The departure of Romelu Lukaku leaves a sizeable void in Anderlecht’s attack. Lukaku’s self-confessed dream move to Chelsea is all but a fait accompli and Herman van Holsbeeck has been charged with securing attacking reinforcements for Anderlecht have been lacking a cutting edge since Mbark Boussoufa’s departure. Various names such as Anthony Ujah and Rade Prica had been circulating in the media but it’s to two former Standard Liège strikers that les Mauves have turned in Milan Jovanovic and Dieumerci Mbokani. Both represent not only gambles from a sporting point of view but have evoked very different reactions among the Anderlecht supporters.
Love him or hate him, Jovanovic is back in Belgium. And once the former Standard Liège decided to return, at the behest of his wife if you believe everything he says, there was only one show in town – Anderlecht. On the face of the deal, it is a perfectly sensible transfer for a club of les Mauves et Blancs‘ stature. A player who shone in Belgium, earned his high-profile transfer abroad and then returned to the nest once things did not pan out as he intended. The Serb should not be judged by his spell on Merseyside as he was signed by Rafael Benitez who then left, and was never given a fair crack of the whip during a chaotic period for one of England’s great clubs.
At 30 years old, he should be at the peak of his powers but there are lingering doubts. He has not played with regularity over the past year, which may have caused him to lose some of his sharpness. And there are question marks against his motivation – he will earn a salary of well over €1 million, which by Pro League standards is considerable. It’s all well putting in the hard yards and displaying the hunger and desire when you have been rescued from a miserable, injury-hit spell in Russia and want to make a real name for yourself. It is another kettle of fish to rediscover that following a setback during his prime years.
Meanwhile, back in his old stomping ground of Liège, there are a range of emotions. Many Rouches are understandably dismayed and angry at Jovanovic’s decision to sign for their biggest and most bitter rivals given the numerous occasions on which he declared his undying love for Standard. Others believe, whether out of conviction or an anti-Anderlecht attitude, propose the view that he is over the hill and will never be the player he was, in other words all the ingredients necessary to add another name to van Holsbeeck’s flops. Former Anderlecht and Standard coach Johan Boskamp is equally unsure, saying that 1-2 years ago Jovanovic would have been a stellar acquisition but the jury is now out.
Jovanovic will be reunited in Brussels with his old partner in crime Dieumerci Mbokani, who must be indeed thanking the Lord for his new opportunity, as Anderlecht have handed him a lifeline. A big money move from Standard to AS Monaco flopped spectacularly as one of the great underachievers in France succumbed to relegation. Mbokani though was not around to witness the slow death as he had been loaned out to Wolfsburg who were buying strikers like they were going out of fashion in a desperate bid to salvage a second consecutive poor season. Indeed, it was almost as if Felix Magath had never left with Tuncay and Patrick Helmes also arriving to join Grafite and Mario Mandzukic.
It’s safe to say that Mbokani’s arrival is much more contentious than that of Jovanovic, who received a warm reception before last Friday’s 3-1 home win over Mechelen, which turned out to be Lukaku’s swansong. He had a short spell on loan with Paarswit back in 2006-07 scoring 4 goals in 9 matches. However, he rarely played because then coach Frank Vercauteren (himself in the news of late) simply did not rate the player. Despite that, Mbokani admitted that “Vercauteren did not believe in me. But Anderlecht is where it all began. It feels like I am coming home.”
A homecoming it will not be for many Anderlecht supporters. A Facebook group set up in opposition of Mbokani’s return has attracted over 800 members at the time of writing and if this blog had as many hits, I would be as overjoyed as Guido Brepoels following Sint-Truiden’s 95th minute equaliser against Club Brugge! The Anderlecht fans have long memories and recall how, back in August 2009, he celebrated a goal in front of them, not long after they had been stunned following Axel Witsel’s horrific leg-breaking challenge on Marcin Wasilewski. He also scored a superb header a few months earlier in the test-match to help Standard edge out Anderlecht to the title.
Many fans will inevitably be placated should Mbokani, and indeed Jovanovic for that matter hit it off for Ariël Jacobs’ men. However, in addition to both players applying themselves to make the most of their talent, Jacobs may well have to ditch the old gameplan of 4-3-3 with two wingers. Mbokani, who is the like-for-like replacement for Lukaku, could play upfront as the focal point in the attack with the ever-improving and rejuvenated Matias Suarez and Milan Jovanovic playing off him but not as genuine wide men.
It is to be hoped that Mbokani and Jovanovic hit it off and that there is no repeat of the infamous incident against Roeselare. Jovanovic gesticulated furiously before asking to be substituted after Mbokani refused to pass to the Serb and duly received his wish from Bölöni László. The Magyar coach then removed Mbokani two minutes later, highlighting the potential explosive nature of these two clearly talented footballers.
Once Ronald Vargas returns to fill fitness, Anderlecht could once again boast a formidable attacking unit. However, it is to be hoped that the likes of Fernando Canesin Matos and Dennis Praet do not have their progress stunted by the absence of these “superstars” for they promise a great deal. Should the gamble of signing three players who once earned their money at the club’s two biggest rivals, the writing would surely be on the wall, not only for Jacobs but van Holsbeeck himself.