Here is part two of my look at the January window in Belgium, focusing on Club Brugge, Racing Genk and KAA Gent as well as the other JPL clubs. The first part on Anderlecht and Standard is available here.
One indicator of the level of incoming transfer activity at the Jan Breydelstadion is that Club Brugge have signed almost as many players as QPR in the last four transfer windows. Without a league title since 2005, new majority owner Bart Verhaeghe sanctioned another wave of spending last month but whereas they sold Nabil Dirar for big money twelve months ago, Danish midfielder Niki Zimling was the only major departure on a permanent transfer to Mainz.
Blauw-Zwart were responsible for the most high-profile internal transfer of the window – Eiður Guðjohnsen from cross-city rivals Cercle Brugge. The Icelandic striker was lured to Club after a superb spell since joining the bottom club in October, which has seen him score six league goals in thirteen appearances. Where exactly he will fit in with the likes of Carlos Bacca (who signed a new contract) and Meme Tchité is still as clear as mud following the disappointing 0-0 draw with KAA Gent last weekend. The Icelandic great should have no problem making the mental transition from being the stand-out player to being among many good players (he has done so at international level for years) and in my view he should play in support of leading scorer Bacca.
With Fredrik Stenman plagued by injuries and Bart Buysse failing to cut the mustard, Club Brugge forked out a sizeable sum for Lokeren’s newly-capped Belgian international left-back Laurens De Bock. He has already shown his worth after a fine debut at centre-half no less due to the absences of Ryan Donk and Jim Larsen. Enock Adu was thrown in at the deep end last week – the defensive midfielder replaces Zimling but will have to contest his spot with the more experienced and sometimes under-appreciated Jonathan Blondel. Costa Rican centre-half Oscar Duarte was set to make his debut in the postponed derby and was passed over in favour of De Bock ; he will hope to fare better than predecessors Michael Almebäck and Jordi Figueras.
There were a few other departures including Figueras back to Rayo, Vleminckx who scored four on his Gençlerbirligi debut and the nomadic striker Dorge Kouemaha. Two deals, which did not materialise are worth noting here. Everton unsurprisingly did not move for Vadis, who has had a terrible season since his summer move to Goodison Park broke down and a last-ditch bid for Zulte Waregem midfielder Junior Malanda failed.
One cautionary note: of the circa 25 players Club Brugge have signed in the last two seasons, the amount of genuine successes cannot number many more than five. Even if we must allow the latest batch of newcomers to settle, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
It’s been a relatively quiet month for Mario Been’s men, who had made a big-money swoop for Benji De Ceulaer at the end of the August window. They brought in just the two players, both coming from the Tippeligaen in Norway. Kara is a tall and physically imposing player, who can play in either central midfield or defence ; that deal was done long before the window opened and is a very good piece of business. Christian Benteke’s direct replacement is Kim Ojo, who joins from Brann Bergen despite having previously made known his reluctance to move to Belgium. He will have to compete with the likes of Glynor Plet (8 goals yet the club are not convinced by him) and De Ceulaer in order to partner the outstanding Jelle Vossen. A mixture of youngsters and fringe players went on loan ; hopefully David Hubert can rediscover his best form at Gent.
I have consistently said that Genk have the best squad behind Anderlecht. This includes Club Brugge. Despite Blauw-Zwart being higher in the table, in my view their group of players has the feeling of being thrown together whereas I suspect that more planning has gone into building Genk’s strength in depth.
No club needed this January window to arrive more than De Buffalo’s after nothing short of a disastrous season. Incredibly after many years of competing at the right end of the league, they find themselves just about above the relegation zone (PO3). Now is not the time to discuss where they went wrong but suffice to say that major surgery was needed after a series of transfer blunders.
Of course, such a well-managed club does not lose its knack overnight – this is a side who brought Mbark Boussoufa and Bryan Ruiz to Belgium to name but two – and if last week’s 0-0 in Brugge is anything to go by, Louwagie, De Witte and Fernández have reasons to be content with their January dealings. Christophe Lepoint returned from a productive spell at Waasland-Beveren but such was his form that Gent had to send Jordan Remacle and Stijn De Smet in the other direction. Midfield was clearly the problem area without the injured Bernd Thijs and so Lepoint was joined by Renato Neto (back in Belgium after he impressed us all at Cercle), David Hubert from Genk, Hervé Kagé who like Lepoint had gone through some off-field troubles and veteran Spanish creative midfielder Jorgé Lopez. The latter seems to be a Fernández signing and he brings experience of winning the Primera Division and UEFA Cup with Valencia.
Gent also brought in two other players to stiffen the spine of their team ; Elimane Coulibaly returned after he was controversially sacked by Beerschot and Ervin Zukanovic joined from Kortrijk. Coulibaly is the experienced and reliable striker needed but perhaps the target man does not fit Fernández’s ideal profile for a centre-forward. Zukanovic has been one of the best centre-backs in Belgium of late and his move may be a precursor to his old boss Hein Vanhaezebrouck joining from Kortrijk in the summer.
Best of the rest
There were more than a few eye-raising deals around the rest of the league. Second-placed Zulte Waregem kept Malanda and Thorgan Hazard (Chelsea will decide on his future after the play-offs) but lost their talented but inconsistent and streaky striker Habib Habibou to Leeds United on loan. Lokeren did lose De Bock but added some fresh young talent in the shape of Danish defender Alexander Scholz and midfield duo Dutra and Walter Balufo. Mechelen is a side I have a lot of time for – they said goodbye to long-serving right-back Xavier Chen who moved to China but welcomed midfielder Mats Rits from Ajax of whom much is still expected and defender Jerry Vandam from Lille.
Beerschot’s activity in January made Harry Redknapp seem pedestrian in comparison with eight newcomers including talented prospects Benito Raman from Gent and Thibaut van Acker from Club Brugge. Marvin Ogunjimi may see the Antwerpen-club as a more accessible route to his rehabilitation but a starting spot is by no means a certainty. Charleroi may have pulled off a coup with the signing of Belgian striker David Pollet from Lens, who will be hoping to dovetail with Rossini and solve les Zèbres’ shyness in front of goal.
Cercle remain rooted to the bottom of the table and have had their first four games of 2013 postponed. The loss of Gudjohnsen looks to be a mortal blow but they have brought in Joey Godee and Joaquin Boghossian to cushion the impact. Foeke Booy worked with centre-back Francis Dickoh at Utrecht and Frederik Boi returns from OH Leuven. Glen De Boeck, who has guided Waasland-Beveren to safety, has a number of loanees from bigger clubs, which looks to be a successful formula for the newcomers. Mons have brought in Shlomi Arbitman on loan to replace the prolific Jérémy Perbet who moved to Villarreal, it was quiet at Kortrijk and as for Lierse, they appear to have lost the plot. Still more Egyptians have arrived at ‘t Lisp while two Belgian youth internationals were let go (Dolly Menga to Torino on loan and Jonas Heymans to AZ).