On Valentines Day, Robert Holmes comes over all love struck as he remembers a giant amongst men…
It’s probably best that I admit it now. I am a bit in love with Robert Molenaar. I have been for quite some time. It all started with his first appearance at a press conference on Thursday 9 January 1997.
Blonde haired, blue eyed and wearing a double denim, yellow cagoul combo and with an accent like a warm hug. I was convinced he was the man to save our season (I was 14 and very impressionable). Foreign centre halves in 1997 were still relatively new, exotic and mystical. The fact Molenaar was Dutch, and we had also paid a rather hefty £1 million pounds only added to the conviction that Leeds had signed the second coming of Cruyff (ignoring his son Jordi), a cultured centre half who would lead our march up the table.
The first glimpse I got was on tv, at his unveiling…teenagers didn’t get mobile phones in 1997, so i found out through the magic of teletext. You couldn’t search for video clips of endless tackles and headers like now (ironically there is still a criminal lack of Bob M material on youtube.)
The centre back combinations up to that point consisted of an endless rotation of Paul Beesley, Richard Jobson, Mark Jackson and David Weatherall, a 6 ft 2 blonde haired blue eyed dutch powerhouse (I mentioned the double denim right?) from a team that sounded just as mystical and exotic as him. This was the stuff of teenage dreams.
Following a 3-0 thumping at Newcastle, Leeds were down in 15th after 21 games, 6 games without a win and 3 straight defeats. 7 conceded in the last 3 games. I was desperate for some hope. His debut came on 11 January 1997, against Leicester who had upfront a 19 year old Emile Heskey, who at that stage was frightening defences week in week out, this was the Heskey before the Heskey we all now gleefully mock (the powerhouse? Ha!) No matter, within minutes Molenaar had, well ‘welcomed’ England’s next great hope to the game, leaving Heskey in a heap. I was hooked.
It got better, Molenaar as expected was passing the ball with ease, Leeds had almost certainly acquired a Dutch superstar, just before half time he again left Heskey in a heap, the icing on the cake was Leeds were 2-0 up, 2-0! The tackle earned him his first yellow card, not that I or Anybody else cared. Out of nowhere Leeds where inspired, creating chances and whisper it, looking good. Leicester were dispatched with ease, 3-0.
That performance was followed up in the league with an assured 2-0 away win at relegation threatened West Ham on Sky, with Molenaar reading the play as only Dutchmen could, making a sliding clearance which was the starting point for Leeds’ 2nd goal on the night. Leeds didn’t concede a goal in his first 5 games, and I’ve always been convinced had Molenaar been eligible to play away against Palace in the FA Cup, Leeds would have won to nil.
Following a blip in the league at Liverpool (4-0), Leeds won 3 premier league games on the trot 1-0, a run that included the moment I’d waited for since his arrival; Bowyer whipped in a corner, the Everton defence stood in awe as Molenaar planted a header into the goal in front of the south stand. Away he ran, jumping with both arms raised not far from my seat.
His unforgiving tackling, monstrous physique and strong performances earned the nicknamed ‘The Terminator’ – Molenaar, the cultured, sensitive Dutchman was unimpressed:
“The size of my body had a bit of an effect on people. I am quite heavy for a footballer, I must say, that has an effect maybe, but I like to be known how I play with the ball.”
Following his arrival Leeds lost just 3 times, in the 12 games that Molennaar played – Leeds won 5 of the others, but then the cultured colossus was dropped for what turned out to be the remainder of the season following a defeat at Wimbledon.
Molenaar returned to the side for the second game of the following season, but something had changed…he was no longer the confident, calm defender of the previous season. Leeds lost 3 straight before heading to Blackburn.
What followed was quite possibly the most bonkers 35 minutes of football you’ll ever see. Molenaar smashed home his 2nd goal, a textbook volley to put Leeds 2 up inside 6 minutes, what followed was a defensive horror show. A poor header straight to Gallagher, who rifled in, followed by a clumsy foul on Dahlin, a push that should have lead to a penalty before being outmuscled for Blackburn’s third. At half time it was Blackburn 3-4 Leeds, Molenaar didn’t re-appear for the second 45 minutes.
A second goal followed away to Southampton, arriving late at the back post to thump home a header in a two goal win. But Molenaar fell down the pecking order again.
In 1998-99, ‘The Terminator’ (ahem) was back… The romance was rekindled with a powerful leaping header away at Derby, it was his 5th and final goal for Leeds. His lack of pace made up by positional sense, dominance in the air and being classy on the ball, nothing could stop us now from winning it all… except it was nether going to last.
Injury at Arsenal in December 1999 resulted in ligament damage, and that proved to be his last appearance. In the summer of 2000, Molenaar was sold to Bradford City, where he stayed until 2003 before he moved to back to Holland, he retired in the summer of 2007.
There was then a period of silence, I imagined he’d retired to become a painter, or gardener attending the tulips in holland (a terrible stereotype), but hoorah he’s stayed in football becoming youth coach at AZ Alkmaar and he is currently the Assistant Manager at NEC NImigen, with one Willem Korsten. Surely the road to Elland Road has begun.
Ridsdale claimed after the £9million signing of Seth Johnson that Leeds “moved on from the Molenaars and Wetheralls of this world”, I’ll be honest I never have.
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