I have been thinking for a while about writing this post. Belgian football is on the way up. At the same time, it may level itself out with the losses of Tielemans and Onyekuru from the league. If players like Henrik Dalsgaard are willing to swap top flight Belgian football with Europa League this coming season for an average Championship club in England, then there’s certainly a worry (and I’m not going to assume it’s money that lured him away).
But titling this as a Belgian Connection wasn’t just a play on the French variety, but also, why can’t Belgian clubs either create or continue this parent/feeder club association with clubs around Europe, and the world, like they used to? I always remember the links between Beveren and Arsenal, where Arsenal youngsters would gain much needed first team experience in adult football, with Beveren also getting players eager to impress and help the side too and Arsenal would capitalise with signings such as Emmanuel Eboue, or taking Yaya Toure on trial or Marco Ne.
The other link I also seem to remember is Manchester United getting the most out of Antwerp as well with the same premise that Arsenal had. And this segway ties in well with my next part. Antwerp have created a three season link with FC Porto of, well, Portugal… obviously. And Antwerp could gain real quality players from the Dragões, with probably the better players from the Great Old going in the other direction, with probably a cut price option.
I under not every club will be up for this. Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Gent and others will probably feel they should rather be a parent club rather than a feeder, and that’s fine. If they haven’t got this situation already, although it’s likely that they would have with some clubs, why not broaden your search for players at differ clubs and maybe take advantage of players in Germany, Holland, second tier Spanish clubs or something along those lines. Chelsea use this extremely well with their links to Vitesse Arnhem which has mainly benefitted the Dutch outfit rather than the English champions, seeing as Chelsea don’t often use young players unless they’ve been bought for £20 million.
Eupen have a great connection with the Aspire Academy. With Onyekuru, Diagne, and of course, many others, and this season there have been another influx of youth players arriving at the Kehrweg Stadion doorstep. If they’re deemed good enough they play, if not they’re sold, released or if they’re very good, they’re sold for big profit. Whether the actual club see much of that is another matter, but with Eupen rise and then consolidation in the Pro League, something must be working down there. And I bring this up because this is an example of success through an affiliation.
On the negative side, what’s the point of having an academy if you can simply take players from a different club who are of the same age as the players in your youth team? I did an under 21 team of the season last year and scraping the bottom of the barrel is an understatement. The criteria is that they had to feature in 10 or more league matches and Eupen (unsurprisingly) could’ve filled the team on their own. There really wasn’t many at all unless they were strikers, which isn’t a risk to take compared to a goalkeeper or defender.
I also suggested a Belgian Carabao Cup altern too to blood youngsters rather than play average older players. To reiterate, I don’t !ran this player is average! But Kums at an older age has replaced a 19 year old Tielemans. Anderlecht have to do what’s best for them, but to change a fantastic youngster for a good older player, René Weiler may have stopped the progress of another youngster coming though?
That last paragraph is another post for another day, but the point of this was to see if affiliation between clubs around Europe and the world could still be worthwhile if done correctly!