Do you remember Nico Claesen? I won’t blame you if you don’t; it was after all over 20 years ago when the Belgian international was playing for Spurs. Nico was one of those players the fans love – a hard-working, loyal man who’d put his all into every performance. Something of a one-trick pony with his habit of using his pace to race onto a through ball and slot the ball past the goalkeeper, but it worked and led to a decent goal record at the club, which is much more impressive when you look at how many starts he made compared to his goals scored.
A brief history on the Belgian first; Claesen started his career in his native Belgium before making a 1984 move to Germany to play for Stuttgart when he was 21. Claesen enjoyed a pretty good year with Stuttgart but was sold on, back to Belgium, and he joined Standard Liege in 1985 where he managed a similarly good year, scoring more than one in three games. This, along with a successful World Cup performance, led to his move to Spurs in 1986 at the age of 24.
Claesen immediately became a hit with the fans and soon went on a purple patch for the club, scoring freely by getting onto constant balls from Glenn Hoddle to run through and score on account of his great pace. Claesen was surprisingly hard to knock off the ball for a small man and was determined to get his goals. Claesen’s fall from the first team at Spurs was not due to his own form but simply because of new signings and a change in the system. A move to a 4-5-1 system didn’t suit Claesen as Clive Allen was preferred as the lone striker and Claesen didn’t suit a midfield role. He remained at the club a while longer but his time was clearly coming to an end and he departed in 1988, going back to Belgium after 2 years with the North London club.
Claesen would go on to spend the rest of his career in Belgium, playing for a number of teams including Royal Antwerp, Oostende and Sint-Niklase, managing a good scoring rate for each of his clubs. He retired from football in 2000 at the age of 37 having finished his career off with a few years in the lower levels of Belgian football.
Most recently Claesen, who managed 12 goals in 36 international appearances, made the move into managing – taking control of Belgian side Patro Eisden Maasmechelen in 2005 who he managed until 2008. He is currently out of the football world and believed to be unemployed.
Whether Claesen will have another go at management is yet to be seen and if he does he could yet end up returning to these shores, although it seems likely that he’d stay in Belgium, as he clearly was most at home in his homeland with much of his career spent there. Claesen’s time at Spurs was mixed as he was loved by the fans and made a great start to life at the club, and enjoyed another good spell later on, but his career there was ruined by the change in the club’s system and the signings of other players. Claesen was simply unlucky.
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