Former Netherlands defender Berry van Aerle worked briefly as a postman after retiring from playing, but, back at PSV Eindhoven as a scout, he is struggling to contain his excitement as Thursday's UEFA Europa League tie with SL Benfica recalls the halcyon days of 1987/88.
A lack of hair on head and upper lip mean that Van Aerle, 48, is not instantly recognisable as the man who won all there was to win for club and country that summer. Yet mention that season and the years fall away as he remembers how, under Guus Hiddink, PSV swept the board at home and in Europe before five of the squad provided the backbone for the Netherlands' UEFA European Championship triumph
It was a beautiful experience, unique – 1988 is a year we will never forget," said Van Aerle, whose powerful right-wing runs earned him the nickname Turbo Berry. "The European Championship crowned a fantastic club season. We were Dutch champions and won the Dutch Cup, so when you then also win the European Champion Clubs' Cup and, some of us, EURO '88, well, who would have expected that?"
Not many, although the biggest surprise was arguably PSV's maiden European Cup success, after a last-four victory over Real Madrid CF set up a final against Benfica. Here, PSV required penalties following a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes in Stuttgart. "It wasn't a particularly good match, with both teams very cautious, but it was exciting until the end and a tense penalty shoot-out. It does not matter how you win it, just as long as you do. Now we're in the history books forever: we lifted that trophy," Van Aerle told UEFA.com.
The Eredivisie club's current crop are four matches away from their own shot at European glory, starting with a trip to Lisbon for the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final against Benfica. "It's hard to compare the PSV of then with the team today but, riding high in the Eredivisie, they also have quality.
If they get through their confidence will grow and PSV can go on to greater things – that's what happened to us in '88.
"We had a fantastic team," Van Aerle continued. "Our unity was unique. Guus Hiddink gave all the squad – numbers 1 to 20 – the feeling of being part of the team, keeping everyone satisfied. He is a master of creating a close-knit group, making every player feel valued. We also had a perfect blend of hard-working players and quality, the likes of Ronald Koeman, Erik Gerets, Søren Lerby, Wim Kieft and Gerald Vanenburg surrounded by Jan Heintze, Willy van de Kerkhof and Hans Gillhaus."
Whether Fred Rutten's side, smarting after Saturday's 2-0 defeat at title rivals FC Twente, share those characteristics remains to be seen. Whatever, as the Benfica tie plays out over the coming week, Van Aerle, back at PSV as fans coordinator and scout, will struggle to suppress a smile.
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