On Wednesday night, journalists, coaches and past winners will decide who will Belgium’s Gouden Schoen for 2010. The favourites for the award both ply their trade at the Constant Vanden Stock stadium in Brussels: Anderlecht’s Moroccan playmaker Mbark Boussoufa and man – or rather boy – of the moment, 17 year-old striker Romelu Lukaku.
The award is often criticised in Belgium as it’s based on performances over a calendar year rather than on a complete football season. In 2006, Boussoufa took the award for his performances with Ghent in the first half of the season; those displays earned him a transfer to Anderlecht in mid-2006, where he took some time to settle. Certainly, when the ceremony comes around, you do tend to ask why they are handing out gongs at this time of year. The organisers say it would not make much difference to the final result if voting came at the and of the season; that hardly seems to be a plausible response. They also add that they see no reason to change something that has worked for 57 years.
The other criticism – from half of the country – is that the award is dominated by the Flemish media. Although coaches and journalists across the nation get to vote, the event is basically Flemish; it’s only shown on Flemish TV (VTM) and is sponsored by the leading daily “Het Laatste Nieuws”. I’ve watched the award ceremony a few times and, I guess to improve viewing figures, some of the content leans towards soft porn.
But that’s as maybe, last year the Soulier D’Or, as it’s known down south, went to Liverpool’s sometime bench-warmer, Milan Jovanovic, then with Standard Liege. Presumably he won because Standard had won the 2008-2009 title and his colleagues, Steven Defour and Axel Witsel, had already taken the Golden Boot in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In the event, Jovanovic didn’t even turn up at the ceremony; he had lost interest in Belgian football and was simply playing out his contract before a free transfer to the Premiership. Belgium’s then Prime Minister Yves Leterme accepted the award on Jovanovic’s behalf, proving indeed that Standard does have high-level support in Flanders.
As in other countries, there is criticism that journalists are not as well qualified as footballers to vote on such matters. Marc Wilmots, who never got the award, was particularly scathing in Le Soar on this point. He sees more credibility in the Player of the Year award, voted on by players at the end of each season.
As for Wednesday night’s award, it looks like it will be a close call. It was Lukaku’s first full calendar year in senior football. If he gets the award, it will probably be more about his potential than what he has achieved to-date. Although he was the Jupiler League’s leading scorer in 2009-2010, he failed to score in the extended play-offs that gave Anderlecht the title. He’s also lacked consistency since September but 25 goals in 54 league games is not a bad start to his career.
Boussoufa, who I think will probably take the crown for the second time, was much more the architect behind Anderlecht’s championship-winning season. The highest paid player in the Jupiler League – at 1.1 million euros per year – Boussoufa has made and scored many of Anderlecht’s – and Lukaku’s – goals in recent years. He’s been said to be on the verge of a move to a bigger club for most of his stay in Brussels but he looks somewhat lightweight for the major leagues. Even if he wins on Wednesday night, the trophy won’t help him to overcome that handicap.
“Gouden Schoen”/ “Soulier D’Or” winners
2000 Jan Koller – Anderlecht
2001 Wesley Sonck – Racing Genk
2002 Timmy Simons – Club Brugge
2003 Aruna Dindane – Anderlecht
2004 Vincent Kompany – Anderlecht
2005 Sergio Conceiçao – Standard Liege
2006 Mbark Boussoufa – Ghent/Anderlecht
2007 Steven Defour – Standard Liege
2008 Axel Witsel – Standard Liege
2009 Milan Jovanovic – Standard Liege
(Players’) Player of the Year
2000-2001 Walter Baseggio – Anderlecht
2001- 2002 Wesley Sonck – Racing Genk
2002 – 2003 Timmy Simons – Club Brugge
2003 – 2004 Aruna Dindane – Anderlecht
2004 – 2005 Vincent Kompany – Anderlecht
2005 – 2006 Mbark Boussoufa – Ghent
2006 – 2007 Mémé Tchité – Anderlecht
2007 – 2008 Milan Jovanovic – Standard Liege
2008 – 2009 Mbark Boussoufa – Anderlecht
2009 – 2010 Mbark Boussoufa – Anderlecht