‘People think I’m acting’
“HELLO everyone, here is coach Pieter de Jongh. ALIAS The Champ. From AFRICA. And THE CHAMP have a special message for EVERYONE who warm heart for Feyenoord Rotterdam. YES! Because they took the title in the Dutch eredivisie. The Champ say to Feyenoord Rotterdam: ‘Con-kot-tu-lations!”
This is usually how it goes when he makes himself heard via a video on social media. His natural enthusiasm splashes off the screen and he still eagerly deploys the stone-cobbled English he became famous with.
And whether Pieter de Jongh is congratulating Feyenoord on the national title, complimenting Spakenburg on its surprising advance in the KNVB Cup or wishing his followers happy Easter: he always shouts a few words and phrases at the camera.
Movie goes viral
But when the trainer of Silver Strikers from Malawi appeared Tuesday night in the radio studio of Along the Line And Surroundings sitting, he calmly and thoughtfully recounts his extraordinary career in international soccer.
His journey goes from a few Dutch amateur clubs, where he was a coach, through FC Den Bosch (video analyst), FC Dordrecht (assistant) and AZ (trainee under Ronald Koeman), among others, to coaching the Olympic team of Moldova, AFC Leopards in Kenya, FC Ulaanbaatar, Platinum FC in Zimbabwe and the national teams of Swaziland and Somalia.
It’s all now captured in a book about the 52-year-old phenom from the small town of Asperen in Gelderland. The Champ, so reads the title. “From Dutch boy to soccer king of Africa,” the cover further reads.
De Jongh was asked by a handful of writers if they could record his story after a video appeared that changed his life overnight. This was an interview after the 2020 Challenge Cup final, which he won with Platinum FC.
“Only one word: was a soccer show,” De Jongh begins. “Played very well. Started very aggressive. Hijgh pressure. Create a lot of chances. Hijghlanders had total no answer on the way how we did the football. First half two zero. Was even possible a hijghere score. Second half same.”
And, to a question from one of the Zimbabwean reporters, “I don’t hear what you say. So I can give no answer, if you do not speak clear English.”
Watch the video below that made Pieter de Jongh a household name in the Netherlands:
The video is picked up a year later in the Netherlands and scores hundreds of thousands views on social media. Suddenly everyone knows “The Champ,” a nickname he was once given by a journalist from Zimbabwe.
“I have been approached by 12 production houses for TV series and documentaries. All kinds of things have been offered,” says De Jongh, who is currently being followed with regularity by a film crew. “There will be a film in theaters in 2024 and in addition there are now negotiations for a TV series.”
‘Dolle dive night’
“I am a better trainer than Ronald Koeman.” It is one of the claims he makes in his book, in which he also talks about corruption at clubs he worked for, quarrels, threats and several extramarital affairs.
For example, De Jongh once experiences a “madcap evening” with a sports reporter in Zimbabwe. “You get a lot of attention, you are in the newspapers and appear on TV. Then I got to know her. However, she turned out to have a relationship with the president of Zimbabwe, who was also president of my club.”
De Jongh left the Netherlands in 2012 after a divorce that ruined him financially and emotionally. “I had lost everything. My house, my car … The so-called friends I had, I no longer had either. I desperately wanted to leave the Netherlands.”
His first foreign job, with the Olympic team of Moldova, was tough. He found it only a “gray country,” with less freedom than Holland. And his English at the time was “perhaps even less than it is now.”
“I know I don’t speak English well. But when I speak English, I do it my way,” De Jongh said. “People think I’m acting, that I do it consciously, but that’s not the case at all. The people I work with understand me.”
De Jongh prides himself on always being himself and never hiding his opinions. He is proud of what he has accomplished that way. “I could not have dreamed this. I have worked for different leagues and clubs, won cups and coached in the African Champions League. So I am very satisfied.”
That doesn’t mean there are no dreams left. We probably won’t see him back in the Netherlands anytime soon, but there is still plenty to achieve in Africa. “I would still like to be active with a country at the Africa Cup,” De Jongh says. “Or at a club with which I can win the Champions League in Africa.”