In Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League (the JPL), the real race for the title – and the 15 or so millions of euros that go with direct entry to the Champions’ League – starts with the playoffs. That’s because the JPL has a structure whereby the top six after the ‘classic’ season has finished enter the playoffs with each of the six clubs having its points halved.
A year ago this led Anderlecht coach John Van den Brom to state that the 30 games of the ‘classic’ season were not important. He meant that only the playoffs counted; he was right of course and with nine matches to go to the playoffs, Standard Liege lead the title race by four points from Anderlecht – that’s two points in playoff currency – with Club Brugge and Zulte Waregem tucked in behind the Brussels club.
Anderlecht ‘boss’ Herman Van Holsbeeck has said that the club would be ready for the playoffs and that only ‘top’ players would arrive in the current transfer window. He has added that the club was indeed interested in the Anderlecht ‘targets’ mentioned in the media. No one can criticise any club for trying to strengthen its squad but the nature of the two potential transfers, that have been making headlines in Belgium and elsewhere in the past few weeks, do make you stop and think.
The players involved are two of the JPL’s most talented: Zulte Waregem’s Thorgan Hazard and Standard Liege’s Michy Batshuayi. Hazard is an on loan Chelsea employee. I’ve written about the situation before and despite denials by everyone at the Flemish club, the prospect of Hazard joining Anderlecht – possibly for 12 months – is becoming more of a reality with each day. Hazard’s ‘soi-disant’ agent , John Bico, is no friend of Zulte Waregem coach Francky Dury after the thwarted attempts by Bico to get Hazard installed as captain. The latest news – in the appropriately-named Het Laatste Nieuws – is that Bico has convinced Chelsea to sanction the switch. An added twist is that the Hazard family are thought to be Anderlecht fans and might feel such a move could just push Thorgan a little closer to getting him a seat on the plane to Brazil next to his brother.
As for Batshuayi, he’s the JPL’s leading scorer and the transfer talk could also be said to be a family affair. Batshuayi’s agent was/is José de Medina and there have been reports that both that particular agent and player are happy to stay at Standard, at least until the season ends. However, his family are keen for the player to move on to a bigger club as soon as possible and have handed over the player’s affairs to Christophe Henrotay, who happens to be the agent of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas. According to Standard, Henrotay has been talking to Premier League
clubs, most notably Everton and Arsenal, with a view to them signing the player and loaning the player back to Belgium – most observers see him going to Anderlecht – for the rest of the season. There’s also talk of a 8 million euro release clause that is being interpreted differently by the various parties.
Anderlecht recently sent a signal to the Batshuayi family by giving Michy’s younger brother Leya Iseka a first team debut in a friendly against Wolfsburg. As for Standard, the club is keen to point out to Batshuayi elder that he should not be thinking of returning to a club – Anderlecht – that sacked him when he was 14 because of his ‘attitude’.
It would be an understatement to say that fans of Anderlecht’s rivals, particularly Standard and Zulte Waregem, would not be happy if the two moves go through. Imagine what would be said if it happened in the Premier League – and Chelsea started indirect negotiations to bring in Sergio Agüero and Mesut Özil in the current window. It could never happen of course, but in Belgium, Anderlecht is very much the first amongst equals.