I’ve decided to blog random bits of history, whether it be about the Belgian Pro League, the second tier, European competition or The Belgian Cup (Beker van Belgie). The reason I’ve thought up this segment is not only to educate myself about the past, but to anyone who reads this, if anyone actually does, and to see that Belgian football isn’t about 1 or 2 teams, or the odd great player produced quite regularly actually, and that teams in the past competed and that the impossible is sometimes possible.
The season, rather than competition today is the crazy league season where you literally couldn’t split Standard Liege and Anderlecht. Neck and neck all season they never stepped foot out of the top four throughout the entire campaign. The thing is, it’s not even going back a decade, but this season as it drew to a close basically sucked me in. For a league season to be this tight and not take goal difference into consideration, and by the looks of it, head to head as well, the league season came down to a two legged final.
At the time I was 18. I followed all football, but when a league season is such a one off in any nation, up and down the pyramid, you have to see what happens. Standard Liege were at the time full of quality players, and players who became quality, with the likes of Witsel, Fellaini, Defour and a young Benteke. But their main man up top was Mbokani. His goals proved vital throughout the season and looking now, it’s a shame he didn’t progress as well as his other teammates and like so many who come from Belgium to England, although he came to England quite a while later.
But back to the football, Liege really set the Standard…Wait, can I say that? Their record was identical to Anderlecht with both achieving 24 wins, 5 draws and 5 defeats, if anything, Anderlecht would feel hard done by as they had a better goal difference, but nevertheless, if that doesn’t matter, Standard will always be the champions when you look at the records.
I believe that a league doesn’t really take shape until after the tenth match, obviously as a fan though you obviously go game by game and that will determine your mood, but as of almost exactly half way into the season, there were only 2 possibilities for the Pro League. The 2 fierce rivals swapped positions 5 times from week 16 onwards, with Anderlecht stealing a march more often, but the thing that really helped the reigning Champions, Standard, was their incredible home form, winning 1 more than Anderlecht (15 in total) but for both to only win 3 away is appalling really. Both would’ve loved Mons’ away form as they ended up winning 14 away matches this season! Incredible!
Standard even started the season with a new coach, as Michel Preud’homme left for pastures new, still within Belgium’s top flight at Gent, with Standard hiring Romanian coach Laszlo Bölöni from Al Jazeera in the Middle East. With some decent team on his CV, he has still gone on to return to the Middle East to carry on coaching after his success in Liege.
If history has anything to go by, it’s no surprise that Standard Liege followed up their previous title by retaining it. They retain basically every title they win if you look over their history. And as the 2008/2009 season drew to an end, there was only one score to settle. Who was going to win the league?
With Anderlecht being top for 10 weeks out of the final 12 you’d think mentally they may edge it, but Standard were equally as good, of course, and it was 1-1 in regards to head to head in the league. With the first leg in Brussels in late May, it was still even with the match ending 1-1. Goals from Legear for Anderlecht and that man Mbokani it sort of gave Standard the edge with the fact they didn’t lose, and with it being so cagey, 1 goal did settle it overall through Axel Witsel scoring late in the second half to crown the team furthest East as Belgian Champions!
After that amazing season, I feel the outcome forced the restructure of the Pro League, with the league losing 2 sides to make it a 16 team league, and that play offs were then introduced too, maybe to stop this ever happening again?
Standard Liege never contested the league the next season, finishing the season in 8th, not qualifying for Europe, and their best finish since was finishing top in the 2013/14 season, only to be overhauled by their old foe Anderlecht in the Championship play off.
Til next week!