Standard Liege play Cercle Brugge tonight and it’s a big game at Sclessin for all the wrong reasons. Coach Ron Jans was fired after Standard lost at Kortrijk. Their fifth defeat in six matches. The senior playersthen came out in support of Jans, basically saying that they liked him without admitting that they were equally to blame for the results. The transfer policy has been criticised but Technical Director Jean-Francois De Sart (Jans’s boss) said that the President (Roland Duchâtelet) finally decides on which players come in. Duchâtelet is saying nothing and, one assumes, will have the last say on the new coach. Franky Vercauteren was sounded out but decided to go to Sporting Portugal.
Apart from that, the Standard ‘Ultras’ – fond of lobbing fireworks and smoke flares on the pitch – have said they will dress in black tonight and boycott the first 15 minutes; basically they want to get rid of Duchâtelet and De Sart ASAP. Then are the various court cases that Standard are involved in: dating back to the 90s and payments in the black, tax avoidance etc. The shadow of Luciano D’Onofrio looms large. Finally, there was a recent decision that Standard will play Leuven ‘behind closed doors’ following the fireworks display against Anderlecht – their only victory in the last six games.
On the pitch tonight, the team will be under the control of assistant coach Peter Balette, who is on record as saying he does not want to be chief coach. Balette is intelligent. He is expected to play a 4-4-2 formation with teenage strikers Imoh Ezekiel and Michy Batshuayi in tandem. Jelle Van Damme will return in midfield after suspension and ex-Manchester United defender Ezekiel Fryers should get another run at left back.
The teams have equally bad records – three points from 18 in the last six games. Cercle Brugge are bottom with just four points. They lost some good players in the summer but the decline had been greater than expected. Coach Bob Peeters, who had a couple of years at Millwall in the 90s, is a lovely bloke who transmits masses of enthusiasm to his players.
Times are hard now though and tonight all eyes will be on Eidur Gudjohnsen – one of the most popular players to have graced the world’s football pitches. The ‘Ice Man’s T-shirts are selling well in the Cercle Brugge shop and he’s scored twice in 120 minutes playing time. His father played for Anderlecht in the 1980s and it’s a kind of homecoming for Eidur. He’s had injury problems and was at AEK; however, the financial situation in Greece led to him not being paid and he decided to end his contract. Tonight he visits Liege and it’s hard to predict who – if anyone – will be smiling at 22.15 local time.