Posted in Transfers

The Belgian Connection

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. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

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.

Courtesy of Getty Images

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!

Posted in Transfers

Am I Wrong About Ivan Leko?

A few weeks ago, Club Brugge hired the Croatian as the replacement for Michel Preud’homme in the form of Ivan Leko. I wouldn’t say I was scathing, but I did, like most, have an opinion about the former Sint Truiden manager taking over at the Jan Breydel Stadion. Now we’re into July, the transfer window is officially open (as of yesterday) and some of the signings have been pretty decent, before and after his tenure began.

Elton Acolatse was onboard before his acquisition and since then, he has steadily been building by signing some decent players, like Anderlecht, from the teams around him. With Acolatse, you now have Guillaume Hubert, Jordi Vanlerberghe and now Jeremy Perbet after the club announced his signing from Gent yesterday, and most memorably, the match winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League.

Courtesy of Getty Images

The only problem I guess is his embarrassment of riches up front. With the aforementioned Acolatse and Perbet, you also have, and this is a fair list, Wesley, Vossen, Rafaelov, Izquierdo, Limbombe, Strandberg and Diaby! To keep all those happy, either loan deals will have to happen, or, they’ll have to know that a pairing is for Europe, one for league matches and others for cup games. I mean, depending on the formation, will Perbet, Izquierdo, Rafaelov, Wesley and Jelle Vossen settle for the bench?

Along with that, with Hubert signing, will Ludovic Butelle or Ethan Horvath settle for the bench, when the former was holding the clean sheet title in the regular league, and the young American international was performing so well in the play offs? It’s a good selection headache to have, and that’s where I’m asking have I got it all wrong? I still believe Anderlecht will win the league, especially after the loan signing of another striker themselves in Henry Onyekuru, but I truly believe they may progress in Europe too. But I won’t continue on Anderlecht within this.

Courtesy of Getty Images

The Blauw-Zwart begin their hunt to win back the title against against Lokeren at the Daknamstadion. Looking at their first five matches, and obviously it’s a new season, but Zulte Waregem away on matchday three at the Regenboogstadion is potentially their toughest match until mid September, when they have Mechelen, Charleroi, Gent and Oostende on the bounce! A good start always helps when tough times happen later in the season, but maintaining a good, strong and tough stance on the pitch, showing resilience. 

With a Champions League qualifier also to come, Europe could either work as a distraction or a springboard. It helped (and sorry again) Anderlecht in the run in, boosting confidence, and that could happen for Brugge, but it’ll be difficult nonetheless to juggle both. Hopefully the team will perform better this season than last in Europe anyway, and with this depth they may well do so!

Posted in Transfers

Onyekuru is a Toffee

Five weeks ago I made a long, gruelling journey to Eupen in West Belgium via Cologne and Aachen by planes, trains and automobiles (literally). When I finally reached Eupen, the heavens opened and after a mile walk I reached the Kehrweg Stadion. A nice and clean stadium where me and my friend were waiting to interview Diawandou Diagne on how the season went. After an hour wait til I had the chance to interview, the Eupen players and staff were walking in and out of doors, eating lunch and recovering from a match the night before against Mouscron.

Within that time a minibus arrived right outside the front entrance to the stadium. Six players came out and were congregating around a fan asking for autographs, when out of nowhere, one player separated himself from the group and made his way over to me, shook my hand, put his arm around me and said ‘Hello. How are you?’. That player was a raw 19 year old who had been banging in goals all season. That boy was Henry Onyekuru. A gentleman. A young man where he had no ego and was simply polite, welcoming and just warm. After him, every player on that minibus welcomed themselves before getting changed.

I was stunned at how polite he was. Not because I had an opinion beforehand, because I didn’t, but he was so friendly that a potential superstar was setting an example for his teammates. After that a Belgian journalist asked what I was doing before I pointed him towards the direction of Onyekuru, who he was meeting that day, before I followed upstairs to interview Senegal international Diagne. Even during my interview I probed and prodded possible destinations regarding the young Nigerian, as I had heard Sevilla were the main protagonists.

On the way back to Cologne, me and my photographer scoffed over possible destinations and transfer fees for him, mentioning Arsenal at around £5 million, and I was close, coming back to strong rumours of the Gunners offering £6.8 million. Then West Ham and Anderlecht were circling for the in demand striker, graduating from the Aspire Academy just 2 seasons ago. However, news has broken that Everton have put up the cash at around £7 million, which is a steal! Think about it…22 league goals in your first top flight season for a team hoping to simply finish fifteenth. Still a teenager who is now a full international, where £7 million to a Premier League club is peanuts. Everton have nothing to lose!

Missing out on overall top scorer in the Pro League, to his new teammate at Anderlecht Lukasz Teodorczyk, due to scoring less goals away, Anderlecht have had a masterstroke. Forty four goals between the top two, with a big man-little man combination upfront and will be playing Champions League football next season, which is only beneficial to Everton. Ronald Koeman has done magnificently at what some may consider a gamble, but which is really no risk at all. At a time where Nathan Ake, who does have Premier League experience, but has been bought for £20 million is unbelievable on the face of it.

Not just because I write about the Belgian Pro League and that I’ve met Henry Onyekuru, I really hope he succeeds. A humble young man who has worked hard for a team like Eupen whose history consists of lower league football, but who are now owned by the Aspire Academy, maybe more is still to come from this small club in the shadow of Standard Liege, and more young fledgling prospects will continue to come out of this club. For Everton, I believe he may well succeed, and performing for Anderlecht regularly is a start! All the best Henry!

Posted in Transfers

Brief Transfer Roundup Part V

Later than first advertised, although it’s getting later by the week. This is the 5th edition of a transfer roundup and I guess the wait for me to post this is due to the inactivity of clubs. Of course deals are being broke regularly, but comings and goings are beginning to slow down from what I’ve seen now that friendlies are taking place and managers are seeing how their squads are shaping up.

My last post on here regarded Sint Truiden and Tintin Marquez coming in. However, bad news broke almost at the same time regarding Stef Peeters who has moved to Caen. Shame for both JPL fans and especially those at the Staaien too. With Gerkens also gone, a rebuild is on the agenda. Good news though is that Babacar Gueye and Igor Vetokele have come in on loan, with the latter hopefully picking up from where he left off last season. To wrap up STVV, Charis Charisis, Stelios Kitsiou and Jordan Botaka have also all come in!

Other deals at Anderlecht and Zulte Waregem were also completed, with both still busy as ever in the market. Starting with the champions, Les Mauves lost Stephane Badji on loan to Kayserispor, Sebastian De Maio going back to Italy and Andy Kawaya moving to Mechelen. Matz Sels has come back to Belgium to Anderlecht on loan from Newcastle. 

Regarding Zulte, that had some loan and permanent deals including Anderlecht, with Aaron Leya Iseka and Michael Heylen moving to Waregem. Julien De Sart also come in from Middlesbrough too.

Still plenty of deals happened whether they’re temporary or permanent throughout the league with Manuel Benson stepping up from Lierse to Genk and Jordi Vanlerberghe moving to Club Brugge. I feel like listing more deals but at the threat of already boring you I won’t continue, but next season already looks like it could be huge!

I’ll leave with the prospect of Henry Onyekurus proposed move to Everton with it being reasonably big over here! Good luck to the young gentleman.

Posted in Transfers

Brief JPL Transfer Roundup Part IV

It has been just over a week since my last summary of the wheeling and dealing in Belgium, and it’s safe to say it’s picked up rather than slowed down! I’ve counted 21 transfers and loan deals involving Pro League clubs, only to wake up to another one this morning, which I will come to in a moment. A couple of deals are pretty big too, mainly because of the clubs involved.

What I mean by that is the announcement of 2 huge deals yesterday. Firstly, Pieter Gerkens left Sint Truiden to move to Anderlecht in a €4 million deal, mainly because the player has stepped up and I felt a move was definitely on the cards going by the season he had. And then Nany Dimata has sadly left Belgium altogether​ and went east to Wolfsburg in Germany! Massive deal worth around €10 million! Oostende can do sommuch with that money going into next season, but as long as they keep Knowledge Musona, I think they’ll still compete at the top end.

Other deals involving big clubs, mainly outside the country, include Keres Masungo moving from Mechelen to Roma, Sebastien Pocognoli moving to Standard Liege from West Brom, Richairo Zivkovic coming to Oostende from Ajax and a deal I didn’t write about amongst the Zulte Waregem deals completed so far on Saturday, Soualiho Meïté joining Youri Tielemans at Monaco. So plenty happening in Belgium regarding ins and outs and big clubs across Europe too.

I’m going to talk about Club Brugge though for a moment. Ivan Leko is still trying to put his squad together this pre season and this week the door has been opening and closing. In came Guillaume Hubert from Standard Liege, maybe to challenge Ethan Horvath for the No. 1 spot at the club? And also, announced this morning was the signing of Marvelous Nakamba from Vitesse Arnhem to replace legend Timmy Simons! The Zimbabwean signed a four year deal at the Jan Breydel Stadion and will prove to be a good athlete, along with hoping to add real quality. Out of the club went Nikola Storm in another loan deal and Sebastien Bruzzese permanently moving to Kortrijk. The 28 year old has been at some very big clubs in Belgium but has been made surplus to requirements at Brugge, hopefully finding a real home in Kortrijk!

Without literally discussing every signing, there has been money spent and papers signed, with more to come that’s for sure!

Posted in Transfers

Ware are the Gems at Zulte

Another quality title to add to my tally…hmmm, anyway, I wrote a piece for a website about Lokeren and immediately thought, I should’ve saved it for my blog. So that’s why my Belgian football topics will remain here, and Zulte Waregem definitely deserve some of my time as they have been relatively busy leading up to the transfer window opening, maybe making a real go at next season domestically and now they’re in the Europa League?

With the loss of Henrik Dalsgaard to Brentford and the strong rumours which I no longer think are rumours of Mbaye Leye running his contract down, re-enforcements are very much needed, but I believe they’ve wheeled and sealed very well so far. I know I posted on Monday about shrewd signings of Ben Reichert and Nill De Pauw will add a hint of savviness to the squad, plying their trade in different leagues which are different to the Pro League in good ways, and will add quality too. The early acquisition Sandy Walsh was a good piece of business in my opinion too.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Adding someone with the know how of the league is invaluable, as well as having continental experience going so far with Genk last season in Europe is a huge bonus. Adding that Pro League experience as well is Gertjan De Mets, maybe with the club thinking if Kortrijk can raise their squad, we’ll take one in return!?! But either way, I think so far there has been good business dealt in the post/pre season, as it seems to have overlapped in Belgium.

It was a shame to see Lukas Lerager go because if he is good enough for Ligue 1 and Bordeaux, he is good enough for Zulte Waregem, which sounds disrespectful maybe to De Pauw, who has made a reversal, but it isn’t really because I think the Pro League has stepped up to the level of some Ligue 1 clubs, including Bordeaux and Guingamp. But with these comings and goings, some players have left the club which may mean more deals or a freshening up of a squad which looked stale come the end of the season, where they downed tools and looked forward to their holidays by the looks of it.

Courtesy of Getty Images

I just hope we see a competitive Zulte this season and maybe run the top 2 closer this season, if the cup doesn’t get in the way again. End of the day, silverware is always important, especially to the fans!

Posted in Transfers

Brief JPL Transfer Roundup Part III

I didn’t think I’d have any consistency with a transfer roundup in Belgium. I originally began writing a blog regarding this because it was a stop gap. But, in a week where I was scratching around waiting for this blog post in a ‘slow’ week, even though there have been transfers, fireworks were let off in the dugouts of 2 of the biggest clubs in the country.

Firstly, Ivan Leko made himself back at home in Brugge, and then yesterday it was announced Ricardo Sa Pinto would also make himself back at home, but in Liege. With these 2 hirings, and with Sint Truiden on the search for a new boss, this must mean more names are on the way into the JPL? 

This week there were 12 transfers involving Pro League sides, with Zulte Waregem being the busiest with a ‘one in one out’ system by the looks of it. Then again, it may just be a come and buy me plea to Kortrijk who have taken Bryan Verboom and Christophe Lepoint, both moving to the Guldensporenstadion. Verboom will surely replace Joáozinho who has gone back home to Portugal with Tondela. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

But back to Zulte Waregem, with those 2 leaving, Ben Reichert and Nill De Pauw have been brought in. With Europa League football next season, maybe buying from Hapoel Tel Aviv and Guingamp respectively, players will be more battled hardened, as well as signing from different, yet, competitive leagues could bring other options to the side.

Other deals that were notable to me involved Fabien Antunes moving from Oostende to Sint Truiden, the last deal before Leko departed. And Ryota Morioka. A Japanese midfielder that Waasland Beveren signed from Śląsk Wrocław in Poland (I added the accents and letters for effect). He performed reasonably well averaging just under a goal every 3 matches in the season and a half he was over there, which I think is pretty decent, and may hopefully hit the ground running like the fantastic Yuya Kubo. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Lastly, one deal which slipped under the radar was the Orel Mangala switch from Anderlecht to Stuttgart. He was on loan at Borussia Dortmund but has now moved permanently to Stuttgart. I bring this deal up because he must have quality, by why not in Rene Weiler’s plans? Anyway, more next week I’m sure (hopefully).

Posted in Transfers

Brief JPL Transfer Roundup Part II

As May turns to June, football wise, a big week in Belgium ended as Oostende rounded off the season in a great way for them and a devastating way for Genk on the pitch. Off the pitch, not only did Yves Vanderhaeghe pen a new deal til 2020, the signings didn’t stop there at the Versluys Arena.

Ibrahima Bah and Logan Ndembe joined the journey the club hope to take abroad, signing on Saturday from Standard Liege and Mouscron respectively. The depth of their squad will have to pick up with European football, hoping to finish the season domestically again AND maybe going one step further in the Belgian Cup?

But the one signing which was pasted over my phone for a day was the return of Sven Kums to Anderlecht. Coming through the ranks at the Belgian champions, he has never worn the shirt in a competitive match for Les Mauves. Not just the fact he is Belgian, he isn’t a stranger to the Pro League or the clubs within it. As I’ve stated, he has never played for Anderlecht, but, has played for Lierse, Kortrijk, Zulte Waregem and Gent, and won the league whilst at Gent too!

Courtesy of Getty Images

Like a fine wine he seems to be getting better with age. Signing officially from Watford, he never played for the Hornets, but was kept in the ‘family’ by going on loan to Udinese in Italy where he played 29 matches! Will he be a replacement for Tielemans? Maybe, but next season will be as tough as ever and will hope to come home, continuing the glory! 

The thing that hit me was that Genk’s week looked very good as Ruslan Malinovskiy signed permanently from Shakhtar Donetsk, but the reality that Mathew Ryan and Jean-Paul Boetius returned to their parent clubs. With just the league to occupy the club’s time next season, will others follow suit and leave the Luminus Arena? I hope not because the club’s performance picked up in 2017 and maybe one more season with the majority of this crop of players, plus some additions, could create a push for the title. I don’t think that’s totally unrealistic, but the worry their top players will want at least Europa League football is a worry.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Other deals included Jordy Peffer signing a four year deal at Mechelen before going on loan to relegated Westerlo and Frenchman Thibault Peyre going to Union Saint Gilloise for an undisclosed fee, which I think will be a big boost for the First Div B club.

More deals I’m sure will continue, starting with today, but more will be confirmed throughout the week! 

Posted in Transfers

The New Henry Coming to Arsenal?

Exactly 2 weeks ago I was in Köln. Lovely evening with my friend after a loooong day of travelling to Eupen where we waited and got absolutely drenched in the humid conditions. There was an Eupen fan waiting with us with memorabilia, waiting for his heroes to come and sign books and merchandise. Then came a big white van with 6 players scrambling out.

First off was this young man who took his time to say hello and briefly chat, and I mean more than just pleasantries with this fan. And there’s me explaining to my friend that ‘that’s the top striker. He won’t be here long’ without being too loud, until out of nowhere, he welcomes us and introduces himself, shakes our hands and puts his arm round us, along with the other players in turn.

Courtesy of Getty Images

I was shocked. Such manners without an air of arrogance about him after scoring a wonderful solo goal the night before against Mouscron. A journalist arrived to talk to him that day and I was so jealous if I’m honest. But the journalist was kept waiting as he showered and changed to then go back out and speak further to that same fan again.

And that was that. My focus was Diawandou Diagne until the train back to Köln where I said ‘I’d have him at Arsenal. Probably £5 million would get him’. I was wrong. Apparently £6.8 million will be enough. About five and a half match days at The Emirates Stadium will suffice. 

His done nothing wrong except keep his head down and do his job and before he has kicked a ball for Arsenal, if he ever actually does of course, I’ve seen people laugh at his expense on social media. A lot on the other hand haven’t and I thought the same thing. Look at Rob Holding. He has been fantastic at Arsenal and why not Henry Onyekuru? He has the ability to score all types of goals which is a fantastic trait to have. 

I genuinely think he has what it takes to succeed. The likelihood in my opinion is that he may be loaned out initially, but the only worry is that Arsene Wenger turns him into another Joel Campbell? I know this is a Belgium football blog, but my heart has overruled my head here. With players of quality around him he may do extremely well given the chance. Maybe, as well, because I personally like him, I’m looking at him more in hope instead of expectation. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

If the deal has gone through, then my selfishness for my blog may say the real quality is leaving the Pro League. But to be someone who has been eager to write about him for a couple of months, then maybe this is my last opportunity. Ex Arsenal players are giving their thoughts through many different media outlets and the major sports channel in the UK have ‘broken’ the deal as completed. Until his holding the shirt and smiling at the training ground or has the blessing of Kanu, Im not stamping this one yet, but wherever he goes

Good luck Henry…

Posted in Transfers

Brief Transfer Roundup in the JPL

Not that I have nothing to write about. I rarely talk about transfers unless they’re done. I’ve only ever written one transfer blog and that was because, at that time, even though the season was in full flow, I was short on ideas! But now the season is more or less over, everyday at some point I was seeing transfer deals completed all over the place. The one that threw me off was Samy Kehli to Lokeren from Roeselare, when they were due to meet each other 2 days later!

And speaking of Lokeren, they have been one of the busier sides. Finishing the season in the play offs rather well, maybe Rùnar Kristinsson has the belief that they can do better in the league, in the play offs or in the cup. Already signing the aforementioned Kehli, he has also brought in Luciano Slagveer and Robin Söder. Looks like depth in all positions are needed at the Daknamstadion!

Courtesy of Getty Images

But reason I originally thought about this blog was because of the departure of Michel Preud’homme. I thought his race had run when Anderlecht won 2-0 against Brugge about 6 weeks ago (give or take) and I was proved right. Managers know when they’ve gone as far as they can go and where others are staying, deservedly so at STVV and unsurely at Mouscron, Club Brugge are without a manager.

With Frank de Boer linked, amongst others I take it, Preud’homme has been making signings already before he left. What if these aren’t in the plans of the next manager? What if the players themselves joined because of Michel Preud’homme? Three players have been signed so far and with the Belgian league tending to start just that bit earlier, the clock is ticking for the Blauw-Zwart with a Champions League qualifier to decide as well before September 1st.

Anderlecht have been very impressive in the market under René Weiler. He secured deals before the end of the season, either re-signing Isaac Kiese Thelin for another season on loan, but permanently signing Teodorczyk and Spajic before they’d even won the title! The only problem was holding onto Youri Tielemans. It was inevitable that he’d leave but I had Arsenal and Roma as the main options, by Monaco splashed the cash and the French champions are well suited for the outstanding youngster.

Another youngster potentially on his way, and massively linked with Arsenal, again, is Henry Onyekuru. When I saw him at the Diagne interview, he was the first to introduce himself to me! Not the other way round. And as I am a Gooner (incase you didn’t know) I’m gutted I never got a picture with him. Speculation of a £6.8 million fee is nothing to a Premier League club and I think we’ll with the punt. Another out of Eupen is Mamadou Sylla, who went to Gent via Espanol, his parent club.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Other deals announced this week were Nicolas Rajsel, who I knew would stay in the Pro League after being outstanding for USG in the play offs, and Henrik Dalsgaard to Championship side Brentford. I thought the impressive Danish full back was off to Genk, with Sandy Walsh going to Zulte Waregem, but with the Dane choosing to go to England, he may feel a second tier side scrapping for a play off place in England compared to either Europa League with Zulte, it possible European football with Genk was a better option? 

Anyway, with other transfers happening everyday, I’ll settle for these on this roundup. I’ll probably keep tabs and either tweet what I see or you’ll read it here on a regular basis, that’s if anyone does read this, and I’ll give my opinion in the aftermath. Enjoy!