Anderlecht are deep in crisis and there is much chatter about Ariel Jacobs being replaced at the end of the season. But why blame the coach? He can only play with the cards that he’s been dealt; and Jacobs has been dealt some duds.
Anderlecht won the championship in 2009-10 with a side that was workmanlike with a dash of creativity up front. It usually featured a solid back four, with captain Olivier Deschacht at left back, any three in midfield from Lucas Biglia, Jan Polak, Jelle Van Damme and Cheikhou Kouyate, and Jonathan Legear, Romelu Lukaku and Mbark Boussoufa in attack.
With rumours of several players leaving last summer, Anderlecht’s power brokers (Roger Vanden Stock and Herman Van Holsbeeck) decided that they would do their upmost to keep the championship-winning squad together. Their thinking must have been that another title was in the bag, regardless of the league format. That would mean more money in the coffers and maybe even a little success in the Champions League.
It was not to be. The first blow was when Jelle Van Damme – a man motivator in the dressing room – decided he would not be signing a new contact and left in the summer of 2010 to join Wolves. Anderlecht struggled on and achieved a few results while playing poorly. Then the winter transfer window came and Anderlecht reckoned it was better to have a couple of million euros than Jan Polak; it’s true he had been pulling up any trees, but he was a fighter.
Then, in February, came another blow – this one was also self-induced. The clubs got together to agree the future format of the Jupiler League. Anderlecht were very much in charge of negotiations, although officially it was Gent’s President Ivan De Witte in the chair. Despite the “minnows” initially throwing out the current complicated system of playoffs, they were leant on by the “G4” (Anderlecht, Genk, Gent and Club Brugge) and convinced that maintaining the status quo was a good idea.
Sadly for Anderlecht, the status quo meant that the top six went into the playoffs with just half of their points. So, for example, Anderlecht were no longer 16 points ahead of Standard Liege, but just eight points ahead. The Liege club had stood alone during the “league format” negotiations.
Then in March, the final setback. Just before the playoffs were due to start, Mbark Boussoufa decided that making €10 million over four years – in Russia where the transfer window had been carelessly left open – was better than hanging around the Constant Vanden Stock stadium.
Move forward a couple of weeks; Deschacht is still injured, no one of any note has been bought throughout the season and Anderlecht have been heavily defeated in the first two matches of the playoffs and Standard Liege have had two excellent wins – one against Anderlecht. The title race is suddenly wide open – Liege are two points behind Anderlecht (in second place) – and any one of five clubs could win.
This week, the excellent Sport/Foot magazine analysed Anderlecht’s transfer policy in recent years. It makes for a sad read: in the past three years, Anderlecht have spent €13.5 million euros on 16 players. Only one of them (Ondrej Mazuch) has become a first-term regular. Anderlecht have never spent more than €3.5 million on a player; and it looks like you get what you pay for.
This would not matter if Anderlecht had a record of bringing through young players from the academy but only Lukaku and Kouyate have arrived in the first team in recent years. Not unexpectedly, perhaps, both have suffered from a serious drop in form in the last 12 months.
Anderlecht play on – tonight it’s Genk at home – but even the most fervent fans must agree with Van Holsbeeck when he says that the team needs to be completely revamped. Well, it’s that or the management structure.