Belgium’s first division is the Jupiler League but the second division shouldn’t be ignored. The latter has a new sponsor and from this season it is the Belgacom League. There are 18 clubs; 11 areFlemish, four are from Wallonia, two based in Brussels and one represents the German-speaking region of Belgium. The league is worthy of examination as its clubs are often the subject of investment – for sometimes dubious reasons – and it’s also a great place if you want to watch football as it was in the English leagues back in the fifties and sixties. And that is not a criticism. Crowds are often small (Antwerp have the biggest crowds with about 6,000, while clubs like Tubize and White Star Woluwe average around 550) but that’s compensated by compact grounds and lifelong enthusiasm. You’ll not find prawn sandwiches here. There are four favourites for the title this year: Eupen, Lommel, Mouscron-Peruwelz and Sint-Truiden. It’s possible that Mouscron-Peruwelz (a club created by Peruwelz moving to liquidated Mouscron’s old ground), promoted from the third division last season and now officially owned by French outfit Lille, will go straight up to the First Division. Perennial outsiders Royal Antwerp – the best-supported club in the league – should also be watched carefully. On the investment side, the Qatari link with Eupen is fascinating and it will be interesting to see how the Indonesian investors get on at Visé. Let’s have a look at the 18 clubs.
Relegated from the Jupiler League
Sint Truiden were relegated from the top division and are coached by Guido Brepolis, who was sacked and has now returned after a year spent visiting other clubs such as Ajax. They play on a synthetic pitch which didn’t seem to help them last year when Franky Van der Elst was in charge. Top striker Reza (Goochi) Ghoochannejhad has been bought by Standard but will remain at STVV until January. The Liege club have also sent young Peruvian signing Ivan Bulos to STVV. The club has some useful players in Gregory Dufer, Guy Dufour and Belgo-Brazilian Edmilson. Joeri Dequevy will also be keen to make his name after a miserable time at Lierse. The squad looks strong.
Westerlo were also relegated and have undergone a revolution with 24 players following legendary coach Jan Ceulemans out of the door. It’s hard to say what they will do in the lower league. Bart Goor is still there and will be 40 in April. Ex Club Brugge defender Birgir Maertens has also signed up but will need time to settle. Ex Anderlecht keeper Michael Cordier will be hoping to kick-start his career, while Ghanaian striker William Owusu will be hoping for more goals in the lower division.
Just missed out last season
Eupen – from Belgium’s German-speaking region – just missed out on promotion last year, losing in the playoffs. They recently spent one year in the First Division with the backing of Italian investors. Now they’ve been chosen by the powers-that-be in Qatar who see Eupen as a perfect shop window (in central Europe) for graduates of the country’s Aspire Academy. Fifteen African players have already arrived but have yet to finalise registration. Aspire has links to Barcelona and all Eupen’s technical staff are Spanish. Last season, Venezuelan Christian Santos scored a lot of goals. This will be worth watching.
Also losing in the playoffs were Ostende. Last season they had the best defence but two of their stalwarts have left the club to join the Jupiler League. Nicaise Kudimbana is a young Congolese keeper who started out with Anderlecht. Striker Wouter Moreels has been signed from Eendracht Aalst. Ostende are strong at home and could have a good season.
Lommel are a good footballing side who usually make the playoffs. Philip Haagdoren knows the club well and has replaced Franky Van der Elst as coach. Well-travelled striker Dieter Dekelver has returned to the club where he started his career.
Ones to watch and with room for improvement
White Star Woluwe is essentially a family club who over-achieved last year by finishing sixth. They’ve risen from the provincial leagues to the second division in record time and they’re ambitious; they now intend to become a fully professional club. Coach Felice Mazzu, who was at Tubize, has a growing reputation. Striker Patrick Amoah has returned to the club after failing to make the grade at Leuven.
At Heist, half of the squad are teenagers as the club sees this as the best way to survive, i.e. bring them through and sell at a profit. There are great expectations about striker Jimmy Fockaert who scored a lot of goals for Hoogstraten.
Visé are one of the most interesting teams in the league. They are backed by an Indonesian consortium and have an Italian sporting director. No surprise then that they have seven Italians and four Indonesians in the squad. Ex Eupen midfielder Ioannis Masmanidis will bring some creativity to midfield while coach Manuele Domenicali is renowned for his demanding schedules; 40 sessions in July!
Last season, Royal Antwerp came 10th which was a big disappointment for a proud club – Belgium’s oldest. Since then they have tried and failed to get Qatari backers and they’ve hired ex-Mons coach Dennis van Wijk who is a specialist in getting teams out of the second division. They are aiming for a top five finish and a new signing is ex Kilmarnock striker Dieter Van Tornhout. Manchester United have also sent over a couple of youngsters. It will be interesting.
Looking for mid-table security
Boussa Dour Borinage are one of the four teams based in Wallonia. Congolese international Rodrigue Dikaba is there, he was at Oldham Athletic where he upset Paul Dikov. Ivory Coast striker Kevin ‘Koffi’ is on loan from Roma and hit a dozen goals last season. They have no president and apparently want to reach the first division; that’s unlikely.
Eendracht Aalst are suffering from a mass player exodus. Among those who have joined are experienced defender Predrag Filipovic and Belgo-Greek striker Stavros Glouftsis. The striker has played for no less than 13 clubs in the lower divisions.
Tubize hired Dante Brogno as coach towards the end of last season and he saved them from relegation. They now have Philippe Saint-Jean installed as Technical Director after he was sacked by ambitious Mouscron. Hervé Onana is a useful striker.
Roeselare have ex Club Brugge midfielder Sergei Serebrennikov as player/coach. Sporting Director Luc Devroe has good connections with Anderlecht and has so far managed to get Junior Kabananga and Abdelhakim Bouhna on loan from the first division champions. Anthony Di Lallo got 14 goals and six assists last year.
FC Brussels is the club that emerged following the demise of RWDM, although not many of their old fans would agree on a real connection – apart from the ground. The club’s owner is Johan Vermeersch who is the second division’s equivalent of Abbas Bayat. The club’s been in financial difficulty and has only just been allowed to make transfers again. Fabio Tonini – from the Nike Academy – is on the books and keeper Stéphane Coqu has surprisingly arrived from Charleroi.
Alex Czerniatynski is trying to forget his time at Olympic Charleroi by taking over the reins at Sint-Niklaas. They could struggle. One famous name on the payroll is Francois Kompany, brother of the more famous Vincent.
Up from the third division
Dessel were one of the three promoted teams, along with Audenaerde and Mouscron. Dessel have a young keeper from Standard Liege – Laurent Henkinet – but they have lost the strikers that won them promotion. Ex international Stijn Vreven is the new coach.
Audenaerde is an amateur club. Ex Antwerp centre back Stefan Leleu is the coach and Stijn Meert – ex Zulte Waregem and Mouscron – is there. They are aiming to survive.
The final club is one that will be in the spotlight. Mouscron-Peruwelz were promoted and 51% of the club is owned by French first division club Lille. Note: Mouscron is on the Belgium-France border, about 20 kilometres from Lille. Arnaud Dos Santos is the new coach and his job is to get Mouscron into the first division in the shortest time possible. John Jairo Ruiz is an 18 year-old Costa Rican who played in the World U20 Championships – he is one of several players on loan from Lille. French U21 defender Yoann Andreu is also trying to get back on track at the club.