Franky Vercauteren’s Genk are top at the half-way stage and that’s a pleasant surprise. At the start of the season, Anderlecht were most people’s favourite to retain the title and they probably still are. They’ve kept all their top players, except for the loss – if it can be described that way – of Jelle Van Damme to the Wolves bench. Unfortunately, the few players they bought – Pablo Chavarria, Jan Lecjaks and Sacha Kljestan – proved to be cheap but not so cheerful. A string of European defeats and a 5-1 thrashing at Standard meant that crisis talks were in the air. An injury to Mbark Boussoufa piled on the pressure but wins at Genk and Ghent meant that Ariel Jacobs kept his job and his team slotted into second place.
Gracing Genk started had started the season brilliantly with five victories. Jelle Vossen scored every time he shot and Kevin De Bruyne (19) was seen as a new Robbie Rensenbrink. Genk could do no wrong and Vercauteren was seen as a miracle worker. It couldn’t last of course, and when De Bruyne went down with ‘kissing disease’ and Vossen stopped scoring, there was talk of Genk’s cover being blown. They hung on and a 3-0 win over Cercle Brugge gave them the ‘Autumn Champions’ title.
Of the other ‘big five’, Standard have blown hot and cold. Les Rouches completely remodelled their attack in the close season and, with a defence that’s leaky at best, they now rely too much on Steven Defour in midfield. The fans would like to know what happened to the 20 million euros they got for Marouane Fellaini and, rather like the Old Trafford faithful, they would like some decent replacements to come in as players leave. To be fair, Standard had high hopes when they ‘bought’ in winger Tom De Mul (from Seville), playmaker Franck Berrier (from Zulte Waregem) and striker Emad Meteb (from Al-Ahly). Sadly the first two have not yet played due to injury and the last-named came over, discovered the Liege climate and went back to Egypt never to be seen again.
Club Brugge are in a hole and are desperately short of big-time players. Ronald Vargas is the shining star (12 goals in 15 games) and there are high hopes for Vadis Odijida-Ofoe. Apart from that, the cupboard is bare and coach Adrie Koster – who arrived from Ajax and started strongly – is struggling.
The same cannot be said for Francky Drury who is doing a great job at Ghent in the wake of Michel Preud’homme. Drury came to the fore with Zulte-Waregem (coach of the year 2006) and has now got his first opportunity at a ‘big’ club. Ghent don’t have any stars, now that Bryan Ruiz and Roberto Rosales are at FC Twente, along with Preud’homme. Actually I am not doing the club total justice as young Yassine El Ghanassy (20) could carve out a useful career. Drury’s – or rather Ghent’s – weakness is an inability to beat the big clubs.
Among the other Jupiler league clubs, Charleroi and Eupen stand out for a lack of points and total mismanagement. Charleroi started the season with ex-coach Jacky Mathijssen back in charge. He lasted until mid-September, when he was sacked by owner Abbas Bayat. Mathijssen had returned with the strong support of Bayat’s nephew Mogi, who followed the coach out of the club a few weeks later. Bayat senior brought in Laszlo Csaba – ex Hearts – but results have not arrived with him and the club is currently bottom. Charleroi average two-three coaches per season and have not had a taste of glory since they lost in the 1993 cup final.
Just above Charleroi are Eupen – the only club from the German-speaking region of Belgium to reach the first division. Eupen were bought by Antonio Imborgia a couple of years ago – if you know why, drop me a line. With coach Danny Ost in charge, they were promoted to the first division and a bunch of players with Italian connections were shipped in. Sadly they lost the first five games of the current season and Ost was ousted out to be replaced by Eziolino Capuano – ex Messina – who promptly declared himself to be a cross between Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal. He turned out to be as effective a coach as Jose Feliciano and left after a few more defeats and – I believe – one point won. In came a man with Jupiler League experience in the guise of Albert Cartier and now the race is on to get out of the bottom two. Although with the play-off system in Belgium, it will be a long time before any fat ladies are singing.
Elsewhere, ex Anderlecht stalwart Glen De Boeck is hanging on as coach of Germinal Beerschot, where his old chum Bart Goor is still ploughing a lonely furrow on Germinal’s left wing. Two players who were at the World Cup – Lance Davids and Eiji Kawashima – arrived at Lierse, where they met Wesley Sonck and Tomasz Radzinski. No great results though and Lierse are just above Eupen. At Cercle Brugge, Bob Peeters has been playing it for laughs but has had some good results in his first coaching job – most notably against Anderlecht. St Truiden lost Simon Mignolet to Sunderland – where he may spend a lot of time on the bench – and lost their way in the league. Aleksandr ‘Sacha’ Iakovenko tried hard not to return to Westerlo, on loan from Anderlecht, but he had to go and is now the top man at Jan Ceuleman’s club.
And that’s a wrap, except to say a few words about Zulte-Waregem’s Habib Habibou. He chased and caught a duck – see http://tiny.cc/x4u3s – during the match with Lokeren. His method of removing the duck – a tad on the violent side – earned him death threats from animal rights campaigners. But there’s always a bright side and after he scored a brace against St Truiden – not a hard task – fans gave him a Donald Duck flag.
And there are just 15 more weekends before the play-offs.
1. Racing Genk 33
2. Anderlecht 31
3. Ghent 28
4. Standard Liege 27
5. Lokeren 26
6. KV Mechelen 25
7. Club Brugge 24
8. Kortrijk 24
9. Westerlo 22
10. Cercle Brugge 22
11. Zulte-Waregem 17
12. Germinal Beerschot 13
13. Sint Truiden 11
14. Lierse 9
15. Eupen 8
16. Charleroi 7