Anderlecht lifted their 31st domestic title on Sunday evening, securing the point they needed, with a Guillaume Gillet spot-kick deep into injury time.
The 1-1 draw with Club Brugge wasn’t exactly the prettiest end to a season in which Anderlecht have, in truth, been the best of a bad bunch. Yet securing the title in the playoffs with two games to go is an impressive feat which must be noted.
After stumbling early on in the ten-game Playoff Group, Les Mauves were looking for someone to blame – the league for installing the needlessly complicated format, the players, the manager Ariel Jacobs or a combination of all three. Yet the competition never really came close to challenging as Anderlecht fought back resiliently to win the title.
Sunday’s game at the Constant Vanden Stock wasn’t a classic by any means and Christoph Daum’s team performed well away from home, in vain hope of taking the title down to the wire. They may well question some of the refereeing on show as Colombian Carlos Bacca was given offside right before the eventual penalty decision. ‘Iron Mike’ Michael Almebäck inexplicably fumbled into Dieumerci Mbokani deep into injury time and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Guillaume Gillet who cool and comfortably slotted home and sent the crowd into raptures.
Sporting have shown the most consistency out of the title contenders – the playoffs system merely gave the others a second bite of the cherry, halving Anderlecht’s six point lead after the regular season. Anderlecht knew the title was coming after an impressive 4-0 win over Genk – an industrious performance seeing off the only in-form Playoffs 1 team (although Kevin De Bruyne’s injury had a massive impact on that game).
Credit must go to Ariel Jacobs, although some will be unwilling to give it. He has won the league title, but some would say that was the mandate, and he should have won it much sooner. Harsh in my opinion, but he’s been a pair of safe hands when it could have gone so very wrong after Romelu Lukaku and Mbark Boussoufa left. The signings of Milan Jovanovic and Dieumerci Mbokani helped steady the ship, although the former Liverpool man hasn’t been sparkling. This didn’t stop fans booing Jacobs as he went to lift the trophy, the only member of the coaching/playing staff to be chastised. Rumours having been swirling around the media that Jacobs will step down, looking noticeably jaded after a long campaign and I’d have to agree with that assessment.
As for the players – there’s a few who’ve stood head and shoulders above the rest. Matias Suarez was indeed exceptionably in the early parts of the season, showing some remarkable skill and scoring some wonderful goals in the league and in the Europa League. Which will of course do him no harm with Premier League club reportedly interested. His form tailed off due to a knee injury but without doubt, he was the best player in the Jupiler Pro League this season.
Silvio Proto has barely made a mistake throughout the campaign (cue comments pointing out the few) and his presence has calmed a fairly weak defence at times. US international Sacha Kljestan has been much improved in the middle and his clearing up work still criminally gets unnoticed. Dieumerci Mbokani has had a tremendous season up front, made even more remarkable by him overcoming personal tragedy, as his 5-month old son died right at the start of the season.
But where now for this group of players? The answer is unknown. With Jacobs expected to step aside, who will lead them? Some are calling for Belgian goalkeeping legend Michel Preud’homme to take the position but can they afford his services? Not to mention his allegiances to Standard…
It’s already been accepted some of the squad are moving on. Lucas Biglia, who’s long been a big fish in small pond, will likely move on, as will Suarez. Milan Jovanovic has also talked about his future, directly in the aftermath of the title celebrations, perhaps suggesting he doesn’t want to play second fiddle.
Then again, many suspected Anderlecht would fall away last season and look how that turned out.
Congratulations Anderlecht. Champions for the 31st time (matching neighbours Ajax Amsterdam) and worthy league winners! Here’s the obligatory Queen title celebrations – featuring Denis Odoi gymnastics routine.