What ever happened to Sheffield Wednesday’s Gilles De Bilde?

Gilles De Bilde’s star burned brightly and briefly at Hillsborough

Wednesday wonder The Owls' forgotten Belgian Image Jamie McDonald /Allsport

With Sheffield Wednesday just 90 minutes away from a Premier League return, Loaded is looking back at Gilles De Bilde – the Owls’ top scorer the last time they graced the English top-flight.

The Eredivisie can be a confusing place to the average English football fan.

For everything success story to emerge from the Dutch top-flight – Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Edgar Davids – there are countless flops – Mateja Kezman, Afonso Alves and Marcos Boogers.

Quite which category Gilles De Bilde sits in, however, is anyone’s guess.

Signed by Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 1999, De Bilde arrived at Hillsborough having scored 24 goals in 49 league appearances for previous club PSV Eindhoven, where a run of seven goals in eight games helped the Dutch giants secure the Eredivisie title in 1997.

He also arrived with something of a reputation for trouble.

A troubled youngster at SC Eendracht Aalst in Belgium, De Bilde had previously received a two-year suspended prison sentence for head-butting two scout leaders and was involved in a similar altercation that left two nurses injured.

He had left the Brussels club under something of a cloud after punching opponent Krist Porte in the face in December 1996, leaving him with a broken nose and damaged eye socket.

Then-Anderlecht coach Johan Boskamp suggested the Belgian see a psychiatrist; instead, he sought a move to PSV.

By the time he arrived at Wednesday, for £3 million, such antics appeared to be a thing of the past and just as well with the Owls shelling out a reported £15,000-a-week in wages.

It seemed like money well spent at first, with De Bilde bagging 10 league goals in his debut season.

There was just one slight snag – it wasn’t enough to prevent Wednesday slipping down into the Championship.

An expensive drain on the wage bill once the club found themselves in the second tier, then-manager Paul Jewell thought he had found a solution.

“I fixed him up with three months on loan at Aston Villa,” said Jewell. “But when I called him in to tell him, he said: ‘I’ve got a problem. I’ve got nobody to look after my dogs if I go there’,” he told The Guardian.

“I said, ‘Give us your house keys, I’ll feed the bloody dogs’. That was the sort of thing I was up against.”

An avid dog lover, De Bilde had been the victim of an attempted News of the World expose after he arrived at Wednesday, amid claims he smuggled two Dobermans past quarantine.

“he said: ‘I’ve got a problem. I’ve got nobody to look after my dogs if I go there’”

Later, after the Villa move stalled and he returned to Belgium to see out his career, De Bilde would find a way back into the headlines after his then-club Willebroek fined him for missing a match to mourn to death of a canine he was close to.

Having retired in 2007, De Bilde has evidently had time to reflect on his career to date.

Not only has he become a respected football pundit on Belgian television station Eleven Sports, but he also works as a male model on occasion and has even been known to appear in reality television with a stint on the Belgian version of Dancing on Ice.

Belgium's Gary Lineker?
Belgium's Gary Lineker? De Bilde has done some growing up

It is a far cry from the day of punching teammates and grieving over deceased pooches but it probably isn’t enough to earn him a heroes return to Hillsborough.

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