The passing of the Ariël Jacobs era did not see the Anderlecht fans shed too many tears. He was never loved by the supporters, who chastised him for an unattractive and too direct style of play, which did not get the best out of the players he had at his disposal as well as a lack of tactical awareness. For many, this was never more obvious than when AZ knocked Anderlecht out of the Europa League last season, prompting an open letter from one fan group, calling on Jacobs to be sacked as he had been made to look second-rate by his opposite number Gertjan Verbeek. Whatever the failings of the Diegem-born coach, he never deserved the booing and heckling when his name was called out by the stadium announcer as he went to join his title-winning team at the end of last season. He may never be in their hearts, he may never be accepted but he did win two league titles and a cup.
Herman van Holsbeeck, himself often the subject of ridicule and criticism, cast the net wide for a successor. Bob Peeters was too inexperienced and the club admitted they had at least considered Georges Leekens though it’s no secret Michel Preud’homme was interested. One senses though that the Crown Jewels are almost easier to prise away than the former Standard coach, given the nature of his contract with Al-Shabab. At one point, it looked as if the job would go to Der Professor, Ralf Rangnick, fully refreshed after he had to leave Schalke 04 somewhat prematurely. In the end, the post went to John van den Brom. The former Ajax player is one of the finest and most promising up and coming coaches around. He overachieved by leading ADO Den Haag into Europe before repeating his success with ex-club Vitesse and deserved the chance to move on to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately for van den Brom, the honeymoon period is short. Winning the title will always remain les Mauves et Blancs‘ goal but this time, it is imperative that Anderlecht reach the group stages of the Champions League. They have a favourable path into the money-spinning phase of the competition but in the light of recent failures, nothing can be taken for granted. That said, Anderlecht is a club who more often than not should be dining at Europe’s top table, something, which eluded Jacobs. And while the heady days of beating Manchester United and Real Madrid are long gone, it’s crucial for the status of the club and to help finance the kind of stadium they deserve.
It is also not unreasonable to expect Anderlecht not only to win but to equally have success with a touch of panache. van den Brom has pledged to bring a more attacking and fluid style with quick passing and combinations between the attacking players. He has sent a strong signal in this direction by selecting two attacking midfielders in front of skipper Lucas Biglia, which he admits is a crucial aspect of his footballing vision. Kanu, who began to grow last season, has shown signs of flourishing under the new regime and is already known as van den Brom’s chouchou. The most attention surrounds Dennis Praet though – a simply outstanding talent who scored in last week’s Supercup and promises a huge amount in the years to come. With the benefit of hindsight now is the correct time to blood the man Arsenal tried so hard to acquire, as he is much more suited to van den Brom’s style of play. Furthermore, Anderlecht will need to warn against relying too much on the full-backs for width even if the highly-paid and colourful Milan Jovanovic is more suited to playing as a second striker.
Another task the club must undertake is to dramatically reduce the size of the squad, which numbers over 40. To date, the only high-profile departure is Matias Suarez, who has joined CSKA Moscow for €16million. He was the deserved winner of the Belgian Golden Shoe last year, contributing ten goals and sixteen assists and dazzling throughout the season, finally showing what he was capable of. With €11million going straight into Anderlecht’s coffers, it will give Paars-wit the green light to strengthen the squad. The club have been criticised for waiting until they are assured of Champions League qualification before splashing out significant amounts of cash even if one can understand them hedging their bets and now they have the resources to add genuine quality.
The area most in need of reinforcement is the centre of defence. Lokeren were able to exploit the weakness of full-backs Marcin Wasilewski and Oli Deschacht playing inside where they are less comfortable. Cheikhou Kouyaté, converted from a midfielder, is on Olympic duty with Senegal and Juhász Roland, currently injured, has regressed in recent times perhaps as a result of spending too long with Anderlecht. Whether or not the likeable Magyar remains, Anderlecht are actively on the lookout for a top-class central defender, who is adept with the ball at his feet in order to provide another cog in the new van den Brom machine. Like many European Union countries, Anderlecht cannot keep being bailed out (by Silvio Proto when the outfield players underperform).
In spite of Club Brugge’s spending, it would still take a brave man to back them to knock Anderlecht off their perch. With Ronald Vargas and Cyriac to return in attack and Swedish injury-hit duo Behrang Safari and Guillermo Molins chomping at the bit to make their mark in the Belgian capital, there is a considerable amount of quality for van den Brom to choose from. The confident and more upbeat approach he will bring is more than capable of giving Anderlecht a shot in the arm after they somewhat stumbled over the line last term. Anderlecht must no longer content themselves with mediocrity and they may just have found the ideal man to take them to the next level.
Last season: 1st place (1st in PO1)
Head coach: John van den Brom
Star player: Dieumerci Mbokani
Title odds: 7/10