It’s been a busy old week in Belgium football. The latest Red Devils squad was announced, the transfer window closed with a whimper and the famed Clasico closed the week with a few of its own brand of fireworks.
For me the highlight of the week was a good news story; the return of Anthony Vanden Borre to Anderlecht. Yes, the enfant terrible has returned home. The second youngest player ever to appear in the Anderlecht first team, a tad older than Paul Van Himst, is back. He’s played about 80 games in the last five years; for four teams in three countries. A big mate of Vincent Kompany in the early noughties, Vanden Borre lacks the Manchester City’s captain’s ability to stay calm in all situations. He’s never settled at any club and never felt wanted, always moving. It was a surprise then when Anderlecht announced early in the week that Anthony was coming home. He went straight into the first team squad and John Van den Brom said he hopes to use Vanden Borre in the playoffs – just six games away.
Apart from that story, the transfer window was not too exciting in Belgium. Zulte Waregem’s Junior Malanda – just 18 with six months in the first team – was the subject of a lot of press attention. As players do, he said his goodbyes at Zulte’s last home game and then had to watch while interested clubs – count Fulham, Club Brugge and perhaps Anderlecht – asked the price and on being told €6 million, made their excuses and left. Malanda was quoted as saying he had seen the dark side of football. I’m afraid he ain’t seen nothing yet. Over at Club Brugge, there were rumours that Everton were back in for Vadis Odjidja but they never seemed convincing. If the Toffees have been sending scouts to the Jan Breydel stadium recently, they will certainly have not been placing a call through to the chairman. Finally over at Gent, ex-captain ‘Petit Pele’ Mboyo (a close friend of Kompany and Vanden Borre) said he decided not to join Norwich as he wanted to stay and help his club. Strange! An earlier report said that Norwich had offered just over €2 million, so perhaps he never had the chance to leave.
The Belgium squad to play Slovakia in a friendly this week was announced last Thursday. The only surprises were the call-up of Cagliari’s Radja Nainggolan and the return of Genk’s Thomas Buffel to the ranks. Nainggolan is a tough tackling midfielder who can also be creative when he feels the urge. He’s regularly linked with clubs like AC Milan, Roma and Napoli but always seems to announce – rather like Mboyo – that he staying to help his club. He is one to watch though and he could emerge as the new Timmy Simons although he would certainly be seen as a 21st century version rather than Simon 2.0.
He’s yet another Belgian – like Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele – who laced some of his pairs of boots at Germinal Beerschot. As for Buffel, it’s five years since he left Glasgow Rangers and he’s fast approaching 32; it’s just that he looks much older. In truth, he’s having a fine season on the Genk flanks.
Since the announcement of the squad, several players have dropped out. Porto’s Steven Defour has an injury and a tricky personal life, Vermaelen phoned in to say he couldn’t make it and at the last count, Marouane Fellaini was complaining of something. That could develop. On the positive side, Standard’s Jelle Van Damme was recalled.
As is common knowledge, most of the Red Devils squad have either never played football in the Belgian League or no longer do that for a living. Kevin De Bruyne is now really enjoying his time in the Bundesliga – honest – and has only missed four minutes of competitive action so far this season. That is impressive and the boy, I am sure, will come good. Whether that will be at Chelsea, is an open question. Bayern Munich’s Daniel Van Buyten, now at the veteran stage (he will be 34 on Friday), played his third consecutive 90 minutes for the Bundesliga runaway leaders. Christian Benteke has now scored 43% of Aston Villa’s goals – why did I ever doubt him – while Fellaini also has 10 for Everton and ‘raw’ Romelu Lukaku is stuck on nine for the Baggies.
Swiftly moving to France, it was good to see 17 year-old Divock Origi score on his debut for Lille. Life moves so fast these days, Divock is the son of Kenyan international Mike Origi who played for Genk when they won the title in 1989/99. Origi senior was still playing in the third division in 2006 and now his son is scoring for Lille, alongside fellow countryman Gianni Bruno.
Anyone watching the Jupiler Pro League highlights on TV would understand why many players say they want to move to the Premier League. Not many do of course, but you would not blame them. I love Belgian football as I’ve followed it for years but the state of some of the grounds and the pitches, together with the size of the crowds – while understanding that it is a small country – do sometimes generate a negative picture. The league’s been going downhill post-Bosman but the Pro League clubs and the Belgian FA do need to have a plan of action that doesn’t just depend on keeping up with Anderlecht.
As for the matches, Genk destroyed Club Brugge, with that being the first defeat for new coach Juan Carlos Garrido. Mboyo got a couple for Gent (providing the help he had promised), Marvin Ogunjimi, currently on loan at Beerschot from Mallorca, actually scored. It’s hard to believe he scored twice on his debut for Belgium, just over two years ago. Zulte Waregem got three points at Cercle Brugge with Malanda watching most of the game from the bench, another dark side of football.
The crowd was 7,000 and it must be hard for the Cercle squad to play in the Jan Breydel stadium in front of such numbers. Enzo Scifo’s Mons, whose ground can be described as a work-in-progress, could only attract 3,000 for the visit of Waasland-Beveren. Without Jeremy Perbet, now on Villareal’s bench, Mons looked pretty slick and it was good to see Thomas Chatelle, one of football’s nice guys, score a cracker in the 3-0 win. Chatelle was once Genk’s captain and played a couple of times for Belgium before becoming one of Anderlecht’s ‘missing’. Recently surfacing at Mons, on Saturday he said the volley that secured his goal could have gone anywhere. Leuven won their first match in 11, only beating Charleroi’s Greek keeper Michalis Sifakis on one occasion. Sifakis only played because Parfait Mandanda had been away at the CAN and Charleroi’s young coach Yannick Ferrera has a selection problem in goal, but in few other places. Kortrijk’s pitch for the arrival of KV Mechelen looked to me to be the worst I have ever seen. Kortrijk won but there could easily be a stewards’ enquiry.
The big match of the weekend was the Clasico: Anderlecht vs. Standard Liege. These affairs tend to be blown up out of all proportion by the media. They then tend to explode with incidents that are replayed and replayed, and the football tends to be forgotten. This one was no exception. Anderlecht were on a run of 11 straight wins under Van den Brom, a coach who will go far. The Brussels team would probably have won but for an act of crass stupidity by Milan Jovanovic. Against 10 men, Standard started to look good and took the lead. Two more red cards – Lucas Biglia and William Vainqueur – put the game back in the mixer and Anderlecht’s nine men grabbed a point at the death through Guillaume Gillet – the man most threatened by the return of Vanden Borre. Football’s a funny old game.
All refereeing controversies aside, I think the Clasico of last weekend is quite significant [and would be more so were it not Zulte Waregem leading the chasing pack, as well as Dury has done] in that it showed us how Anderlecht could be countered. Standard got at them and Anderlecht found themselves short of options when playing the ball out from the back. Biglia was quite well marshalled and Kljestan isn’t the preferred choice – I think De Zeeuw has potentially a lot to offer. Fingers crossed for Anderlecht that they can get him for €2m but I doubt it.
The big advantage Anderlecht have of course is that while they started somewhat afresh (more in terms of their approach than personnel – that will come next summer) they made the right choice at the time, which is reflected in the table.
So much more I could say but for the sake of anyone reading, I’ll stop here.
It seems Kljestan is happier with a) Biglia alongside him and b) in a 4-3-3. He’s probably not got the game to be one of two in the centre. I also have doubts about De Zeeuw (based on his past history) but you know him better than I do. I remember Anderlecht management saying – a few months ago – that Biglia’s replacement was already at the club. I wonder who they meant? Rene Sterckx?