It’s only July but the Jupiler Pro League is back. I think we can still talk about the ‘Big Five’ although Oostende are pushing hard to join that club. Anderlecht have the biggest budgets and the most valuable squad, as I write, and they will start favourites to regain the title. I have heard good things about Racing Genk, guided by ex-Manchester United assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg, and they would be my team to mount a challenge.
The Big Five
René Weiler did well to bring the title to Brussels in his first season. Anderlecht have been busy in the transfer market after selling Youri Tielemans to Monaco for 25 million euros. They’ve brought in Sven Kums to replace the talented youngster and it could be a smart move. Kums had a season with Udinese but it never worked out for the ex-Gent captain. He is still hoping to attract Roberto Martinez’s eye and he’ll be buzzing from day one. Anderlecht also have taken Henry Onyekuru on loan from Everton and he will be keen to make an impression. Matz Sels has arrived from Newcastle United, but he’ll just be saving a place for teenager Mile Svilar who should take over next season. A key player will be Leander Dendoncker, assuming they can hang on to him.
Club Brugge finished in the runners-up position last season but it’s hard to see them repeating the feat this year. One or two players want to get away and the transfers in have not got the fans too excited, Jérémy Perbet arrived from Gent with Marvelous Nakoma coming in from Vitesse. Ivan Leko was also a surprise choice to replace Michel Preud’homme, although the Croat did a good job at Sint Truiden.
Hein Vanhaezebrouck’s Gent are still recovering from losing some key players after their title win in 2014-15 and won’t be happy to come across Kums when they play Anderlecht. Gent’s top signing is midfielder Franko Andrijašević who has arrived from Croat champions Rijeka. He was Croat player of the year last season.
Racing Genk will benefit from not playing in Europe and in Alejandro Pozuelo, Sander Berge and Nikos Karelis they have the backbone of a useful squad. Stuivenberg says he owes a lot to Louis Van Gaal and he certainly improved the team last year.
It’s difficult to know what to say about Standard Liege. They have missed out on qualifying for the Playoffs for the last two seasons and new coach Ricardo Sá Pinto won’t last long in Liege if they miss out again. Pre-season results have been ok and they’ve recalled to old stalwarts in Sebastien Pocognoli, now captain, and Paul-José Mpoku. For goals, they will be looking to Orlando Sa.
Under millionaire owner Marc Coucke, Oostende have been in the playoffs for the last two seasons. They lost top striker Landry Dimata to Wolfsburg and picked up Richairo Živkovic from Ajax, or rather from ‘Young Ajax’. Nic Lombaerts has signed up after a decade with Zenit St. Petersburg and should become a leader on the pitch.
Royal Antwerp will be the focus of much attention. After 13 years in the second division, Belgium’s oldest club is back in the big time. Remarkably, Luciano D’Onofrio has returned ‘home’ to run the club. Obbi Oularé has arrived on loan from Watford, and Dino Arslanagic has moved over from Mouscron. Expect some surprise signings in August, perhaps with a Portuguese connection. D’Onofrio has installed his old mate László Bölöni as coach.
Francky Dury was approached by Club Brugge but he decided to stay on at Zulte Waregem, where he has an extremely long contract. Maybe he didn’t fancy the Jan Breydel stadium and is waiting for a chance at Anderlecht or with the national team! They will be aiming for the playoffs again.
Charleroi reached the playoffs last season and will be there or thereabouts. KV Mechelen just missed out last season and 36-year-old Yannick Ferrera is now one of the most experienced coaches in the JPL. He’s also one of only six Belgian coaches in the league. Kortrijk have a new coach in Yannis Anastasiou while Lokeren have opted for ex clubman Rúnar Kristinsson. Both clubs are outside candidates for the playoffs.
And the rest…
Eupen are owned by the Qatari government and presumably they have a game plan. Roland Duchâtelet is still in charge at Sint Truiden with a new coach in “Tintín” Márquez (ex Eupen). Finally, there are Waasland-Beveren with Philippe Clement, ex number two at Club Brugge, and Mouscron, being kept alive by ‘super-agent’ Pini Zahavi.
… not only but also
Video replays will be available in the JPL this season. It will be used in 48 matches, three at home and three away for each team.
If a Belgian team reaches a European quarter final – not looking likely at the moment – then they could play on a Monday night as the FA want to give them more rest.