It’s tempting to say that when it comes to the flavour of the month in Belgian football, Chelsea are the team to look to and not anyone from the Pro League. The Eden Hazard transfer-soap, which at one point seemed to be interminable, overshadowed the arrival of another Belgian at Stamford Bridge, Kevin De Bruyne, on the verge of a loan move to Werder Bremen. And what of De Bruyne’s former club, Racing Genk? The consensus seems to be that he will be missed, something acknowledged by left-back Derrick Tshimanga. On the other hand, De Smurfen have been sitting on a sizeable pot of money garnered from the sale of De Bruyne and Courtois and have moved to reinforce their attacking weapons.
Julien Gorius arrives from KV Mechelen for around €2m with 28 goals to his name in the previous two campaigns, an impressive tally even when penalties are taken into account. He will be called upon to maintain that goalscoring form and create, thus helping to replace another departure, Hungarian midfielder Tözsér Daniel, who was an outstanding exponent of set-pieces. Gorius never broke through in his native France and is therefore grateful that FC Brussels and Mechelen helped him to launch his professional career. It’s vital he can make the step up to one of the top five so as to ensure that Genk do not rely too much on Jelle Vossen and Christian Benteke.
Another man hoping to share some of the goalscoring and creative burden is Steven Joseph-Monrose. Another Frenchman, the under-21 international stunned many in the footballing world when he signed for KV Kortrijk during last summer’s Toulon tournament. While not always a regular in the starting line-up, few were left in any doubt as to his quality. He scored for Kortrijk in the Cristal Arena last season and will be hoping to find the back of the net for his new employers. His pace and incision may have to be put to good use on the flank even though he admits his prefered position is upfront.
Defensively, Genk look less strong as it currently stands. French under-21 international arrives from Metz with high expectations but has picked up a toe injury, as has German centre-half Torben Joneleit. To compound matters, Jeroen Simaeys will be out for two months, leaving Mario Been looking around for alternatives. Genk captain David Hubert could cover but he too is still in recovery mode meaning that the South African Anele could be asked to move inside to partner Nadson – hardly ideal heading into a new league campaign. There is no cover for their excellent left-back Derrick Tshimanga though Dani Fernandez, should he be handed a permanent deal, could be a smart signing if he puts his injury problems behind him and rediscovers his NEC form.
Unlike the big three, Genk have not had a change of head coach in the close season, which should count for something. It was not that long ago that Been was on the verge of losing his job as Racing were scrambling to make Play-Off 1 with lesser lights KV Kortrijk and Cercle Brugge. Fortunately for the likeable Dutchman, his charges did the business before proceeding to overtake Gent and Standard to finish in the top three. They proved, like Standard had the year before, that the play-offs do provide the possibility to build up a head of steam and they will be looking to carry on that momentum starting this Sunday against Cercle Brugge.
It is vital that sporting director Dirk Degraen moves to bring in ideally two players at the back to ensure that Genk’s offensive talent is not let down by a leaking defence, especially when the squad is stretched to the limit. And everyone at the Limburg club will be crossing their fingers that a major bid (probably from Italy) does not come in for Jelle Vossen, who has not seen his title-winning success with the club lead to a move abroad. Been may have taken on an impossible job with Feyenoord but his work with NEC and latterly with Genk prove that he is a fine coach and with his feet now firmly under the table, he could well help Racing put the cat amongst the pigeons in the title race.
Last season: 5th place (3rd in PO1)
Head coach: Mario Been
Star player: Jelle Vossen
Title odds: 8/1