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All about nothing

The time I am beginning this is at 00:46am on Saturday GMT. I’m watching Sexy Beast and have had a couple of beers. I mean why not? It’s a Friday night. It’s also got me thinking…why have I been so lazy in literally writing nothing, along with taking my own time out from writing. When I wrote my mid season gradings, I thought in my head that I would write and write and write everyday of every week of every…you get it. But the playoffs really put me back.

Yeah I get the process and a lot of you think I don’t. But I can’t help being set in my ways. Not picking a Standard player raised some eyebrows in my team of the season, but you take every game individually. If someone has been consistent over a 40 match season rather than digging deep for 10 matches, you have to give credit. Hey, that’s my opinion and you’re entitled to yours. I’m just getting some things off my chest.

Moving forward rather than backwards, I’m still wondering about who’ll be the cream of the crop and who’ll be languishing? I nearly, nearly did a prediction of who’ll finish where. I then realised not even the World Cup has kicked off! Jumping the gun a bit, but I have an idea who’ll finish where, but the real decent predictions will be made on September 1st rather than July 26th. The window can see people going through in either direction and that can make a big difference. Could be make or break for Standard Liège for example, as well as Anderlecht, Gent and Genk in my opinion.

Last night saw some friendlies too and it made me think ‘what’s the fucking point?’ Pub teams ripped to shreds by Gent and Club Brugge. Highly disrespectful I know. But an 8-0 and 11-0. It’s great for lower league fans seeing Kubo and Schrijvers but other than fitness it’s meant nothing. You still need to test your players to see if you want to keep or get rid. Not just who’s fit, has the best recovery, blah blah blah you know? Again, probably over critical, but no one likes seeing a pointless match being totally one sided.

There’s still such a long summer, for good and bad. Bad because on a personal note, I’ve had a lot on my plate that only 2-3 people know. I’m getting personal and people do that. Venting. But adding to that, I’ve been Dublin already and got Amsterdam, Köln, Antwerp, yes, I’m spending time in Belgium briefly this summer, and Prague all lined up over the next two months. Beautiful right? Better than spending time wasted on the Costa Del Sol or something. Fresh faces for the family and fresh places rather than sweating your bollocks off.

Hope everyone’s had a great summer and World Cup so far! All the best. Chat soon…

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My Team of the Season

After seeing HLN’s Team of the Season, I wanted to do one myself. It’s taken me a week through laziness and the fact that I wasn’t sure who I’d put in. I guess after giving it a week and digesting the results of who got in and who didn’t, it isn’t actually as bad as I thought. The only thing that doesn’t sit right with me is that the attacking three and Edmilson, in my opinion, shouldn’t be in there. The only other one I’m torn with is my left centre back, but overall, you can’t really disagree with that either.

So far, going over these players, you have to stick Kalinic in goal. The Croat has kept the most clean sheets and didn’t play every game. Keeping 15 clean sheets in a league full of goals (most weeks) is a great achievement, and with some of these players, and you’ll see later, you’ve got to take into account the fact Gent played Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Standard and the rest of the top six four times this season. I have to separate who I like to who should be in here too. Not saying I don’t like Kalinic but Kaminski could’ve been in here. Bolat has had a great season and so has Sels. Only player who could be in here with quality but isn’t even in my thoughts is Ochoa.

To follow the 3-4-3 formation, you can’t argue with Gigot and Mechele in their either. One has performed so well that he’s off to Spartak Moscow, and the other won the league. Both rocks at the back of their respective defences and Mechele has especially shone for Brugge this season. That’s not to say Denswil hasn’t, but I still look at and consider Dessoleil. The things that put Denswil over the Charleroi player is that he is a champion, and you do have to take that into consideration if there’s a toss of a coin, and also, Charleroi have crumbled, especially against Brugge this season, and top players shouldn’t be ripped apart defensively against top teams as consistently as Charleroi were.

Without being too Brugge heavy, you can’t disagree too much with Cools-Vormer-Nakamba across the midfield. One will surely move on soon in Cools to bigger things with his youth and quality. The other set up the most goals in the Pro League this season and is now in the Dutch squad, and Marvelous Nakamba has been an inspired signing, acting as the wall who allows Vormer and Vanaken to express themselves. He is the one who breaks it up and passes it to those who’ll do the damage. But I don’t agree with Edmilson out wide. Yeah, quality player, but I think the playoffs have had as big a say in this selection than over the course of the season. In saying that, who else do you put out wide?

The only player that immediately sprung to mind was Ampomah. If not, again another Brugge player in Limbombe. But with how Ampomah has really stepped up and was part of such an attacking and entertaining team for most of the season, I’m putting him in. His energy and attitude is spot on and that’s why he is linked with moves away like the rest of the Beveren squad.

Now with the attacking three, I’m having none of the HLN three at all. I’m going to have a fluid three up top rotating and maybe play a false 9 thing. They’re all capable of goals and assists and I don’t know how they weren’t in that HLN Team of the Season. These playoffs have swayed a lot of this by the looks of it. I mean, this isn’t me saying those top three aren’t real top quality players, but over a season? All three have only played for five months haven’t they? In any position, any order, with this flexible front three, it has to be Morioka, Vanaken and Chevalier in attack. This top 3 have a combined 45 goals and 33 assists between them. Obviously that doesn’t mean there’ll be 78 goals guaranteed but that is impressive from three players, and two of them played for Kortrijk and Beveren last season.

A lot of positives came from these three this season and the great thing is that there are quality attackers in Belgium. Diaby and Rezaei were my other option as an out and out striker, but who do you make way for? Looking over the season overall and who actually was selected, you can’t disagree with about 60% of the team, but in attack I just couldn’t agree. Harbaoui, Carcela, Trossard and Edmilson are real top players, but with the longevity of a season, some were either inconsistent or played the majority of games in the playoffs. As always, it’s opinion and people will definitely disagree with me, but then again, there are footballing reasons behind why I chose my players, not through dislike.

Goalkeeper – Kalinic

Defence – Gigot Mechele Denswil

Midfield – Cools Vormer Nakamba

Ampomah

Attack – Morioka Chevalier

Vanaken

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Too early for pre season?

Everyday I look at myself and I think ‘can I do my old pre season training?’ I haven’t played football competitively since I was 21 (I think) and as much as I hated pre season training, I loved the results. The exhilaration of getting fitter, eating right, seeing the fruits of my labour in physical results and when you’re doing press ups and you can feel the sweat dripping down your face and you could ring your shirt out. Maybe too graphic, but I insanely enjoyed being fit.

Obviously the road to getting there is difficult. We all know gaining weight is easier than losing it, but unless you mentally dedicate yourself to doing that you’ll never achieve it, and I should take my own advice, but without making excuses it can be difficult with certain things I can, or rather can’t do. My upper body has tended to save me, meaning when it came to weights I looked alright. But my legs are in an awful state.

My lungs and heart rarely ever stopped me running, but until I joined a club where I had the luxury of a physio, my legs were in bits. I’m going back a bit here. When I was 18 I was with an old girlfriend who’s dad made taking me two miles to the train station a chore. I’d walked a fair few miles that day and it was before a match on the Saturday and for some reason, my legs were shot. The physio massaged my calves and told the manager that I had 30% muscle in my right calf and hardly any in my left. I went from starting to the bench in a match where it took me two and a half hours to get to.

I had to stretch so much all the time because my legs would tire so easily. I used to do four mile runs every other day, with 100 sit ups and 50 press-ups everyday to tide me over when I wasn’t training. But pre season at that time wasn’t as technical as it is now. Because it worked I loved it and it was like this:

One minute of press-ups, sit ups, burpees, star jumps, squat thrusts and then a lumbar stretch. One minute break in between. Five sets of each. Then we’d do a 1500 metre run, then 800 metre run, 400, 200, 100 and 50 metre sprints, rest, and then work backwards from 50 metres and so on. Twice a week, which isn’t a lot really, and we’d have the ball out one session a week. Players would wear black sacks to sweat it out, but you’d love it once it was finished. Then when I had an agent I had to do shuttle runs which totalled about 702 metre sprints. I had 1 minute 45 seconds to complete it in, which was ok. My record was 1.32 minutes. But when you have to do it on the 3rd, 4th, 5th time, etc, it got tough because you do it as a group and not individually, so if you were slow, the whole group had to redo it.

It’s all technical now though. Players run specifically for their position. Box to box, anaerobic, aerobic and so on. The thing is, I’d brag about the time I’d run and I’d be told ‘so what’s your recovery rate like? How long til your heart rate gets back to normal?’ I thought the running was enough, but I was wrong!?!

This was back in the late noughties, where being 6’2 and basically being Patrick Vieira or Thierry Henry was what people wanted, even though Xavi and Iniesta would go on to rule the world. I’d never fault my technique, but drinking nearly two litres of coke a day and being in love with mayonnaise never helped with my six pack.

Above everything, physique is the second most important factor of reaching the top in football. Mentality is everything. I remember hearing a story:

A man survived a plane crash in the desert, and needed water, until he came across an oasis. When he finally reached it, and went to get a drink, he

drowned.

The moral is, you could have the ability, skill, technique, physicality, EVERYTHING. But if you haven’t got it between the ears, then you’ll never know how to react, to cope with pressure of anything that happens, or doesn’t happen around you. Like most I wanted everything yesterday and couldn’t wait to make it, when unfortunately I didn’t.

This has nothing to do with Belgium football really. It’s a regime that I’d love to do again, but life gets in the way. The same old ‘if you’re not happy, then do something about it.’ But that’s easier said than done. I’ve become comfortable and lazy, where right now only my diet has changed. But for those who now see a little bit of how hard it can be to make it in the best sport in the world, where everyone wants to make it, I wonder how many of those who have really know how lucky they are?

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A lots happened this week

Since we ended the playoffs, a few things have occurred and I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s true, I am writing to keep my eye in. There’s no football apart from Genk-Zulte Waregem and I can’t really comment on transfers because they could actually come good, although I have a bad habit of contradicting myself within the same blog post, so no doubt I’ll say something.

Obviously the week started with Standard hiring Michel Preud’homme. Everyone knew it was going to happen and it did. I said the other day that I don’t actually think it’s that great an acquisition. My predictions aren’t exactly accurate, but my gut’s telling me it isn’t the greatest hiring. Is MPH just destined to work in Belgium? I really thought he’d progress this season and didn’t. Whether it was just speculation then you can’t really judge, but he has ticked off Belgium. Go elsewhere and try and succeed.

Another hiring is at STVV with Marc Brys coming in. In a way it’s a good hiring because Sint-Truiden don’t really have huge expectations. That is extremely unkind but true. They nearly, massively overachieved this season and with a better playoffs, they could be playing local rivals in Genk. It’s tough to know how any managerial signing will go and the same goes here. I just hope Brys can last til Christmas because the rate of sackings in Belgium has been unbelievable. Hopefully this is more Jonas De Roeck and less Tintin Marquez.

Out of the dugout and onto the pitch, I wrote that Anderlecht may be doing good business getting deals done early. In practice, it is good. It’s bedding players in and focussing them on the season ahead. However, for the owner to pinch players from his former club is lazy scouting, if this was his idea. When you look at the players faces, it’s not so much ‘I’m happy to be here’ but rather ‘How the fuck am I here? Give me a pen before they change their mind!!!’ It’s like scattergun signings and more quantity than quality now.

Because Anderlecht and Beveren have different objectives, they’re doing the same in a way at the Freethiel, but they’re hoping to stumble across that gem to either create that memorable season, which this could’ve been if Morioka stayed, but it ended up falling like a house of cards. If they get that one player who they can also profit from, it’d help massively. The running of Lierse could send a warning throughout the lesser clubs that at any moment, the unthinkable could happen. So ‘farming’ players could prove vital if a decent bid comes in around January.

And onto the playoff. I really believe what I tweeted on Wednesday. Kortrijk, Antwerp and STVV deserve better than nothing this season whereas Lokeren, who could’ve still been relegated if they didn’t beat Mouscron away, Zulte Waregem who were hopeless for four months and Genk, who were equally poor until Phillipe Clement came in, were given the opportunity of Europa League. Obviously next season could be different, and you’d think Essevee or De Smurfen would represent Belgium a bit better. That’s my opinion anyway. But over a long season, it’s tough to argue their case as the playoffs have aided in their fight for Europe. Above everything, you can have sympathy for Charleroi too who for nearly 6-7 months, were second to Club Brugge and have ended up with nothing at all!

I’m probably wrong as always with what I’ve written and may predict, but teams have different expectations and ideas for what they consider a success. Next season will be as big as ever and hopefully as unpredictable too.

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Congratulations Brugge

This season in Belgium, there is a double celebration in West Flanders. Of course we know about Cercle coming back into the top flight, and now we have the best team in the land, and let’s have it right, it would’ve been a travesty if anyone other than Club Brugge won the league. If anyone has ever read my blogs, they’ll know how I feel about playoffs. Yes they make things more interesting, but they can be an injustice and that would’ve been so if the Blauw-Zwart were pipped at the post.

I was so sceptical when I read that Ivan Leko was hired as manager. I felt it was rushed in a way because he has ties to Brugge and is young, almost getting STVV into Europe. Certain times during the season he showed his naivety with the rotation of goalkeepers and it looked like he may not have handled pressure extremely well during these playoffs. When he said Club Brugge were better than Anderlecht, that’s fair. You can be confident and use it to inspire your players privately, but don’t do Vanhaezebrouck’s team talk for him, and Anderlecht of course won 2-1. That will come with experience. If you want to play mind games, do it after and rub their face in it, but don’t do it before.

When we look back at the five goalkeepers used this season. I mean, what’s that all about? I didn’t trust Gabulov from the minute I heard he signed. I surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) had a lot of Russians liking tweets about my criticism. I like Horvath and even though I maybe wrong, I’d have stuck with him, although I love Kenneth Vermeer so once he signed, he had to start. Hopefully he’ll be at the Jan Breydel next season.

But without being overly critical, the positives outweigh any negatives. Mechele and Denswil were quality. I love Dion Cools and the Marvelous Nakamba (see what I did there) has been a great signing because he has allowed Vormer and Vanaken to flourish. You’d think somebody would take a punt on Vanaken because he is just an outstanding individual. For me the best in the league, or at least top three. And up top, Bonaventure started so brightly, but Diaby took over and was so vital with Wesley. A real quality front line that all played their part in winning the title.

Adding to that, the never say die attitude instilled in these players. No matter how you look at it, the team scored three or more goals on sixteen occasions. Kept eleven clean sheets, scored ten goals in the last five minutes, with the awesome Anthony Limbombe proving so vital and have taken 28 points off of the other top six sides throughout the season. They did drop 29 points against the top six clubs too but this season shows us some big things.

Firstly. Don’t drop points against the rest in the league. By not dropping points against Lokeren, Mechelen and Oostende, they managed to be top consistently and Brugge could be eight points short right now? Secondly. Consistency. The first 21 games made a mockery of the league the team were performing that well. A real joy to watch. Thirdly. Getting the start right has aided in Club Brugge winning the league as Standard, Anderlecht and Gent were playing catch up. And lastly, luck. When the team hit a bit of a wall physically and no doubt mentally, luckily other teams didn’t capitalise at all, especially Charleroi who have dropped like a stone. Obviously decisions have occasionally gone the Blauw-Zwarts way, but it works both ways. It wasn’t a one way street in how errors helped as they also cost now and again too.

Next season will be tougher though. Granted the team didn’t have an Izquierdo but they also didn’t have European football at all. Gent didn’t either nor Standard but Brugge have a vaster amount of quality in comparison. To deal with that next season with the challenge of defending their title, that’ll be a huge test. But for now, I’d be revelling in the success and know that you are, in fact, the best in the country.

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Does Anyone Care?

Has this season taken it’s toll on you? Do you feel it’s gone on forever yet we’ve had almost a two month break in between? I have never felt so, I don’t know, weird, as I have done towards the end of this season. The pressure of getting into the top six and Mechelen getting relegated was the last bit of hope and passion that I’ve felt this season. I start watching a match and then give up. That’s where I feel weird, as I love football, but now maybe I feel like I’m overdosing on it.

Maybe it’s because my own team have been an utter disappointment all season and that’s reflected in how I feel about Belgian football right now. Not my lack of love for the Pro League and what still can happen, but how this season is slowly chugging along to an end and I can’t get myself up for it.

The top six haven’t disappointed. It has tightened up so much and it’s become really entertaining. But below that the playoffs have kind of hit the buffers. Well, maybe PO2A, but I don’t want to see a non event that only those competing ‘care’. To be frank, I honestly don’t care about Lierse-OHL, Beveren-Mouscron and Beerschot-Oostende. Those three can fuck off in my humble opinion. One is a second tier fixture, another is two teams playing out a season and the last one…blurgh!!! That does mean there’s six fixtures I will be ‘interested’ in but I guess the entertainment value is what draws us in more than anything else.

There are great matches. De Derby, Brugge-Anderlecht, Standard-Genk. A lot to look forward to, but I doubt I’ll throw all my time into them. That’s why I’ve been quiet if I’m honest. Not through lack of time on my hands, but more lack of enthusiasm. I don’t mean to be in and out but I just don’t want to write for the sake of it. I know that’s what it looks like I’m doing right now, but I’m kind of telling you my inconsistent offerings over the playoffs compared to nearly a daily effort I brought up in the regular season. I know you’ll lot will still love what’s left of club football this season. It’s the best kind of football and always will be, but right now, I’m kind of seeing it out, like a defender shepherding a ball out of play, patiently waiting for the ball to cross that line.

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Cyclical Form

An amazing season in Belgium is drawing closer to an end. We only have 21 days left of the playoffs and three teams top their groups, but are we closer to seeing who will be where once the playoffs have ended? The only constant this season is the domination of Club Brugge. They have led the way and have been unbelievably good, and occasionally lucky, but hard work and effort could pay off soon. They just need to win their next two matches to guarantee the title. However, below them there have been clubs who have fallen in and out of form throughout the season.

Right now it’s the turn of Lokeren and Zulte Waregem who are playing very well and are showing the way. With how well Essevee are playing, I’ve got to heap more praise on Lokeren. Obviously these mini groups, you have an easier task playing the same teams twice in eight weeks than playing a different team once in about ten weeks. Regardless of that theory, you still have to actually beat these teams, regardless of who and how. I’m sure people had Zulte Waregem or Kortrijk to challenge, which is the case, but I never had Lokeren. I had them to finish fourth or even fifth.

It shows that it is their time to actually do well this season, right at the pivotal moment. In PO2B there have been a couple of teams who have also been cyclical with their form in Antwerp and STVV. Both have been in with a shout of Playoff one and have been impressive until this year. Things happen in a season which can disrupt mentality. STVV have had a tough season in the dugout and with a takeover. Could that have upset things? And Antwerp may have just run out of steam with a horrible run of fixtures at one point and I think the draw against Club Brugge at the Bosuilstadion blew the wind out of their sails. Doesn’t mean these two haven’t delighted us this season defensively and at the top end of the pitch.

If we go right back to August/September/October, you have to give full credit to Mouscron. The first team to beat Club Brugge this season and were entertaining with Bolingi, Govea and Mohamed. Rednic saved the club so early that once their form dipped, they were already safe. It’s weird how keeping them under the radar was a huge achievement. Defays will have a huge task next season and will have to have a mentality where if they have a 40% win rate, that could be key. Maybe not even that high.

And now we have the biggest and most entertaining turnaround in Kortrijk. I’ve said this many times. I was in Beveren when Anastasiou got tinned and that saved De Kerels season. Players came out of their shell and unfortunately could’ve opened the door for other clubs to snatch them. Makarenko is going and will that mean more? De Boeck just looks like the kind of guy who has it under control and doesn’t take any shit which is why I think next season could be a big one. This season could still be memorable, but it’s been a great ride either way.

I’ll finish with these final three who have been great in patches, but one right now are just scintillating. Charleroi and Beveren have been very good this season, regardless of playoff form. For Les Zébres, it shows when to hit form. This season could in a weird way act as a blueprint sort of thing as they’re being overtaken just at the wrong time. They’ve been hit and miss now and again and haven’t recovered after the 5-1 defeat to Club Brugge in the cup. Beveren are another who were so entertaining. Such a potent front four, I just loved watching Thelin, Boljevic, Ampomah and Morioka play. Again like half the league, 2018 came and their form left. Obviously the managerial situation and selling of players never helps but this was a fine season if we take into account some of the results.

The third team is THE team in Belgium right now. Standard Liège have had it rough. Antics from Sa Pinto and ill discipline cost them occasionally. I thought he should’ve been sacked as well. But like many Portuguese managers, they have that siege mentality and pulls results out of his arse one way or another. The team have bonded over all sorts of things. Criticism, racism, and the flack they were getting. They are a joy to watch attacking and defensively. A quality goalkeeper, a rock at the back and superb attacking players has seen the team play without fear and of course win the cup. A joy in 2018 unlike most, you can’t help but love them right now.

Some teams did eventually do well like Anderlecht, Genk, Gent and Oostende towards the end of the regular season, but they haven’t been ‘outstanding’ at points like those I’ve mentioned in my opinion.

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Fountain of Youth

Last season I did my Under 21 Team of the Year, and I scraped the barrel. The only players I remember are Youri Tielemans, Eric Ocansey and Henry Onyekuru who did well and played regularly. I even had to put Hendrik Van Crombrugge in goal and he was 25 (I think. I’m going by memory here). But this season I’ve learned a couple of things.

Firstly, there is a lot more youth in the league. I basically had just an 11 last year. Not many at all and I just about managed to get a 4-4-2 formation. The positive I guess is that I didn’t have a headache over who wouldn’t make it. But secondly, you notice that this season, nearly every player is an attacking player. There are of course the odd defender, but the majority are attacking, either as a striker or winger.

Defensively you have Dion Cools, Dries Wouters, Sander Berge and Victorien Angban. All very good players, and unfortunately, they probably won’t be in the league for much longer. Maybe not leaving this summer, but soon. This is what I mean though. Four players who have played regularly in a defensive capacity and two play defensive midfield. It kind of shows that maybe younger players aren’t as trusted in defence in Belgium, but coaches don’t mind ‘risking’ younger players further up the pitch, which is understandable, but still. If you’re old enough you’re good enough. I think that’s how it goes?

In an attacking sense, this league has amazing potential with players who are 21 or younger. Without literally listing everyone, there are standouts. Chakvetadze at Gent definitely stands out. So young and probably will never play at a big tournament either internationally, you’d think he’ll get picked up by a bigger league sooner rather than later. Hassane Bandé is already training with Ajax after having an amazing season at a team who were relegated, proving quality can come from anywhere originally, and then progress to bigger things. Ajax won’t be his last stop for sure.

Personal favourites of mine are Razvan Marin at Standard Liège and Siebe Schrijvers at Genk. You’d think these two won’t last long either in the JPL. Both are just so good, I enjoy watching them and with Marin being Romanian, he already has international caps and will likely play at a World Cup one day. The only way Schrijvers will probably get into the full Belgian squad is if he moves abroad, and obviously has to play too, to develop his quality.

There were a couple of younger goalkeepers too, with the youngest who played regularly being Lucas Pirard. That does say something if younger players are being trusted more. Maybe not in goal but around the pitch. Genk have the most regular under 21 players playing, and you’d think that’ll continue with Phillipe Clement in charge, although you could say the same at Beveren with Sven Vermant coming from a youth background. They know how to handle them better and will be good for the club in signing younger players too.

Same can be said for Anderlecht too with Vanhaezebrouck. Although he isn’t a regular, Francis Amazu was so affective when he came in, and he isn’t the only youngster getting a run out for Les Mauves. You don’t have to give youth a chance, but when you can, definitely throw them in. Adult football only helps. I don’t like the notion of ‘B’ teams, but could that be more beneficial to young players playing against first teams and getting stronger, wiser, fitter? Then again, the better players just play in the first teams anyway.

There were players who started the season as a 21 year old in Nana Opoku Ampomah, Aleksandar Boljevic, Joseph Aidoo and Pieter Gerkins. It’s great seeing younger players who will most likely progress, but a shame too as they make the league so good. There can be a lot of average players in every league, and the youngsters add excitement and tenacity because they want to succeed. If they don’t they can fall away, but at least they had the chance, not that it’s a consolation.

Hopefully next season sees more superb talent have a chance and who’ll be the next star?

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Finding an angle

I’ve been procrastinating so much. I think Antwerp vs Lokeren threw me off with Monday football. I mean, you’re so used to Friday-Saturday-Sunday and then they add a Monday! I’m used to it in England, but with there only being very few Monday matches, it throws me off, and I’m a man who likes routine! Maybe that’s why I don’t like the playoffs. I like routine. Am I having some weird self intervention/episode? I say episode because I’m clearly talking to myself via a thumb on a screen!

Besides writing about ‘what a game at Brugge’ or ‘Gent and Anderlecht have bottled it’ I wanted to focus more on how Playoff 2 is looking. Both are very similar in that there’s a four point gap at the top and it is still competitive. A three point gap in Playoff 1 has turned into a seven point gap! Can there be a swing in points that could aid a Kortrijk or an Antwerp or Sint Truiden? I can’t see why not.

We have to praise Essevee for their superb form. One clean sheet in five, but who cares when you’re averaging over three goals per game (and that’s just Harbaoui). I felt that they may have even got top six after the winter break. But then again, I felt Genk and Standard would get it too. A bridge too far in the regular season, but they can’t allow to let anyone overtake them, which is possible with Kortrijk unlikely to give up.

I want to say something about Beveren too. I think the total dismantling of the squad has hit home. You have very good individuals there, but mentally you must feel ‘what has gone on here?’ To lose your manager, captain, a Swedish international full back, another leader in defence goes to Canada, your best player only lasts six months and your star striker isn’t technically yours. If this was a Premier League club, Beveren has lost over £100 million pounds worth of talent if you put WBE in say Newcastle’s shoes (I know what I mean anyway). The Playoffs have been a total disaster and Vermant has to try signing players now, probably selling the dream of if you’re good, you can go onto bigger things. I know that would mean an ongoing cycle, but if Lokeren do manage to get Europa League, they’ll be more appealing than Beveren.

Talking of the Tricolores, they’ve dicked Antwerp twice at the Bosuilstadion, showing again how good they are away. To be top right now and undefeated, Peter Maes has worked his magic again. I honestly have never been so confident after Monday’s result on how Lokeren will do. I’ve said before, they’re unbelievably good away, but getting seven points at home in these playoffs, they’ve almost caught up with their regular season tally. Just like 2A though, you can’t just say it’s done and dusted. Antwerp and STVV will be desperate to finish well, and with Oostende hiring Gert Verheyen this morning, players will be keen to do well so that they’re good for next season.

I’ll end on the Championship Playoff. As I’ve mentioned, with Anderlecht and Gent both slipping away, we have an exciting battle for second spot. All teams will put their case forward either because of the gruelling season that got them there or current form. I actually see Standard getting it because they have real attacking quality, the best keeper in the league on his day and a desire to not quit. Every team is capable of beating everyone, including Club Brugge, but with not long left, it is unbelievably tight and to put money on just one team? You can’t do it!

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Big matches as things hot up

That’s not just a comment regarding the weather, although we’ve had the hottest day in April since 1949! Think it reached 29 degrees Celsius yesterday. Roasting hot today too! It could be like a cauldron in Belgium though (on the pitch). Big results needed by big clubs, still hoping to progress further and break some ground in the process.

Humongous derby tonight, which is the match of the weekend in my opinion, because these too have been fantastic. Zulte Waregem hosting Kortrijk in a must win for both. Whoever wins this could give themselves the psychological edge going forward for the rest of them season, with two of the hottest strikers in the country. Hamdi Harbaoui vs Teddy Chevalier, with both looking to be the hero tonight and beyond. The atmosphere will be fantastic for sure. It could really be a cracker because of the quality on show right now!

Playoff one is actually really fun in that Gent and Anderlecht stumbled, and can Standard take advantage? Could Les Rouches miraculously get Champions League football? It’s unlikely, and undeserved because of their regular season form. But they’re doing what most clubs do. They’ve won a trophy, guaranteed Europa League and are playing without any fear. With the South American vibe they have, they can turn on the style and be extremely dangerous. Sa Pinto May be getting his point across just at the right time and they’re just three points off of second!

On the other hand, can anyone explain what’s going on at Charleroi? I feel sorry for their fans as I felt they could challenge, but this calendar year has been a disaster. Les Zébres have picked up ten points this year. Seven of those points are draws. Embarrassed in the cup as well as last night to a Hans Vanaken master class. They’re finishing on a whimper and it’s a shame. Europe is surely out of the question, not mathematically, but confidence wise, Mazzu will have to dig deep and drag his players, and himself, out of this slump.

(Halfway through this I had a little cry reading about Arsene Wenger)

Forgotten my place now…I don’t think I can finish. I feel like eulogising about Arsene Wenger. I am only 28 and just about remember Bruce Rioch. But Arsene Wenger is a different class. I am Wenger Out because he has stagnated and taken the club backwards in terms of league position, but we have also gone so far forward under him. Everyone talks about dietary introductions he brought in and training techniques, but he brought in style and a way of playing. The thing I loved most is when we had our backs against the wall, we’d come back fighting every time. Sometimes it was too late, but sometimes it made you even more proud to be a Gooner. Arsenal fans went too far when they sung certain songs about him dying when protesting. We all love our clubs and when all said and done, football isn’t everything unless you have nothing else. When he fell at Stoke and people laughed, he is an elderly man. Any other elderly man would’ve been helped up. There have been embarrassments too under his watch, like the 6-1 and 8-2 at Old Trafford, 5-1 at Anfield, 6-0 at Chelsea. But we won at the Bernabeu, Allianz, San Siro against both Milan clubs, even Monaco. All these never ever being achieved by am English club until then. I won’t continue because I get more emotional by the word…