A little round-up of recent goings on in Belgian football.
Beerschot and Adrie Koster have gone their separate ways
Beerschot boss Adrie Koster has become the seventh coach to lose his job this season – an alarmingly high number made worse when you consider the Belgian top division numbers just sixteen sides. Koster left by mutual consent though his firing comes not long after Beerschot chairman Patrick Vanoppen had pledged to stick with the under-pressure ex-Club Brugge boss until the end of the current campaign. According to Vanoppen however, the blame lies squarely at the foot of the players and he went as far as to say that several of them should be questioning their futures in the professional game. And yet Vanoppen said with typical bluntness if not wisdom that it was easier to let Koster go than all the rotten apples in the playing squad.
Beerschot lie in twelfth spot, just three points above the relegation spot despite many proclaiming them to be dark horses for a top six spot this season. While their struggle in fact comes as little surprise to this blog, who is no great Koster-fan, the exact circumstances of his departure nevertheless are cause for sympathy for the likeable Dutchman. His compatriot, Anderlecht coach John van den Brom has come out strongly against Koster’s treatment, saying that he finds it difficult to take the club management seriously, having issued that aforementioned (and dreaded) vote of confidence. Van den Brom is right to point out the sheer scale of sackings that have taken place this season, which he says it not at all a positive development for Belgian football.
It has been another turbulent period at the Antwerpen club, who to me look in dire need of a fresh start, beginning at the very top. They lurch from one set of financial troubles to the next, constantly overhaul the squad (though the likes of Ojo, Oztürk and Stijn Wuytens are promising), experience managerial instability and they also sacked high-profile summer signing Eliamane Coulibaly in suspicious circumstances, with the ex-Gent man protesting his innocence during the week. I have said before that the city of Antwerpen is deserving of a major presence in the top flight. They could do worse than look to Gent (at least before last summer) as an example or even the university town of Leuven.
Christian Benteke entrenches his position as first-choice striker at Villa
If Aston Villa are to plot as smooth a passage to safety as possible, they need to be beating the likes of Reading. However, the circumstances of the game were overshadowed by rumours that Darren Bent had not only been dropped from the team but left out of the squad and had decided to make his way home. Bent would make his way into the stands for kick-off but in any case, it was his half-namesake and rival for the lone-striking role Christian Benteke who scored the winner to give the Villains three vital points. Benteke was loved by previous coach Mario Been, who believed in him when few others did and in Paul Lambert, the former Genk and Standard man has another such father figure. Benteke’s superior all-round play allied to his team ethic has made him an integral part of Lambert’s plans at Villa.
The received wisdom from this blog and others was that Benteke had the tools to be a fine striker but that he needed another year to mature. Yet the Belgian international, who is justifiably first-choice ahead of Romelu Lukaku, has hit the ground running. And what’s more, whereas he was often criticised, ridiculed, jeered and booed by expectant fans in his home country, he has been warmly embraced by the Aston Villa faithful. And how he has repaid them so far. That’s not to say that he will be as prolific as Dwight Yorke overnight but at least the uneasy terms on which he left Genk have not soured the start of his career in the Premier League. The fact that Villa are a work-in-progress following a lean period post-O’Neill has in fact worked in Benteke’s favour as he has become a leading figure upfront, the striker around whom Villa function. And while his goals have been most welcome, perhaps his most memorable moment to date was his show of sheer strength to outmuscle Manchester United’s Chris Smalling to set up an Andreas Weimann goal. I wonder how some of the boo-boys feel now…
Vadis is hailed as a bright light in the defeat to Cercle
Despite the relative lack of interest in the Belgian Cup (more on that below), one positive aspect of Club Brugge’s elimination, at least according to some journalists in Belgium, was the form of Vadis Ojdidja-Ofoe. Denied a transfer deadline-day move to Everton as the paperwork didn’t go through on time, the midfielder has been well below his best ever since. His poor season can be in part attributed to that failed move and in part to the utter chaos that has engulfed the Jan Breydelstadion. Last week, he won one (and should have had another) penalty, he hit the bar and he was sent off. He was said to have produced a showing in midweek more akin to his old self, being described in het Nieuwsblad as “the most active midfielder” though I personally felt that it was Jesper Jørgensen, who gave Blauw-Zwart the midfield thrust they required to try to get back into the tie. Vadis is suspended this weekend and he hasn’t helped his cause by turning up late for training on Thursday morning, having allegedly overindulged the night before.
Cercle knock city rivals Club out of the Cofidis Cup, Anderlecht progress to meet Gent
The quarter-final line-up for the Belgian Cup is now known with big guns Anderlecht, Racing Genk and KAA Gent making their way through while Standard Liège, Club Brugge and Lokeren all fell in the round of 16. The highlights included a quite incredible goal from Eidur Gudjohnsen, a ten-goal thriller between relegated duo Westerlo and Sint-Truiden (with the away side winning on penalties) and a delightful chip from Dieumerci Mbokani in Anderlecht’s 2-0 win over KV Mechelen. Second tier outfit KV Oostende stunned Waasland-Beveren while Charleroi were unfortunate to go down to Zulte Waregem on penalties and Bob Peeters knocked out his assistant coach Manu Ferrera whilst celebrating the winning penalty from Mo Messoudi. The lowlights were undoubtedly the poor attendance figures with the largest crowd being the 7020 who witnessed Racing Genk knock Standard out on Thursday evening ; it comes as no surprise that Jelle Vossen was on target. Reacting to a paltry crowd in Brussels on Tuesday, Anderlecht chairman Roger Vanden Stock said that his club wanted to offer cut-price tickets of €5 and €10 but Mechelen would not play ball. While most clubs do not see the cup as a priority (van den Brom this season being a welcome and notable exception), it does not help that the games are played in midweek. Only the final takes place on a Saturday and this does not look like changing soon. Of course, it would be better if there were not 40 league games a season…
Anderlecht 2-0 KV Mechelen (AET)
Club Brugge 0-1 Cercle Brugge
KAA Gent 0-0 Lokeren (KAA Gent won 4-2 on penalties)
Zulte Waregem 2-2 Charleroi (Zulte Waregem won 4-2 on penalties)
Westerlo 5-5 Sint-Truiden (Sint-Truiden won 4-2 on penalties)
Kortrijk 1-0 Mons
Waasland-Beveren 0-3 Oostende
Racing Genk 1-0 Standard Liège
Anderlecht – KAA Gent
Kortrijk – Sint-Truiden
Zulte Waregem – Racing Genk
Cercle Brugge – KV Oostende
The podcast will return in just over two weeks and we hope to be able to include some special guests from time to time so stay tuned!