Nov 20

Vanderhaeghe enjoying life on the coast

Yves Vanderhaeghe on international duty (image -

Yves Vanderhaeghe on international duty (image –

At the halfway stage in the JPL, Oostende are on the top of the table and have been crowned ‘Autumn Champions’. It won’t mean much to coach Yves Vanderhaeghe who knows more than most that football is not a matter of life and death.

Vanderhaeghe arrived late on both the national and international scenes. He played just one game for Cercle Brugge, aged 18, but didn’t play first division football again until 1994 at Eendracht Aalst. In between, he was close to death after suffering a brain tumour.

After recovering it took him a long period to regain fitness but he never stopped trying to make a career as a professional footballer. After spells at Eendracht Aalst and Excelsior Mouscron, captain at both clubs, he joined Anderlecht at the age of 30 and went on to play over 150 games for the Brussels team. Vanderhaeghe was renowned for being a team player and for never complaining.

Remarkably he left Aalst in 1997 for just 160,000 euros and as a seasoned international, he later cost Anderlecht 1.4 million euros. In his first season, in which Anderlecht won the title and had a successful run in the Champions League, beating Manchester United, Vanderhaeghe was voted runner–up to “Golden Boot” winner (Player of the Year) Jan Koller.

Vanderhaeghe lining up against Liverpool in 2005.

Vanderhaeghe lining up against Liverpool in 2005.

Vanderhaeghe was part of the Belgium team’s backbone back in 2000, forming a solid midfield with Schalke’s Marc Wilmots. Back in those days, they were equally appreciative of each other. Said Vanderhaeghe, “Playing with Marc means that I can be more attack-minded than I was at Mouscron. He wins so many duels that I can sometimes forget my defensive duties.” The Mouscron midfielder added, “Marc is like me. There’s no such thing as a lost cause.”

Similarly, there was Wilmots on Vanderhaeghe after the opening victory against Sweden at Euro 2000. “We don’t need to talk for long, Yves and myself. As soon as we’ve got the situation in hand I know I can try something in attack with my eyes closed – no problem.”

Vanderhaeghe was always modest about his achievement on the pitch, knowing that his job was to win the ball for the more creative players. In his words, “I don’t mind being seen as a servant – that’s why I’m in the team. I’ve been captain at Aalst and Mouscron in the same role.”
After being introduced into the Belgian squad in 1999 by Georges Leekens, Vanderhaeghe said “So far, my only trophy is for indoor football with Aalst.” He put that right winning titles during his spell at Anderlecht.

Vanhaezebrouck and Vanderheaghe in their Kortrijk days. (pic -

Vanhaezebrouck and Vanderheaghe in their Kortrijk days. (pic –

Now he’s in first spell as coach of a JPL first division side and it’s going far better than many expected. Oostende have climbed to the top of the table and taken advantage of a somewhat disappointing Club Brugge and Anderlecht and a slow start from reigning champions Gent.

Gent’s coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck, Wilmots and Vanderhaeghe are the three in the running for the coach of the year title – the Raymond Goethals trophy – with the winner to be announced in December.

Vanderhaeghe was number two to Vanhaezebrouck at Kortrijk for several years and replaced him when the latter moved to Gent. Vanderhaeghe then surprisingly switched to the ambitious Oostende after one season – and was widely condemned by the Kortrijk fans – as he felt it was the right move for his future prospects.

Vanderhaeghe is now the outsider of three in the running for the Raymond Goethals trophy but don’t bet against him making rapid progress in his coaching career.

Oct 10

Ten things about Belgium’s team you may not know or care about

Simon Mignolet and Toby Alderweireld - two of the five BPL players starting tonight (copyright John Chapman)

Simon Mignolet and Toby Alderweireld – two of the five BPL players starting tonight (copyright John Chapman)

Belgium play in Andorra tonight and against Israel in Brussels on Tuesday. Two points from those two games will see them qualify for the European Championships but what’s bubbling under the surface. Let’s have a look.

Ten things you may not know

1. Lukaku plays tonight but it’s not ‘Big Rom’ but smaller-sized Jordan – a surprise choice, some say.
2. Jordan Lukaku is Oostende’s first-ever international – since the merger of the two Oostende clubs in 1981.
3. Gent’s Laurent Depoitre – making his debut tonight – was playing third division football three seasons ago; since then he has won titles in the third, second and first divisions.
4. Marc Wilmots has decided that Marouane Fellaini does not offer enough creativity in midfield and Kevin De Bruyne is back – where he belongs – in the centre.
5. Exactly one year ago, Belgium played Andorra in Brussels; De Bruyne played central midfield and they won 6-0.
6. For the first time since 1934, Belgium will play with two full backs (the younger Lukaku and Thomas Meunier); neither of them are particularly strong defensively.
7. Three players in tonight’s team – J. Lukaku, Depoitre and Meunier – earn their living in the Jupiler Pro League (JPL) – that’s been a long time coming …
8. … and only five of tonight’s starting 11 play in the Premier League.
9. Discounting the games with Andorra and Cyprus, Belgium have scored five goals in their last five qualifying matches; none from Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku.
10. If Belgium win their next two games – Andorra and Israel – they will top the FIFA World Rankings.

Who said rankings never lie!

And here’s tonight’s team: Mignolet; Meunier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, J. Lukaku; Witsel, Nainggolan, De Bruyne; Mertens, Hazard & Depoitre.

Sep 11

Will Kevin De Bruyne be City’s 21st century Rodney Marsh?

De Bruyne and Hazard working together against the media after Belgium-Bosnia (copyright John Chapman)

De Bruyne and Hazard working together against the media after Belgium-Bosnia (copyright John Chapman)

It’s an unlikely scenario. Vincent Kompany storms into Manuel Pelliegrini’s office and shouts “Gaffer. We’ve got David Silva, Yaya Touré and Raheem Sterling. We don’t need Kevin De Bruyne.”

Going back a few years – to 1972 – the then City captain Mike Doyle did exactly that, bursting into Malcolm Allison’s office to announce that with Colin Bell, Francis Lee, and Mike Summerbee, there was certainly no need to sign the flamboyant Rodney Marsh. But Allison did sign Marsh and City promptly blew the title.

Now, Pellegrini has signed De Bruyne and, for considerably more money, he’s got a much less flamboyant personality. Forty three years ago, it ended in tears. Will it be the same result this time? Let’s go back to March 1972 to set the scene.

Manchester City were four points clear at the top of the table – the old first division – and were odds-on favourites to take the title. Brian Clough’s Derby County, just promoted, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Don Revie’s (Damned) Leeds United – going for the Double – were all in the hunt but Allison’s men were playing out of their skins.

Then, on a whim, Allison signed Marsh from QPR for a club record £200,000. He was to be the icing on the cake. If the neighbours across the way had George Best, then City needed Rodney. That at least was Allison’s philosophy.

Rodney Marsh in his Manchester City days.

Rodney Marsh in his Manchester City days.

It didn’t work. Marsh was one of England’s most creative talents. No one knew what he would do next, especially his team-mates. City’s majestic play was disrupted by his introduction as he basically replaced Tony Towers, adept at winning the ball in midfield.

This meant that City’s magic trio – Lee, Bell and Summerbee – saw less of the ball. Marsh later said “I hold my hands up. I cost City the title”. It didn’t help that Marsh arrived over weight from second division QPR; Allison later stated that before arriving at Main Road, Marsh had never really trained properly.

City won just four of their last nine matches and with most of the leaders also falling over themselves to lose points, Clough’s Derby County won their first title with City back in fourth place -although just one point behind Derby.

Today, City are at the top of the Premier League – four straight wins and no goals conceded – and they have also bought big with a club record fee of £55 million – or 275 Rodneys – for De Bruyne. Obviously there are differences: the current season has just begun and when City signed Marsh, there were just nine games left, but there are also similarities.

City found it hard to integrate Marsh and there has already been talk of how De Bruyne will fit into a team firing on all cylinders. The biggest problem is that De Bruyne has been brilliant when playing centrally, latterly in his Genk days, then with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg.

At Wolfsburg, De Bruyne showed that he was the player that Chelsea fancied back in 2012. He needs freedom and he needs to be given a lot of responsibility.

De Bruyne with the Belgium squad at Knokke before going to Brazil.

De Bruyne with the Belgium squad at Knokke before going to Brazil.

It’s not obvious that he will get that and back in 1972, Marsh didn’t get that either. He probably didn’t want the responsibility but he loved the freedom. City’s then keeper Joe Corrigan (in his autobiography) said the “plain truth was that we didn’t need him … some players suspected he was getting more money than anyone else … and there were doubts about his work rate.”

There shouldn’t be too many problems about salaries at the City of Manchester stadium and only José Mourhino has questioned De Bruyne’s work rate. No, it comes down to how De Bruyne can be successfully slotted into a winning team.

Sterling and Silva are two players whose form and reputations mean they have to be in the starting eleven. This means the obvious place for De Bruyne is as a straight replacement for Jesús Navas. The Spanish winger is no mug but as he only cost £15 million, he’s today’s equivalent of a journeyman footballer. But that will mean that City will be playing a £55 million player out of position. What other options does Pellegrini have?

If Allison was in charge of City today he would undoubtedly put Fernandhino on the bench and go 4-2-4 with Touré and Silva in midfield, Sterling alongside Sergio Agüero, and De Bruyne and Navas on the wings. That would almost certainly end in tears.

De Bruyne - with Belgium in 2013 (copyright John Chapman).

De Bruyne – with Belgium in 2013 (copyright John Chapman).

And Pellegrini won’t get any pointers from the Belgium national team. Marc Wilmots has been struggling to get the best out of De Bruyne in a team that also features Eden Hazard. He hasn’t managed it yet.

I remember seeing De Bruyne destroy Anderlecht in his Genk days when he’d just been switched to a central position. He was also used centrally with Werder Bremen and, most spectacularly, with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.

Unfortunately in the Premier League, and in the Premier League dominated Belgium national team, it’s hard for one man to be given the keys to the kingdom.

Unless Pellegrini has a trick up his sleeve, there don’t seem to be many other options available. Most likely, in the next few weeks, De Bruyne will get shunted on to the wing in Manchester and 275 Rodneys is an awful lot of money to pay for a winger.

Aug 23

Contenders for Belgium’s next squad

Marc Wilmots - will announce squad on Thursday (August 27)

Marc Wilmots – will announce squad on Thursday (August 27)

Marc Wilmots is due to announce his squad for the matches with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cyprus in early September. I don’t expect many surprises as it’s early in the season and no-one has had a chance to stake a claim. Wilmots will probably stick with his usual squad except for one or two injuries. It must however be a slight concern that some players have yet to play for their clubs in the Premier League (Fellaini, Origi, Denayer) and some leagues (Italy, Spain, France) have just started their competitions.

Here’s the way I see the squad being formed.


Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint-Pétersbourg), Vincent Kompany & Jason Denayer (Manchester City), Toby Alderweireld & Jan Vertonghen (Spurs), Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma), Moussa Dembélé & Nacer Chadli (Spurs), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Divock Origi & Christian Benteke (Liverpool),

Jean-François Gillet (KV Mechelen), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Laurens De Bock (Club Brugge), Olivier Deschacht (Anderlecht), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Guillaume Gillet (Anderlecht)

Matz Sels (Gent), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Youri Tielemans & Steven Defour (all Anderlecht), Thorgan Hazard (Mönchengladbach), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille).

Not in with a shout
Dennis Praet and Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Maxime Lestienne (PSV), Zakaria Bakkali (Valencia), Charly Musonda Jr (Chelsea),

Aug 16

Belgian young guns challenging for places at the Euros

There have never been so many Belgians in the Premier League. It’s a boom time but the 2016 Euros are fast approaching and young guns in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain – and even in the Premier League itself – will be battling for a place in Marc Wilmots’ squad.

Youri Tielemans warms up before the kick-off against Arsenal.

Youri Tielemans warms up before the kick-off against Arsenal.

Wilmots has been notoriously loyal to his players, too loyal in some cases. An example in point was the omission of Radja Nainggolan from the World Cup squad last summer. But the competition for places has never been so intense. The areas where established Premier League players will feel the most pressure are in midfield and on the wing. Let’s have a look at the situation in those areas.

Midfield options

In midfield, the spotlight will be on Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Thorgan Hazard (22) and Anderlecht’s Youri Tielemans (18). Both players can bring some extra creativity to the Belgian squad. The younger Hazard – at 22 he’s probably a little old to be called a ‘young gun’ – has been given the no. 10 shirt at Mönchengladbach but he needs to firmly cement his place in the side before he thinks about joining up with the more famous Eden. His move to Mönchengladbach has been made ‘permanent’ and he’s certainly been toughened up in the Bundesliga. He’s already achieved much more than I thought he would do. He’s not a copy of the Chelsea man and I see him as more of a central midfield player, rather like Kevin De Bruyne at Wolfsburg.

Yannick Ferreira Carrasco is ready. (John Chapman copyright).

Yannick Ferreira Carrasco is ready. (John Chapman copyright).

As for Tielemans, he’s talented and a good season for Anderlecht might just see him make the squad for the Euros even if it is just for the experience. First though, Anderlecht need to decide on their best side and how Tielemans fits into it. Tielemans has not received the no. 10 shirt at Anderlecht as that went to Dennis Praet. It would be no surprise to me if Praet moved on but I feel he’d struggle in a bigger league. Tielemans, however, is still only 18 and has already played over 80 games for Anderlecht. He’s more likely than Praet to make the international grade and to make the squad for the 2018 World Cup. Playing in Belgium won’t help his cause but the boy has time on his side.
The player most under pressure is Spurs’ Moussa Dembélé. Of the established midfield players, Dembélé was the one who achieved the least last season. He had a relatively poor time with Spurs and is far from the player who Martin Jol once described as “probably the best no. 10 in the Premier League”.

Wide players

Looking at the wide players, the pressure on the established men is coming from Atletico Madrid’s Yannick Ferreira Carrasco. Aged 21, he’s another one of the squad who has never played in the Belgian League. He made his debut for Monaco a couple of years ago and established himself in the first team last season. He did enough to gain a move to Spain and he has already played three games for Belgium. Ferreira Carrasco is already in the squad and is likely to stay there.

Divock Origi needs playing time. (John Chapman copyright).

Divock Origi needs playing time. (John Chapman copyright).

The emergence of Ferreira Carrasco means that Everton’s Kevin Mirallas needs to up his game. Rather like Dembélé, Mirallas has been resting on his laurels for some time. It also looks like he’s been angling for a move – as everyone wants to play in the Champions League – but on current form, no one is likely to play the asking fee for the Everton man. And we shoudn’t forget Adnan Januzaj who could also be a contender if he gets significant playing time at Old Trafford or elsewhere. And if Wilmots continues, unwisely, to see De Bruyne as a wide-man, Mirallas could have problems when the squad for France is announced. (Ed: Assuming they make it).

What about the rest?

Up front, there are two young players aiming to make a claim. The first is Michy Batshuayi (21), currently with Olympique Marseille. As a youth-team player, Batshuayi had a reputation as being ‘hard to handle’. Anderlecht released him and he eventually emerged at Standard Liege. His career there was of the stop-start variety but his obvious talent shone through (40 goals in 95 games) and he would probably have gone to Brazil, if he hadn’t looked for individual glory rather than playing for the team just before the squad for Brazil was selected.

In the event, he left Standard and joined Marseille. In his first season he was usually on the bench with André-Pierre Gignac taking the main striker’s role. After Gignac’s somewhat surprising move to Mexico, to Tigres UANL, Batshuayi looks to have a big opportunity to be a major player in Ligue 1. There are clouds hovering over Marseille however as the club was in turmoil even before the surprise resignation of Marcelo Bielsa. He’d given Batshuayi solid support and was also a much-needed firm-hand.

The other youngster in the frame is Christian Benteke’s colleague at Liverpool, Divock Origi (20). Origi hit the headlines when he went to Brazil as a relative unknown, replacing the injured Benteke. He even became the first choice striker at the World Cup and this gained him a transfer to Anfield. It was probably too soon, and his subsequent loan period back at Lille was a not a success. Ironically, Benteke’s move to Liverpool has made it more difficult for Origi but he’s versatile and a solid first season at the club could mean he keeps his place in the squad. Like Batshuayi, Origi is fast and has
good technique.

Adnan Januzaj - has a season to prove he's worth the hype.

Adnan Januzaj – has a season to prove he’s worth the hype.

Wilmots likes to have three strikers in his squad and with Benteke a shoo-in for selection for the Euros, there could be some pressure on Mirallas’ team-mate Romelu Lukaku. However, ‘Big Rom’ has started the season in fine form and if he plays like that, he will be going to France. The danger is that Wilmots has never been a big admirer of Lukaku and both Batshuayi and Origi are technically-gifted players who could develop into top strikers at the international level.

Here are 33 players who will fancy their chances – in some cases slim – of making the squad for the 2016 Euros.

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-François Gillet (KV Mechelen), Matz Sels (Gent).

Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit Saint-Pétersbourg), Vincent Kompany & Jason Denayer (Manchester City), Toby Alderweireld & Jan Vertonghen (Spurs) Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Laurens De Bock & Thomas Meunier (Club Brugge), Olivier Deschacht (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)

Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma), Moussa Dembélé & Nacer Chadli (Spurs), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit), Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans & Steven Defour (all Anderlecht), Thorgan Hazard (Mönchengladbach)

Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Kevin Mirallas (Everton)

Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Divock Origi & Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Michy Batshuayi (Marseille).

Jul 25

It may be July but the Belgian season starts here

It could be the first time that the Belgian League started before the Tour De France had reached the Alp d’Huez. But hey, that’s football.

Anderlecht  & Club Brugge - two clubs keen to take the title.

Anderlecht & Club Brugge – two clubs keen to take the title.

It will be an open competition this year. Normally Anderlecht start favourites but after failing to qualify for the Champions League and losing some important players – Alexsander Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba – the squad looks unbalanced. It’s heavy on creative forces but lacking a little quality in defence and attack. Nevertheless, Anderlecht will be keen to avoid missing out on the title for a second consecutive season – it would be the first time since 2009.

The other club hungry for success is Club Brugge. Michel Preud’homme’s men were exhausted after fighting on three fronts last season. General Manager Vincent Mannaert does not want that to happen again and he’s made it plain that it’s the title or nothing. The Blauw & Zwart have not won the trophy since 2005!

Reigning champions Gent have a largely unchanged squad but will find it tough to repeat the heroics of 2014-15. Doubtless Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be planning new tactics but it ain’t easy the second time around. Standard Liège appear to be in rude health. With Roland Duchâtelet just an unhappy memory, the club has a new owner and, yes, another new coach. There’s a feeling of optimism about the place and – new to Sclessin – almost a sense of continuity about the squad.

Racing Genk – the final member of Belgium’s ‘Big Five’ also have a new coach in Peter Maes and are in the process of cleansing the Augean stables. They will have a little cash to spend – some from Christian Benteke’s move to Liverpool – and they may need to go to the shops.
Outside of those five, there are three teams likely to be fighting for the elusive sixth place in the playoffs: Charleroi, KV Mechelen and Oostende.

Charleroi were last season’s surprise packet and so far they’ve managed to keep midfield maestro Neeskens Kebano. KV Mechelen have ambitions and finished last season in style. With Algerian Sofiane Hanni in midfield, and Belgium no. 3 keeper Jean-François Gillet, they should have a reasonable season. Oostende are also ambitious but are beginning to look like an Anderlecht ‘B’ team now that Gohi Bi Cyriac has joined Jordan Lukaku and Fernando Canesin all settled on the coast.

Lokeren will have Boob Peeters in charge this season, and he’ll have big boots to fill after Maes’s achievements. Kortrijk have welcomed Vincent Tan and a new coach in Johan Walem who has moved over from the Belgium U21s.

Anderlecht will be expecting a lot from Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans (copyright John Chapman)

Anderlecht will be expecting a lot from Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans (copyright John Chapman)

Mouscron-Péruwelz are no longer a Lille feeder club and it’s hard to forecast their future. Waasland-Beveren also look like struggling, while Westerlo will be hoping that Filip Daems and Benji De Ceulaer can bring some experience to the proceedings. Zulte Waregem are not the team they were when Thorgan Hazard and the late Junior Malanda were there, but they should be safe under Francky Dury.

Of the two promoted clubs, Sint Truiden would seem to have the most promising future. A synthetic pitch, a great crowd and a useful find in French schemer Jean-Luc Dompé should do the trick. The other newcomers, OH Leuven, will feature John Bostock but could be upset by major ground developments halfway through the year.

New (and nearly new) to the Jupiler Pro League

Hein Vanhaezebrouck - relaxing ahead of the new season  (picture -

Hein Vanhaezebrouck – relaxing ahead of the new season (picture –

Anthony Knockaert – arriving on a Bosman from Leicester City and already having a big impact at Standard.
Johan Walem – the ex-international midfielder has taken over at Kortrijk, his first club coaching post.
Slavoljub Muslin. The tough Serb was at Lokeren about 10 years ago but he’s the new coach at Standard.
Guiliaume Gillet – was on loan at Bastia and the Anderlecht midfielder would like to leave again.
Yoni Buyens – arriving at Genk from Charlton.
Bob Peeters – back to Lokeren after five clubs in five years.
Stefano Okaka – to Anderlecht from Sampdoria.
Mohamed Yattara – to Standard from Lyon.
Enes Üna – on loan at Genk from Manchester City.

Gone but not forgotten

Alexsander Mitrovic to Newcastle United, along with Chancel Mbemba.
Club Brugge’s Maty Ryan to Valencia – a big loss,
Kortrijk’s Teddy Chevalier – to Rizespor.
Genk’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (to Lazio)
Genk’s Jelle Vossen – to Burnley.
OH Leuven’s Logan Bailly – to Celtic.
Mehdi Carcela – from Standard to Benfica.

May 20

Big night for the Buffalos and Hein Vanhaezebrouck

They say 90 minutes is a long time in football. It’s true. Last Sunday at 18.00, Anderlecht were firm favourites to win a fourth successive Belgian title. With two home games and a visit to a totally demotivated Kortrijk, the championship was in the bag.

Hein Vanhaezebrouck - looking relaxed (picture -

Hein Vanhaezebrouck – looking relaxed (picture –

At 19.45, Anderlecht’s dreams were in tatters. A home draw with Standard Liege meant that it was now Gent’s title to lose. Earlier in the day, the Buffalos had unexpectedly won at the Jan Breydel stadium, effectively ending Michel Preud’homme’s Club Brugge’s hopes of the championship.

The focus immediately switched to Thursday night’s match at the Ghelamco Arena where Standard will be Gent’s visitors. A win for the home side will mean they will be Belgian champions for the first time in their history. The game is sold out with tickets reportedly available – not many – for over 1500 euros each.

It’s a remarkable story. Despite a budget of only 25 million euros, Gent are one of Belgium’s ‘Big Five’, but in the second tier – along with Racing Genk – a long way behind Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Standard Liège in the pecking order.

Two events have changed the picture. The first was in 2013 when their new ground was completed. The Ghelamco Arena is the only state-of-the-art stadium in Belgium. The second – and perhaps more important in many people’s eyes – was in 2014 when the club hired Hein Vanhaezebrouck.

Vanhaezebrouck is little-known outside Belgium. He’s had two spells at Kortrijk, seven years in total, winning the second division title and taking his team to the Belgian Cup Final in 2012. His work at Kortrijk has always been appreciated and it took him to Racing Genk in 2009. Unfortunately there was never any real chemistry between coach and management with Vanhaezebrouck being sacked after just six months.

After his second spell at Kortrijk, Vanhaezebrouck was appointed by Gent at the start of the current
season. He took over an unfancied club, one that has had six coaches since January 2013. He cleared out a few unwanted players and gave prominent roles to several players he’d worked with at Kortrijk. These included Israeli centre back Rami Gershon, much-travelled Sven Kums and two youngsters – Benito Raman and Brecht Dejaegere.

Vanhaezebrouck is certainly in charge of a team without any household names. Due to Gent’s results this season, Matz Sels was the runner–up in the Players’ Keeper of the Year voting, while Laurent Depoitre is still in with a shout for Players’ Player of the Year. Then there is Moses Simon, recently capped by Nigeria, who arrived in January as a total unknown and immediately hit the headlines to the extent that the club has slapped a 20 million euro price tag on the speedy winger.

Gent captain Sven Kums (picture -

Gent captain Sven Kums (picture –

Vanhaezebrouck seems to have learnt from his unhappy spell at Genk. He is a veritable man of the people; friendly and hard-working. He seems able to live with stress and he’s a top man-manager, often getting the most out of players who have had problems elsewhere.

Midfielder Kums is an example of the way in which Vanhaezebrouck works. After playing over 100 games for Kortrijk, mostly under Vanhaezebrouck, Kums moved to the Netherlands with Heerenveen. After Marco van Basten was appointed there, Kums moved back to Belgium to join Zulte Waregem.

He never made the headlines – they were dominated by Thorgan Hazard – and in the summer, Vanhaezebrouck brought him to Gent and promptly made him captain. Last Sunday, against Club Brugge, Kums was the man of the match.

If Gent win tonight, they will deserve the title. They have lost only one match in 2015, and that was to an extra time goal against Charleroi. A win would lead to Gent being in the Champions League draw and the name of Hein Vanhaezebrouck being better known outside of Belgium’s borders. But there’s still 90 long minutes to go.

May 18

JPL Playoffs Round 8: Unfancied Gent stay top

Playoffs 1
Gent’s away from in the Playoffs has been excellent and they showed no sign of changing their habits with a 3-2 win at the Jan Breydel stadium. Obviously, Michel Preud’homme’s men are tiring after playing over 60 games but that shouldn’t detract from the job that Hein Vanhaezebrouck has done in his first season at the Ghelamco Arena. On Sunday, Gent took the lead early and kept battling to take the three points through an 87th minute goal from Benito Raman. While the experienced Sven Kums bossed midfield for Gent, they played without a recognised striker and Vanhaezebrouck’s tactics were spot on.

Hein Vanhaezebrouck - man of the moment(picture -

Hein Vanhaezebrouck – man of the moment(picture –

Nine points from their last three games of the playoffs would have made Anderlecht champions but on Sunday they could only draw with Standard. Both Anderlecht and Standard were loath to take risks and there was little service up to Aleksander Mitrovic, snuffed out by Standard’s Portuguese centre back Jorge Teixeira.

In the final game, Charleroi easily beat demotivated Kortrijk 5-2.

Club by Club

Gent: They need two points from their last two games to be champions. They are a team without genuine stars but that’s because they have never been in the spotlight. That could change. Vanhaezebrouck has shuffled his pack well and not being in Europe has helped.

Anderlecht: For some reason, Besnik Hasi’s men lacked confidence when it was most needed. They again conceded from a set piece but their biggest problem is a total reliance on Mitrovic for goals.

Club Brugge: Michel Preud’homme’s men are exhausted and the youngsters he has brought in have proved to be too inexperienced. Playing for three trophies has been too much.

Standard: They are now playing for pride. Jose Riga is on his way out. Next season will be interesting.

Charleroi: Les Carolos are still in with a chance of a European qualification and are still playing well. They have really over-achieved under Felice Mazzu.

Kortrijk: It’s all over.

Next games
Thursday: Gent-Standard; Charleroi-Club Brugge; Kortrijk-Anderlecht.
Next weekend: Anderlecht-Gent; Standard-Charleroi; Club Brugge-Kortrijk.

Last results: Anderlecht 1 Standard 1; Charleroi 5 Kortrijk 2; Club Brugge 2 Gent 3.

Standings: Gent 46, Anderlecht 42, Club Brugge 41, Standard 37, Charleroi 36, Kortrijk 33.

Player of the weekend: Sven Kums (Gent)

Playoffs 2
KV Mechelen drew with Lokeren in the first leg of the P02 playoffs final. The winner will play the team finishing fourth (or fifth in certain circumstances) in the Playoffs 1, for a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Leading scorers
Mitrovic (Anderlecht) 18; Emond (Beveren) 14; Santini (Kortrijk) 14, Mujangi Bia (Standard) 14.
Patosi (Lokeren), 13; Chevalier (Kortrijk), Vazquez (Club Brugge) 12; Refaelov (Club Brugge) 11;

May 11

JPL Playoffs round 7: In which Anderlecht move through the pack

Playoffs 1: Gent under pressure

If this was a horse race, Anderlecht would be the favourite – having won its last three races – who is moving through the pack and is nicely positioned with a few furlongs to go. In fact, as this is Belgium, the race has already been completed over 3 ½ miles, at a very slow pace, and is now being re-run over five furlongs – just for the hell of it.

Anderlecht defeated rivals Club Brugge at the weekend.

Anderlecht defeated rivals Club Brugge at the weekend.

But let’s get back to football. The leaders Gent slipped up on Friday night when they could only draw with Charleroi at the Ghelamco Arena. Charleroi were, as usual, enterprising but it’s possible that the pressure of being leaders weighed heavily on the Gent team’s shoulders.

Anderlecht beat Club Brugge in an entertaining game where the man of the match was generally thought to be Davy Roef, who came in for Anderlecht’s suspended keeper Silvio Proto.

Standard easily beat Kortrijk, a team that has problems on and off the pitch. However, even reaching the playoffs has been an excellent achievement by Kortrijk coach Yves Vanderhaeghe.

Club by Club

Gent: Officially, they always said they were aiming for third place at best. That could be where they finish as home draws with Club Brugge and Charleroi have slowed down Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s men. Gent are relatively inexperienced and they badly missed the suspended Laurent Depoitre at the weekend.

Anderlecht: With two wins in succession and the advantage of having three of the last four games at home, Anderlecht look nicely placed to gain their fourth successive title. If Steven Defour can stay fit, they should do the job. Besnik Hasi’s experience last season of winning the title during the playoffs will be invaluable

Club Brugge: Michel Preud’homme’s men played their 60th game at the weekend. Although they played well at Anderlecht, they didn’t get the breaks. Tiredness could be a factor in the last three games and they also need Anderlecht to slip up somewhere.

Standard: Since Jose Riga threatened (or promised) to resign, Standard have won two out of two – scoring four against a sad-looking Kortrijk at the weekend. The team is now playing well but there’s an air of ‘too little, too late’.

Charleroi fans - they're enjoying their season.

Charleroi fans – they’re enjoying their season.

Les Carolos are still in with a chance of a European qualification – it’s complicated – and are playing much better than their recent record (one point from three games) shows.

Kortrijk: It’s all going Pete Tong at Kortrijk. Yves Vanderhaeghe is on his way to Oostende, striker Teddy Chevalier fancies a move to Standard and the club ownership is changing. They have over-achieved but it looks like 6th place is the best they’ll manage.

Next weekend: Anderlecht-Standard; Club Brugge-Gent; Charleroi-Kortrijk.

Last results: Standard 4 Kortrijk 0; Gent 1 Charleroi 1; Anderlecht 3 Club Brugge 1.

Standings: Gent 43, Anderlecht 41, Club Brugge 41, Standard 36, Charleroi 33, Kortrijk 33.

Player of the weekend: Davy Roef (Anderlecht)

Playoffs 2

In Group A, KV Mechelen have emerged as winners, just edging out Racing Genk. In Group B, Lokeren cantered home. KV Mechelen will now meet Lokeren over two legs with the winner playing the team finishing fourth (or fifth in certain circumstances) in the Playoffs 1, for a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Leading scorers

Mitrovic (Anderlecht) 18; Emond (Beveren) 14; Santini (Kortrijk) 14, Mujangi Bia (Standard) 14.

Patosi (Lokeren), 13; Chevalier (Kortrijk), 12; Refaelov (Club Brugge) 11;

May 02

JPL Playoffs – halfway mark: Club Brugge stay on top

Playoffs 1

With Club Brugge and Gent both winning during the week, those two clubs remain at the top of the table with Anderlecht slipping back. With five games left, the league now looks like a two-horse race but
Anderlecht have three home games in their last four so can’t be written off. Standard Liege are now officially in crisis after losing at Kortrijk – four defeats in five matches.

Club Brugge: One defeat in five games, at Kortrijk. The club has done well to stay in the lead considering their involvement in the Europa League. They have tremendous staying power, exemplified by veteran Timmy Simons. Michel Preud’homme has coped well with injuries and used his bench effectively.

Hein Vanhaezebrouck - settling in at Gent (picture -

Hein Vanhaezebrouck – settling in at Gent (picture –

Gent: Officially, they say they are aiming for third place but if they keep winning, they will do better. Only one defeat – at Charleroi – and, like Club Brugge, they never stop trying. Striker Laurent Depoitre is having an excellent season at his first ‘big’ club.

Anderlecht: They should have more points than they have – missed chances, poor defending and some decisions have gone against them. They’ve looked better with Chancel Mbemba and Youri Tielemans but they rely too much on Alexsander Mitrovic. They also can’t defend against set pieces and have a major problem at full back.

Charleroi: A surprise packet. Felice Mazzu is showing himself to be a top coach of the future and in Neeskens Kebano they have an exceptional talent. Les Carolos are still in the running for third place, which would be remarkable.

Kortrijk: Yves Vanderhaeghe is another coach doing a fine job. With good wins against Club Brugge and
Standard, they are over-achieving in the playoffs. Ivan Santini has been grabbing the goals but in reality it’s another team without star names.

Standard: A total disaster. They beat Anderlecht and immediately the talk was of the title. Since then, Standard have suffered three defeats. The squad is of poor quality and Jose Riga has done nothing to justify his return in February. Heads will roll.

Next games
This weekend: Standard-Club Brugge; Kortrijk-Gent; Charleroi-Anderlecht.

Last results: Kortrijk 3 Standard 1; Gent 2 Anderlecht 1; Club Brugge 3 Charleroi 1.

Standings: Club Brugge 41, Gent 39, Anderlecht 35, Kortrijk 33, Charleroi 32, Standard 30.
Men of the playoffs so far: Michel Preud’homme and Hein Vanhaezebrouck.
Leading scorers
Mitrovic (Anderlecht) 17; Emond (Beveren) 14; Santini (Kortrijk) 14.
Refaelov (Club Brugge) 11; Chevalier (Kortrijk), Patosi (Lokeren), Vazquez (Club Brugge) 10.

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