After an extended break The Belgian Waffle gets back in full swing, just in time for the new season to begin. In truth, not a lot has happened over the summer in Belgium to really warrant a post,
Much of the intrigue has been provided by the filling of managerial positions. Whilst Holland were stinking out Euro 2012, compatriots were taking up residence at the biggest clubs in Belgium. There’s now no less than five Dutch coaches. Overseas, we’ve had Hazardgate and Chelsea’s continual purchasing of Belgian’s brightest talents. Top division clubs winning 10-0 over lower league teams unfortunately don’t get coverage either. In truth, the market has been pretty stagnant.
But with a new season around the corner, now seems a perfect time to gauge where the main contenders are at going into the campaign – who has bought well, who has sold off key assets and who is best placed to lift the trophy come next May. Let’s get on with bold predictions and misguided analysis, shall we?
The Champions – Anderlecht
No better place to start than at the biggest club in the land. Strolling to a title last year, the summer months have been a quiet old time in Brussels. Many expected an exodus of some of the bigger players at the club, notably the Argentine duo of Lucas Biglia and Mati Suarez, but they are still on the books at Les Mauves. In fact, this is the major problem that the board have – cashing in on their key assets and shifting a large amount of deadwood. With several unwanted players returning from loan spells, Dalibor Veselinovic and Pablo Chavarria for example, this leaves the new man at the helm with around 40 members of his squad to use.
John van den Brom has arrived as manager from Dutch side Vitesse, where he secured a Europa League berth last season. The year before that he masterminded a similar feat for ADO Den Haag and it seems a shrewd appointment by the board in appointing the 45-year old as first team coach. Under Ariel Jacobs, Anderlecht seemed to just be going through the motions, always doing a job but never really hitting their sparkling best. Perhaps under a younger coach, we might see a new look Anderlecht, with some of the youth team finally reach the levels expected (so might say unfairly) on them. Take note of Fernando Canesin, Dennis Praet and Jordan Lukaku – all of whom will hope to make an impact this year, especially the man in the middle, who’s been passed the Belgian young hope baton.
With little transfer activity, van den Brom’s first task is work out who to keep and who to ditch. He appears to have taken a shine to Tom De Sutter which suggests Milan Jovanovic might be left sulking on the bench. He favours a 4-3-3 as shown in the Supercup Final vs Lokeren, which encouraging free-flowing football, but also means Sacha Kljestan is the man to miss out. No runner needed for Biglia then.
The defence needs bolstering too – only Saudi Arabian, Osama Hawsawi has been brought in at the back, and there are questions over this signing already. The acquisition of striker Gohi Bi Cyriac from rivals Standard is an intriguing one: he wasn’t cheap at €2m and is always injured, yet has a great amount of potential. Conceding twice to Lokeren at the weekend might indicate that they have some way to go to be a tight defensive unit.
All in all, there’s murmurs of discontent over the transfer policy, yet with a very similar squad to last year, they are still the ones to beat.
Closest Challengers – Club Brugge
A complete contrast over in Bruges, as Georges Leekens begins his second spell managing at the club and has not been shy of adding to his pack. He shocked/delighted the nation by stepping down as national team boss for the role and probably sees this as his last shot at some domestic success in a long coaching career.
Like last summer, Club Brugge seem hellbent on winning the league and have spent comparatively big to get their hands on silverware. Of the additions, three that interest me are goalscoring centre-back Jim Larsen from Rosenborg, Jesper Jørgensen from Gent and Mohammed Tchité from Standard (see a theme here). Larsen comes highly recommended, whilst the other two are consistent performers in the Jupiler Pro League. Tchité is also the first player to play for ‘The Big Three’ – Anderlecht, Standard and now the Blauw-Zwart.
It should all be plain sailing then, yet their pre-season has been a bit lacklustre. Only on Friday, they were trounced 5-1 at home by Getafe, indicating that Leekens has someway to go before getting his best possible lineup. But theoretically, the squad has good depth to it. The Club Brugge hierarchy need to let Leekens get on with it, and have likely learned their lesson in switching up the coaching positions so much. He should continue what Christoph Daum started, without really getting any admirers last season. They’re the ones who will make it a good dogfight at the top.
The Chasing Pack – Genk, Gent, Standard
Of the clubs continually lurking around the Playoffs 1 zone, these three appear to be the next best bets, although that’s purely through name alone after all have lost big stars
Still under Mario Been’s management, Genk obviously had to deal with the eventual departure of Kevin De Bruyne to Chelsea, plus losing pace-setting midfielder Daniel Toszer didn’t help either. Fortunately two new signings in Mechelen’s Julien Gorius (their Steven Gerrard) and exciting young French player Steven Joseph-Monrose from Kortrijk are more than adequate replacements for sure. With Vossen and Benteke up front, they could do rather well, but need defensive reinforcements to really challenge. That could be their undoing.
Trond Sollied must have hated the summer – it’s been a revolving door at Gent. More than a full team have departed De Buffalos, the most notable so far is Yassine El Ghanassy’s move to West Brom on loan, ending his year-long sulk at the club. They have made some signings such as OH Leuven’s Jordan Remacle, by far their best player season who now obtains a bigger move, and Zambian Rodgers Kola (best name ever) who might just prove to be an exceptional find. Gent are a bit of an unknown quantity, it could go either way. They also seem to have the most wingers in the entire league and no strikers. Losing Jorgensen and Smolders is a big deal though.
Similar sentiments can be said of Standard Liege’s summer, somehow slightly more tumultuous than the previous year . Roland Duchâtelet’s ownership of the club has led to vociferous complaints, with many fans unsure over where the club is heading. Last summer was traumatic enough, this one has been a disappointment. Ditching Jose Riga was wise, especially with another Dutchman Ron Jans coming in but letting go key players like Tchite, Felipe (to Hannover) hasn’t helped preparations.
Incoming are French prospect Frederic Bulot, Japanese international goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima from Lierse, and a slight punt on Yohan Tavares to bolster a weak defence now without Felipe. Until last week it looked all doom and gloom, but add in the intriguing deal for Marvin Ogunjimi, who became ostracized at Mallorca quickly, means things could go ok at Standard. Or at least on a par with last year.
As usual this leaves several clubs fighting it out for a playoff spot – of those I see Beerschot and Lokeren being likely candidates. The bulk of the cup winners squad is still there, whilst Beerschot have nabbed some bargains over the summer under new coach Adrie Koster. Most of which are from PSV Eindhoven, another hub of Belgian talent. Kortrijk have been raiding lower league clubs around Europe, and if they click, they could repeat a Top 6 finish again. Mechelen, another club to snap up a Dutch coach in Roda’s Harm Van Veldhoven, could also go well with the new boss bringing in the Danish duo of Mads Junker and Nicklas Pedersen. Can they cope without Gorius though?
Of those to struggle, I can’t look past Lierse who rode their luck last year, and have lost their best player in Kawashima and look set to lose Daylon Claasen to Queens Park Rangers, if rumours are to be believed. I don’t see OH Leuven repeating their feats from last year, with a depleted side and they could suffer from the dreaded second season syndrome. Replacing Thomas Kaminski (now reserve keeper at Anderlecht) with Logan Bailly could either go horrendously or marvellously
Promoted side Waasland Beveren could be a surprise package after some summer sale deals, and you never know what Charleroi will do with enigmatic Abbas Bayat in control of practically everything.
My Top 6
2. Club Brugge
That’s your lot from me – who do you think has done the best business over the summer?