For many years, the only Belgian coach with an international reputation was Eric Gerets. That’s changed. While Gerets was opting for lots of dollars with Al Hilal, Michel Preud’homme was working miracles in the lowlands.
After a poor start to his managerial career with Standard Liege in the early nineties, Preud’homme was completely screwed by the Belgian FA. Learning from that, Preud’homme had another crack with Standard Liege in 2007. In just his second season, Preud’homme took the championship to Liege for the first time in 25 years. That made household names – in some households anyway – of Steven Defour, Axel Witsel, Milan Jovanovic and Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini left for Everton and made his club a huge profit, while Jovanovic engineered a ‘Bosman’ and trousered a lot of cash.
Surprisingly, just when everyone thought Preud’homme was part of the furniture at Sclessin, he upped and left for Gent. That was not an obvious choice as Gent had last won a trophy – the cup – in 1984. Preud’homme said he needed five years to make them a top club. Amazingly, in his second season, he took the Buffalos to second place in the league (ahead of Club Brugge and Standard Liege) and won the Belgian cup. No man could do more – he had achieved all he could hope for in 24 months.
On the player front, Gent’s top player had been Bryan Ruiz – the Belgian league’s brightest talent by far. At the end of the 2009 season, Ruiz was snapped up by FC Twente for the ludicrous sum of 5 million euros. FC Twente, managed by Steve McClaren, duly won the title.
When McClaren left for the Bundesliga, Preud’homme was on the move again – this time to FC Twente. Now, after 12 games, they are unbeaten and top of the Eredivisie. Even better they are still in with a shout – or maybe that’s a whisper – of qualifying from their Champions League group at the expense of Spurs or Inter Milan. Preud’homme can do no wrong. He’s intelligent, respected, passionate, experienced and he speaks half a dozen languages. I just hope he doesn’t opt for a spell at Al Hilal next year.