In the final part of my preview series, I examine the clubs for whom survival will be their first goal. Waasland-Beveren and Charleroi have come up from the second tier, replacing Westerlo, who fought against the odds for many years and Sint-Truiden, a club who will expect to bounce back at the first time of asking.
Enzo Scifo is one of the finest Belgian players of the last 30 years and is eager to prove his mettle as a coach at Mons, who surprisingly ended up in tenth spot last season. French striker Jérémy Perbet was nigh-on unstoppable on his way to becoming Belgium’s leading scorer but thus far been unable to move as no club has been willing to shell out €2.5million. Away from “Perbut” (but meaning goal in French), centre-half Daan van Gijseghem and midfielder Christophe Grondin will be looking to kickstart their flagging careers. Tim Matthys was another revelation last season and though it will be tougher than last term, Scifo’s men should have enough about them to ensure at least one Walloon rival to Standard remain in the top division.
Last season: 10th place (1st in PO2 Group B, lost to Cercle Brugge)
Head coach: Enzo Scifo
Star player: Jérémy Perbet
Title odds: 500/1
Leuven is known internationally for making Stella Artois but last season, it welcomed OHL to the Pro League, sponsored by rival beer company Jupiler. Spurred on by some very good crowds for a newcomer and the exciting Jordan Remacle, they comfortably stayed up in the end, winning new friends along the way. Their opening round win over Anderlecht will live long in the memory. There’s no doubt that without Remacle and Sacha Iakovenko, things are much tougher and they will want to avoid second season syndrome. Coach Ronny van Geneugden has cleverly realised they will have to tighten up at the back and a number of new signings arrive to shore up the defence. The most high-profile signing is Belgian international Logan Bailly, who has experienced a real fall from grace. Look out for Icelandic international Stefan Gislason in central midfield in his first full season and Ibou, recently poached from Mons.
Last season: 14th place (2nd in PO2 Group A)
Head coach: Ronny van Geneugden
Star player: Logan Bailly
Title odds: 750/1
The first Belgian club to fall into foreign (Egyptian) ownership, the 1997 champions survived the departure of Trond Sollied to stay up. It looks a much sterner task to extend their stay in the Pro League ; the close season witnessing the departures of key men such as goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and midfield dynamo Milos Maric. Wesley Sonck and Stein Huysegems, who have seen better days, were wisely ushered out the door. Bulgarian striker Kostadin Hazurov has been extremely lively in their pre-season friendlies and is a potential surprise package this season. Should however they lose Daylon Claasen from the middle of the park, they will have their work cut out, unless the owners put their hands in their pocket.
Last season: 13th place (3rd in PO2 Group A)
Head coach: Chris Janssens
Star player: Daylon Claasen
Title odds: 1000/1
The old, standalone Beveren club may have seen some stellar names ply their trade there but financial mismanagement forced them to wind-up when the likes of Yaya Touré and Gervinho were appearing in the World Cup in South Africa. A merger with RS Waasland, a lost test-match to Mons and a successful season the year before later, they are back in business. Most players are on one-year deals with the club understandably treading extremely carefully in terms of finances. Colin Coosemans will want to rediscover his best Club Brugge form while Daniel Cruz returns to Belgium having failed to live the American dream. If they want to have any hope of staying up though, they need to find a reliable source of goals. Tomasz Radzinski is 38, while Emile Mpenza was deemed to fall well short of the required fitness standards.
Last season: 2nd (Tweede Klasse), won Promotion play-offs
Head coach: Dirk Geeraerd
Star player: Daniel Cruz
Title odds: 1000/1
One word sums up Charleroi: chaotic. A club with more coaches than there are Olympic events in recent times, they have yet to sign a single player in the transfer window. The side that won the Tweede Klasse last season have also lost Moussa Gueye to Metz (17 goals last year) and goalkeeper Stephane Coqu. It’s difficult to imagine there has ever been a side more ill-prepared for the top flight. Yannick Ferrera has been thrown in at the deepest of deep ends, becoming the Pro League’s youngest ever coach but is fighting a losing battle from day one. Even with his hand being held by technical director Luka Peruzovic (back yet again), it’s hard to see anything other than dead last for Les Zèbres. Perhaps the new kits are designed to garner attention but the quicker Abbas Bayat sells up, the better.
Last season: 1st (Tweede Klasse)
Head coach: Yannick Ferrera
Star player: Harlem Gnohéré
Title odds: 750/1