As a neutral, it would be wonderful to see a new name lift the Jupiler Pro League trophy. Better still, a new name that had acceeded to the top of Belgian football through shrewd management, intelligent scouting and attacking football. KAA Gent most certainly fit the bill. Once more, they have stolen a march on a number of Belgium’s other leading sides by having a new ground built and they will start next season in the 21,000 capacity Arteveldstadion. Occupying the second largest city in the country, there is undoubtedly still further potential for De Buffalo’s to grow and become a permanent force to be reckoned with. However, not everything is rosy in the garden as we enter the new campaign.
Trond Sollied is, for my money at least, the finest coach in the Pro League, which has to count for a great deal. A proven winner both in his native Norway and abroad, it’s not entirely accurate to bracket him among Belgium’s foreign legion of coaches, since he has almost become part of the furniture. However, this season he will have his work cut out for him as the powers that be have allowed a number of first-choice players to leave. The most acutely felt departure could well be that of Jesper Jørgensen, whom Sollied transformed into a dangerous, goalscoring midfield player. He has signed for rivals Club Brugge for around €1.5m.
Yassine El Ghanassy is the highest profile player to be plying his trade elsewhere this term. The winger has gone on loan to West Brom, who are looking to the Belgian international to supply pace and explosiveness down the left flank. Few would question the natural talent of El Ghanassy and there’s little doubt he could have made a sizeable contribution this season whatever his faults. However, he is inconsistent and given his incessant and publicly-expressed desire to leave the club, as well as his preference to play for a coach who may not be quite as strict as Sollied, Gent are better off without him.
Elimane Coulibaly is another player who was open in saying that he felt undervalued and unappreciated at the Ottenstadion and he could prove a useful acquisition for Adrie Koster at Beerschot. The biggest surprise from a personal point of view was the transfer of Slovenian attacker Zlatan Ljubijankic to Omiya Ardija in Japan. Never prolific, he chipped in with a decent amount of goals and linked up well with his team-mates. The reasons for the move, at least from Gent’s point of view have yet to become clear and it’s certainly left many fans scratching their heads.
All is not doom and gloom however. Marcel Gecov comes highly rated having already made his debut for the Czech Republic and is hoping to add some necessary steel to the heart of the Gent midfield. Cesar Arzo and Melli have an excellent relationship on and off the pitch while Sergio Padt has exceeded all expectations between the sticks. Jordan Remacle was one of the best players in the league last season and surrounded by better players should continue to improve. And while Rodgers Kola is a real unknown quantity for most, time and time again Gent have shown that their scouting system can unearth hidden treasures from some of the footballing outposts of the globe.
Bernd Thijs is now in the twilight of his career and will need support from the likes of Gecov, Mohamed Messoudi (who has joined from Kortrijk), N’Diaye and the emerging Hannes van der Bruggen. Christian Brüls was superb in his first season and while his versatility can be an asset, may need to be played in the attacking line in order to ensure Gent have as much quality in forward areas as possible. This is because they still lack a prolific striker and the eternal problem of not performing when it really matters stubbornly refuses to disappear. Sollied would be well advised to therefore take as many points as possible during the regular season in order to set his side up for a tilt at the top three spots.
Last season: 3rd place (4th in PO1)
Head coach: Trond Sollied
Star player: Christian Brüls
Title odds: 9/1
N.B: All predictions are for the regular season and it should be borne in mind that the transfer window does not close until 31 August.