and spend the rest of my days in peace, life's good." Van Binst adjusted this image: "Everyone always thought he was very shy, but that isn't true. Everything something happened, Puzze was involved. Especially when the team went into isolation before a game, then Puis, Plaskie and Trappeniers always pulled a few pranks. I remember when we were in park around the castle of Huizingen. Some people were fishing in a pond. Puis & co wrapped a few pieces of dog droppings into a newspaper and put it in their lunch boxes. Or when suddenly the lights went out in the dining room and someone had to turn the electricity back on in the basement, in the dark. Those were jokes that Puis came up with."
According to Micheline, Puis never felt really at home between the Brussels' beau monde. No one paid attention to him, not even when he won the Golden Shoe. He also said there were two clans in Anderlecht: the city boys vs. the people from the countryside. But Van Binst denies: "Those were just stories. In fact, we had a good group. The only weird guy was Verbiest, he never said much. Jan Mulder once told me, after he had scored four or five goals against Sint-Truiden, that Verbiest reacted: 'not too bad...'"
Puis was a great player though. "I was already mature when I was 12", he said once. "My carreer was based on my technique and my speed." Van Binst: "Players like him don't exist anymore. Van Himst became such a good player thanks to Puis." Though they played along side for several years, they never evolved a close relationship. "I only said 'hello' and 'goodbye'", admits Puis. But on the football field, they formed a great couplen. Van Binst: "Always the same, Puis centered from the left wing towards the first post and Polle scored. Puis also made the same move over and over. Everyone knew about it. Making a feint and then getting past the defender. It always succeeded. He reminds me of Garrincha. I believe if he would have played today, he would have caused many red cards for lots of defenders. His centers were better than Rensenbrink's. A nice hard ball, where a striker can do something with. On our right wing, we had Bergholtz. He had a good center too. And between our two wings, there was the clumsy Stockman, with his wild efforts from distance. I must admit, now and then he scored goals with that shot (laughs)."
"It surely was the best team Anderlecht ever had. We only had one problem, a naive trainer: Pierre Sinibaldi. A good man though, but his tactics were naive. Sinibaldi was a gentleman. But that was because our team didn't need training. Pierre only had to make sure the morality was good. In the Belgian league there wasn't a problem at all. But against good European teams, his lousy tactics caused us to miss a few European Cups. The games against Dundee, Dukla Prague, Sparta Prague, Real Madrid, ... were good examples. Yet, it was Anderlecht's best team ever and with Goethals as coach, we would have become European champions for many times."
Also Puis agreed: "Anderlecht never had better players than in the 60s." Puis won his first title in his first year for the Mauves. Four more would follow. He also won one Cup ('65). In '70 he lost a European final against Arsenal. We'll all remember that fantastic game he player against Real Madrid in 1966. He took a free kick in the Spanish capital, over Gento's head and the ball went in.
Anderlecht was successful, but every player got offers from other big European teams. Van Binst: "He wouldn't have felt happy in another country. He needed his coast and his city, Oostende. No one wanted to leave Anderlecht, everyone was too proud to play for such a club. Now only money counts." "We played and had fun", Puis said. But at the end of the sixties he complained that he wasn't earning enough money. It was the beginning of the end for a golden generation. The Belgian national team took a serious beating on the World Cup of 1970 in Mexico. Both Puis and Van Himst then refused to play for Belgium again. But Wilfried felt betrayed by Van Himst, who made a lot more money than him, because he didn't want to help changing his financial situation. That conflict led to a transfer. Together with Velkeneers he left Anderlecht in '71 for Club Brugge. That turned out to be a huge disappointment and Jurion, his former team mate, brought him to Lokeren. Four years after the incidents, he was again selected for the national team, being 32 years old. He demonstrated his extraordinary talent again and led Lokeren to the highest division. Later on, he also played for AS Oostende and for Koksijde (a regional team). Then he opened a sports shop.
Van Binst: "Once he left Anderlecht, he didn't perform well anymore. He also didn't train a lot. Sinibaldi didn't make a problem out of it. Anderlecht was powerful enough to win the title year after year anyway. But when Kessler took over, things changed dramatically. I once played against him, in the season he played for Brugge. I never came into difficulties. His golden days were over. Anyway, Puis clearly was one of Europe's best. Puis, Van Himst and Rensenbrink together, they gave Anderlecht that little bit of extra quality. Puis was also ofter compared to Gento. Puis is one of Anderlecht's five best players. He had a great shot and a splendid center. Mulder, Puis, Van Himst, Rensenbrink and Verbiest, that's my top 5. Even today, he still would have been one of the best in the world."
"Belgium's national team is the same story. Great players, but a bad trainer. They never were able to achieve something. Mexico '70: a catastrophy! That's why Puis and Van Himst refused to play for Belgium for a while. But Puis wasn't interested in that anyway. He prefered to earn as much money as possible, by doing as little as possible. That was his biggest problem. He didn't want to do a lot a work. Our team in '69: Trappeniers; Heylens, Plaskie, Kialuna, Cornelis; Hanon, Jurion, me, Mulder, Van Himst, Puis. A decent team, wasn't it? On my first day Jurion said: you over there! Get some tea for me. And Plaskie replied: he isn't here for tea, he's here to play football! And Puis? He only said hello."