Thijssen won fourteen caps for Holland between 1975 and 1981.
In 1979, he moved to England to sign for Ipswich Town, and in 1981 was voted English Footballer of the Year as he helped Ipswich Town win the UEFA Cup, scoring one goal in each of the two legs of the final. He played a big part in their run to the semi finals of the FA Cup, and they also finished second in the league that season. He helped them finished second again the following year, but a year later he departed from Portman Road after four years to sign for Brian Clough'sNottingham Forest, but he was not nearly as successful at the City Ground as he had been in East Anglia, and he had left the club within months.
After his active career he became a football manager. In 1997 he became manager for the Swedish club Malmö FF and spent two years there.
After several seasons without success, Thijssen was sacked as manager for Malmö FF during the middle of season 98. At the time of his dismissal Malmö was in danger of being relegated to the first division(Superettan) for the first time in the club's history. Thijssen was replaced by Roland Andersson and Thomas Sjöberg.
On 24 November 2014, Thijssen was named interim coach of the Brisbane Roar in the Australian A-league.