At the beginning of the season, no one would have put money on – in a two week period – four coaches being sacked (three from the Big Five), Zulte Waregem going to the top of the table and Anderlecht’s Tom De Sutter scoring five goals in two games. But all those things came to pass as Halloween approached and screams were heard at many grounds around the country. The final screams – perhaps of joy – came tonight when Georges Leekens was relieved of his duties after six consecutive defeats in all competitions.
Just two weeks ago, there were a few upsets in the Jupiler League. Standard Liege lost at Mons, with two late goals by an ex-Standard striker Aloys Nong, and Gent lost at home to Kortrijk. Not so surprisingly, bottom club Cercle Brugge lost at home to KV Mechelen. At the same time, Club Brugge were being thrashed 4-1 at Leuven.
All four results ultimately had the same effect; the respective coaches were dismissed over the next two weeks. For Standard’s Ron Jans it was not a shock as results had been poor for some time. He’d been saved by the controversial win over Anderlecht but losing at Mons was the final straw. Gent’s dismissal of Trond Sollied was more of a surprise although his relationship with the club has always been a bit odd. He was rumoured to be on the way out a few weeks ago and in response he’d said he didn’t care as he’d soon find another club.
Without a first team coach, Standard then played Cercle Brugge. The fans booed the home team throughout the match – they want the President and Technical Director out – but Standard won against the bottom club. Cercle coach Bob Peeters then got the sack, only to resurface at Gent a few days later; he’d once been in charge of the juniors there. Meanwhile Standard appointed an ex-player Mircea Rednic as first team coach – they needed a safe pair of hands.
On the pitch in those two weeks, it was all happening – with mid-week and weekend games – and three clubs stood out; Leuven, Zulte Waregem and Anderlecht! It’s surprising to compare the Brussels club with those from Waregem and Leuven but this season’s Jupiler League is threatening to be a topsy-turvy one.
Leuven are in the second season in the top flight and no one gave them much hope of being in the top half of the table. They are now in the top six on merit having won their last five games while scoring 19 goals, before tonight’s visit to Sclessin. They also have the league’s leading scorer in Gambian striker ‘Ibou’ Savaneh who has 12 goals in 11 games.
Zulte Waregem have surpassed that result by going top. Ex-policeman Francky Dury has returned to the club where he made his name and he has two talented players in midfield – Franck Berrier and Thorgan Hazard – who have struck up a great partnership. Playmaker Berrier, who failed at Standard before retruning ‘home’ to Zulte, also has nine goals so far.
Anderlecht were woeful at Charleroi just over a week ago and that provoked cries of crisis coming after another defeat In Europe. Since then they’ve won twice and scored nine goals in the process, five of them going to Tom de Sutter. When De Sutter missed an open goal at Charleroi, John Van den Brom immediately signalled his replacement and it looked like he was set for a long period out of the team. Football’s a strange game!
The other reason for Anderlecht’s rebirth could be the return of American Sacha Kljestan; he’s brought some steel to midfield. That’s no surprise as he did all of Lucas Biglia’s running for him last season when Ariel Jacobs was in charge.
Today’s victory for Zulte Waregem at Club Brugge was the end of the road for Georges Leekens. They’ve lost six games in succession in all competitions and the man who walked out on Belgium is now out of work. According to the media, the canny coach was clever enough to arrange a three million euro pay-off if he got the sack.
With Standard winning against Leuven, it looks like Rednic has turned things around. The Jupiler League may not have the best quality players in Europe, the lack of profitable TV rights sees to that. But there’s always something happening and in players like Dennis Praet, Jelle Vossen, Carlos Bacca, Franck Berrier and dare I say it, Thorgan Hazard and Milan Jovanovic, there’s always something to talk about.
Cercle Brugge by the way are still bottom of the league and without a coach, as are Club Brugge since about 30 minutes. It looks like Sollied – who was a big success at the Jan Breydel stadium a few years ago – will have his pick of jobs.
1. Zulte Waregem: 28 points (9 victories)
1. Anderlecht: 28
3. Racing Genk: 25
4. Lokeren: 24
5. Kortrijk: 24
6. Leuven: 23
7. Standard Liege: 19
8. Club Brugge: 22
9. Mons: 21
10. Gent: 19
11. KV Mechelen: 17
12. Beerschot: 14
13. Charleroi: 13
14. Lierse: 13
15. Waasland-Beveren: 10
16. Cercle Brugge: 7.