Four weeks ago, just before Chelsea thrashed Genk 5-0, I wrote “It would have been good to see Franky Vercauteren and his 2010-2011 side all fit and raring to go … but that was then and now is now!” And so it also came to pass in Valencia.
Last night’s 7-0 drubbing in Spain says as much about the overall state of football rather than any particular decline in quality in Belgium, although it’s obvious that something is indeed rotten. There once was a time in the distant past, let’s say three years ago, when players talked about qualifying for the Champions League so they could be in the shop window. Now agents get their players on YouTube and when clubs win titles, the same players are gone as soon as the shops open, giving two fingers to their clubs’ Champions League campaigns as they go.
Before yesterday’s game, Genk midfielder Fabien Camus said that anyone who was saying that Kevin De Bruyne should not join Chelsea (as he would not get many games) knew nothing about football! Exactly, we are moving towards a situation where all of the world’s best 9 and 10 year-olds will be moving to the top ten richest clubs. Let market forces reign. Why should an above average player have to wait until they are 19 or 20 before getting a lucrative move? That’s totally inefficient and bad for agents.
Anyway, let’s get back to Valencia.
Of Vercauteren’s title-winning team that played Standard Liege in the final game of last season, only four featured last night. Three of those four (Kevin De Bruyne, Daniel Tozser and Jelle Vossen) have long been linked to big money moves – in Belgian terms – despite continual protestations that they were just focusing on the next match. That left Thomas Buffel, who had his ‘big’ transfer – to Glasgow Rangers – some years ago.
Of the seven who did not play, four have moved on: Thibaut Courtois (the title-winning hero) to Chelsea via Atletico Madrid, Marvin Ogunjimi to Mallorca, Chris Mavinga to Rennes and centre back Eric Matoukou to Ukrainian outfit Dnipro Dnepropetrovsk. Add to that long-term injuries to captain David Hubert and the other centre back Torben Joneleit, and disciplinary action against right back Anele Ngongca, and it becomes clear that Valencia were not playing the champions of Belgium, but rather a team of understudies. It was like paying to see Bruce Springsteen and his E Street mates and getting to see a tribute band. Not much fun.
We shouldn’t forget of course that Vercauteren himself jumped ship just as Genk’s Champions League campaign was about to start. Off he went to Abu Dhabi, claiming that he was concerned that talk of transfers for many of his players was causing unrest. As excuses go, that’s right there at the top of the pile; he’s counting his petro-dollars just as Courtois and Ogunjimi are counting their extra euros.
New coach Mario Been was dealt a dud hand when he took over from Vercauteren but he didn’t help himself by playing Anthony Vanden Borre in defence; it’s accepted that the ex-Anderlecht utility player should not be risked there in big games. That’s especially true when he’s alongside centre backs like Trinidad international Khaleem Hyland (a midfield journeyman) and Jose Nadson who has played most of his football in Moldova. Genk management tried to stop the flow of outgoing players by putting an embargo on transfers; that didn’t work but they didn’t help themselves with the players they brought in. Put all that together and a 7-0 score line looks like a good night’s work for Mario Been and his boys.