It’s a good thing something happened on the final day of the Jupiler Pro League – it threatened to be a non-event. Title wrapped up, more or less all European places and relegation done; there needed to be something to spark the last moments of the season into life. What we didn’t expect was Georges Leekens to depart his national team post to return to Club Brugge as the catalyst for final day managerial cull.
The move left the Belgian FA shellshocked as Leekens became the surprise appointment for the recently available Club Brugge hotseat, after Christoph Daum decided to move back to Germany citing personal reasons. The German coach steered the club into 2nd place and a Champions League spot and said his next club would be his family, clearly homesick.
Leekens left the job as Belgian boss after almost two years in charge, claiming that his ‘work with the national side was 90 per cent done.’ The Belgian FA chairman Francois De Keersmaecker described Leekens’ decision as “beneath contempt”, having only learned on the news on Sunday morning. Leekens however claimed he had acted correctly and that money wasn’t at all a factor.
This will be Leekens’ third spell at Club Brugge – having played for them throughout the 1970s, then managing them between 1989 and 1991.
The decision was made even more baffling given the timing – Belgium have two international friendlies in the next few weeks against Montenegro and England before embarking on the campaign which many expect the current crop to really challenge for a qualifying spot and fulfill that potential. Now Marc Wilmots, his No 2 will take charge of those two fixtures. Finding a replacement could be that much tougher for the FA, after this abrupt departure. Eric Gerets and Michel Preud’homme have been linked from the off, but is there enough money to get them to come calling? With the talent pool available, money shouldn’t really come into it. Perhaps Wilmots might be given the nod?
“I’ve found a fantastic project at Club Brugge and an ambitious chairman,” said Leekens. “I will do things my own way. The Brugge fans have already waited a long time for trophies and we want to give them some. We will go for it, and the sky’s the limit.”
It’s pretty much a last hoorah for him at club level at this point, but the appointment seems to have pleased Club Brugge and Rode Duivels fans in equal measure. Club Brugge have someone who knows the club inside out, whilst the national team could possibly gain a manager equal to the stars available. Leekens just never really clicked and was merely an overseer. Who is next for the national team job really is anyone’s guess.
Many had murmured that Ariël Jacobs would be heading to Bruges, after it became obvious that he was no longer wanted at champions Anderlecht. Notably the only person to be booed when lifting the trophy in the title celebrations, Jacobs has been derided for his methods and, after 4 and 1/2 years at the helm, resigned as coach. He’s looked distinctly worn out by an arduous season and it was a fairly amicable parting. He did win the league, although not as convincingly as some would have liked, and that’s surely enough to say he’s done an all right job. But when you’re Anderlecht, the expectations are of the highest order – Jacobs’ football was run-of-the-mill and at times lifeless. Who comes in next at the 31-times champions is again unknown, although Danish coach Morten Olsen leads the way at the moment, perhaps in a dual-role. Preud’homme has also been linked to that post too.
Completing the triad of departing managers, and by far the least surprising of the bunch to leave is José Riga or Wenger-lite as I like to call him, for his suit. His season-long tenure at Standard has been a fairly dull one, never really pushing the players onto anything remotely recognisable. Just like Standard’s season has been one in transition, Riga is a stopgap. He’s now off to Qatar for a youth coaching role at the Aspire Centre ahead of the World Cup in 2022, with 5 other coaches appointed – one of whom is the Dr Kawashima of the footballing world Michel Bruyninckx. Riga said he likes the concept, combined with the chance to spend more time with his family in Doha.
Het Nieuwsblad don’t buy the coach’s reasons though, suggesting that there was a power struggle in the boardroom – which would explain why Olivier Renard and Reza have yet to be purchased. Standard’s slump in the playoffs and Riga’s inability to sign a striker have made the decision easier for them to make.
All in all, a frantic end to the season, just not on the field as some may had predicted.