Laurent Verbiest died when he was 26 years old, being a victime of a deadly car accident. He was without any doubts the best defender in the Belgian football history. Born in Oostende on April 16 of the year 1936, he demonstrated against a famous Argentinian club and that gave him the nickname Lorenzo le Magnifique. The player was compared to Franz Beckenbauer (Bayern München) and Cesare Maldini (AC Milan). He had the same style as those players and sometimes took big risks by dribbling with the ball in his own defense.
In the 50s there was Fons Van Brandt of SK Lierse, who liked to take risks. And in the same period as Verbiest, also Yves Baré of FC Liège was known as a risk taker. But unlike him, Lorenzo could count on the strong and experienced Jean Plaskie to correct his mistakes.
Though Verbiest had many fans, few people also criticized his way of play. The fact that he never won the Golden Shoe, has probably somthing to do with the fact that journalists couldn't appreciate his way of play. After his death, journalist Jan Pulinckx of Het Laatste Nieuws in 1966, wrote he actually deserved to win the trophy.
Lorenzo died on the night of February 2 1966 in Oostende in a car accident. He was returning from a training and was probably in a hurry because he wanted to see Manchester United - Benfica Lisbon on tv. Eugène Steppé remembers the day he received the news: "I was watching tv when I received the phone call 'I have terrible news ... Laurent ... a few minutes ago. Driving too fast, got off the road...' it sounded. He was brought to the hospital, but he was already dead on arrival. His chest was crushed. Laurent was gone and I couldn't believe it."
One year later, Sporting organised a benefit match for his widow, against Ajax. But the Dutchmen made a big deal out of it. "How much do you pay? Where are we staying? That's all they were asking. I went to drink a few beers with their chairman Van Praag and made clear this was a match to honour Verbiest who had died in an accident. I also stated all profit would go to Madame Verbiest. Eventually, Ajax with Cruijff, Keizer, Stuurbier, Swart and Nunninga agreed and they were defeated 4-1." Lorenzo's portrait hang on the walls of Anderlecht's club house for years. A few years ago it was replaced by Coeck's portrait, who also died in an accident. Verbiest is buried in Bredene, where his friend and former-Anderlecht player Wilfried Puis, also is resting.
During his childhood, Laurent spent a lot of time on his father's fishing boat. If he hadn't become a football player, he would surely have become a fisherman. Laurent was also a very good cyclist. He won a few races in Oostende. But he prefered playing football and joined AS Oostende. Steppé: "I remember how he informed the members of the direction board that he was better than central defender Legon ánd his substitute Starke. He asked for a chance to prove himself. Trainer Pol Gernaey (former international), made sure he got that chance." He immediately convinced the trainer and remained in the team. He also joined the national youth team and the military team. He was also famous for his jokes and self confidence. In the game agains Crossing, he was sitting on the ball in his own box and challenged the strikers to come and get the ball. The referee couldn't appreciate that initiative ...
Oostende relegated to the 3rd division and Laurent wanted to go to Anderlecht. It took him one year before they actually let him go. He made his debute in June 1960 in a friendly game against the Brazilian FC Santos where Pele played. Pépé was Verbiest's direct opponent. He understood he couldn't take any risks and played a decent game.
Constant Vanden Stock, federal coach, was impressed and followed the player. When he played another good game against Waterschei. His opponent was Damatius Mantels and he didn't touch a ball during that game. After four games, the brilliant player even convinced the biggest sceptics and on October 2 1961 he made his debute for the national team against Holland. That was one month after his debute in the highest division: a record! He colleced 23 A-caps during his career and played on several positions. He played his last international game agains Bulgaria in 1965. Belgium lost 2-1 and Verbiest was overclassed by Bulgarian striker Asparoukhov. A few months after Verbiest died, also Asparoukhov died in a car accident.
His international carreer knew many ups and downs due to several injuries, but also because of his bold statements. Once he was suspended for six months because he said to referee Lepomme during a game: "You are not very smary, are you?" Once he was attacked by a female fan with an umbrella, but he just smiled at her. He remained cool under all circumstances, besides once against STVV. Striker Maes was challenging Verbiest all the time and he lost control. Once Henri Thellin was selected for an international game against France in stead of Verbiest. In the newspapers he stated: "Henri, I'm better than you... I really am!"
Steppé remembers Verbiest as a tease and a stubborn person: "Whenever he was planning something, you could see it in his eyes. He once managed to go out with the team, while trainer Sinibaldi had forbidden that. He had overflown the beds so no one could sleep. Lorenzo was the first to who came downstairs, followed by Puis who took his guitar and started playing. That way, trainer Sinibaldi had no other choice than allowing the players to go out. Puis and Verbiest were good friends. And since then, Sinibaldi accepted Verbiest the way he was..."
And he wasn't afraid of doing few tricks in European games. During the season of '62-'63, Anderlecht met Real Madrid and Ferenc Puskas was his direct opponent. Steppé: "In the first leg, the Hungarian player didn't touch a single ball. After the game he said he had a stomacache. 'You'll have it again in two weeks', said Verbiest..." And he was right. Madrid was eliminated and Laurent took the match ball home. The players of Anderlecht and Real had a good party in Brussels together.
Verbiest always had his own oppinion. In the season of '65-'66, Sporting met Fenerbahce, in Istanbul. Sinibaldi wanted to attack and even sent the defenders into the offense. But Verbiest replied: "We hold the nill now and we beat them in Brussels". "You will play as I tell you", replied Sinibaldi. But Verbiest did his own thing and the game ended in a scoreless draw. At home, the Mauves won 5-1. Those games were in the period that Verbiest was suspended, but that suspension was only valid in the league. In the next round, the Mauves played against Derry City. It would be Verbiest's last European game. "Their field wasn't in accordance with UEFA regulations and we won the first leg on forfait: 0-3", explains Steppé. "The second leg ended on 9-0! Laurent's last game. Three weeks before the match against Madrid in the next round, he died in an accident."
Julien Kialunda, nicknamed Bichette, replaced him. He was a Congolese that came from Union Saint-Gilloise. A good player, intelligent and he had the same style as Verbiest. He was good indeed, but he wasn't Verbiest...