Wilnis in the market for new career

IT used to be that buying a pub was the favoured route taken by ex-footballers, nowadays most want to get into the lucrative world of managing or coaching, writes Derek Davis.

IT used to be that buying a pub was the favoured route taken by ex-footballers, nowadays most want to get into the lucrative world of managing or coaching, writes Derek Davis.

Not Fabian Wilnis.

The Dutchman, who notches up his 200th Ipswich appearance on Saturday, has a keen eye for business and is looking to tread another, some might say more precarious, path.

So keen is the 33-year-old to enter the world of marketing and commercial sales in football, he has asked for work experience at Portman Road.


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Wilnis said: “That is more appealing to me than being a manager. I'm a people person so I want to be involved in that side of football.

“Don't get me wrong, I'm not packing in football. I want to play as long as possible but I don't want to leave things until the last minute. I want to be ready for when I finish playing and the learning does not interfere with preparing for games.”

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There was a time as a teenager when Wilnis considering following in the footsteps of Brunel rather than Cruyff as a career choice.

He said: “I enjoyed school and considered being an engineer but decided to try football for a year and if it had not worked out I would have gone back to college.

“It worked out and 15 years later I'm still a professional footballer.”

But now the switch to marketing is the aim and he also plans to go out for the day with a friend, who is a sales representative, to see how he works and closes deals.

Wilnis got a taste for doing deals by securing some low-level sponsorship for the club with Stena Line after spending so much time going to and fro between Harwich and the Hook of Holland on the ferry.

He joked: “We are on there so much all the crew know us by name.

“Seriously though, it is great for the kids, there is a play area, they love Adrian the Clown and we can all move around. They have got two cinemas, two restaurants, burger bars, a pizza place and a little disco, sports bar and a casino so it is ideal.”

Fabian and wife Juliette have three daughters, aged two, three and eight, and all consider Ipswich home for now but are building a home near Rotterdam for the future.

Visits home involve a lot of gifts, usually with an Ipswich Town theme, so the four-wheeled drive is usually packed full.

He said: “The family are all settled, the girls all regard Holland as a place to go on holiday and visit relatives.

“I go when I have spare time so it is mainly in the summer break. But my wife and kids go back every month or so.

“We always use Stena Line because it is so easy for us.

“Harwich is just around the corner and the crossing to the Hook of Holland only takes three-and-a-half hours and from there to Rotterdam it is about another half hour.

“We raid Planet Blue to buy presents before we go and the family love it because it is unique, you can't buy the stuff in Holland. I have a cousin who is 12-years-old and he is crazy about Ipswich so I'm always taking him Town kit or things for his bedroom and his friends love going in to see what he has that is new.”

Ipswich has always enjoyed a close connection with Dutch footballing supporters, so the decision to make the new away kit orange will only strengthen that link.

Wilnis is one of a steady stream of Dutch masters who have made their way across the North Sea to Suffolk. Martijn Reuser is still at Portman Road, Nabil Abidallah has recently left. Bobby Petta, Gus Uhlenbeek followed those legends Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, while Romeo Zondervan still scouts for Town.

Wilnis said: “A lot of Dutch football fans like to come across to watch English football and as Ipswich is the nearest big club when they get off the ferry they will come here.

“Also Ipswich has always had Dutch players and so people in Holland know the club really well and there is a big following. I'm always being asked for tickets and requests to meet me when they come over.”

Wilnis will play his 200th game for Ipswich on Saturday at Rotherham and he admits he didn't think he would still be at Portman Road after five years.

The 33-year-old was a £200,000 bargain buy from Dutch side de Graafschap in December 1999 and immediately settled into the right-sided defender role.

He said: “Normally in football the average stay is three or four years so to still be here after five is slightly surprising but I have to say I have no regrets at all.

“I have had my ups and down, real highs and a few very lows but the important thing is I'm really enjoying my time here now.”

Those highs include the play-offs culminating in victory at Wembley, scoring against Manchester United in first home game in the Premiership in a season where he helped Town finish fifth and then playing in Europe.

But it was one of those European games that sparked the low ebb in Wilnis' Blues career.

He recalls: “It started when George Burley hauled me off before half-time in Helsingborg and then the whole row afterwards.

“Not being in the squad and having to watch games from the stand got me down and in the end I asked for a transfer. It was not down to the club, in fact this is the best club to play for, the people who work here are terrific, they really are like family to me.

“When George left the new manager gave me another chance and I have been in the team since.”

It is unlikely Wilnis will play elsewhere and will be a willing ambassador for the club.

He said: “I have had a great time here and would recommend it to any Dutch player.

“If they want to play abroad, Ipswich is close by ferry. The weather is better here than having to play up north and it is a lovely part of the country.

“Traditionally Dutch players do well here as the way Ipswich play suits us.”

After giving so much as a player you never know, Wilnis could top that by negotiating a multi-million pound sponsorship deal for the club in the future.

But first he has to start at the bottom and no doubt tea-making will be on the agenda on his first day of work experience. Still - he could be pulling pints.

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