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Fixtures have been Announced!

Today saw the announcement of the fixture list in Belgium’s Pro League and the first round of fixtures has thrown up quite the dual.

The first date of destiny for newly promoted Antwerp sees them host champions Anderlecht! The 2 champions of Belgium face off in a huge match in about 6 weeks. Because every match is tighter than you think, one way or another, the rest of the matches will look different on paper than on the pitch! 

Saturday 29th July sees Lokeren host Club Brugge in Ivan Leko’s first league match at the helm of the Blauw-Zwart. And on that night, Genk, who were magnificent in the play offs, play Beveren who may look to target survival before anything else. Eupen may do likewise with a tough opener against cup holders Zulte Waregem at home. The final match on Saturday sees Charleroi welcome Kortrijk. KVK may look to gain some sort of consistency, and already dipping their toe into the transfer market, hopefully their fresh faces will create stability along with quality.

On the Sunday, Mechelen, who I thought performed so well overall last term, will hope to do even better in the final stretch next term, face a side who also have just appointed a new manager, Standard Liege. Managerless Sint Truiden face a tough task in Gent on the first day before the final match sees Europa League bound Oostende host Mouscron to the Versluys Arena. 

Stand out fixtures, on paper, for me include Antwerp-Anderlecht, Mechelen-Standard and STVV-Gent for all types of reasons. But now the clubs know who’ll they’ll have as of now, all focus will be for that last weekend in July! 

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Are The Japanese Coming to Sint Truiden?

After the recent ups and downs at the Staaien this week, where Ivan Leko parted company with De Kanaries to join Club Brugge, the club are doing more business in the board room right now than business in the dugout. If the boardroom look at potential new managers they may hope for someone who kept them up and had them dreaming in the play offs, like Leko. Then again they may go to the Asia, where origami swans and sushi is being served at the club now (unlikely) and try and get their manager from Japan!

Courtesy of Getty Images

Ok, I may be going slightly over the top, but the club announced their link with Japanese enterprise The online company deal with all types of stuff, from on demand videos, to e-books and online shopping. To list everything would be boring as there are 12 services that they do cover, but if I can look them up, so can you! The DMM (Digital Media Mart) are pretty impressive and have been steadily growing in Japan in finance and popularity.

What does this mean for Sint Truiden? Probably more exposure in Japan? Players wearing geisha outfits in secret unaired adverts only in Japan? But if they’re shown in Tokyo and beyond then financially for the club, this could be massive in terms of benefits abroad. It’s a smart move really. If the club also manage to pluck some of the best talent too. If the next Yuya Kubo wound up on their doorstep, I’m sure the fans won’t be too unhappy! 

Courtesy of Getty Images

The other day I said I would’ve possibly written my shortest post. I’ve beaten that by some way with this one, but I just believe if the club choose their manager wisely and exposure from this shareholder soon becomes pretty successful, it may lead to other and different companies getting involved in the club as a whole!

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What to do in Belgium?

This could possibly be my shortest blog post thus far. I’m not struggling with what to write and I have a few ideas, but until it’s worth putting them down on here in just thinking ‘What to do?’.

With Belgian football, unless you’re over there, fluent in Dutch or French or really have the inside track on the ins and outs of certain clubs, it’s tough to get ahead. Doing this from England is firstly a hobby, but I feel if people read this, and read it regularly, I have a duty to post my thoughts and opinions. I’ve had brief but very good conversations with fans and I feel if they want my opinion, I have to give it which I enjoy doing. 

I guess the good thing is that I am 100% unbiased. I may like players and certain things about certain clubs, but I don’t particularly support a team in Belgium. So when I give my opinion, that’s all I do and nothing more. No club dictates why a player may want to leave or join or how certain things dictate why managers and players made those actions. I may not always be right, but that’s the fun of making a prediction, especially if you are correct once and a while. 

But back to the matter at hand. The JPL post certain news where, no offence, I don’t think is worthy of writing about from my point of view. Maybe that means they’re struggling for ideas in post season, leading to pre season. But with not long til the beginning of the season, and the fact this is primarily about league football and not international football, I need to maybe dig deeper and find more to discuss. Another blog I have ready to type up is about social media, where certain clubs don’t write enough for their fans in general. 

Social media, especially Twitter, can be amazing for publicity. Not just for minor blogs like mine, but for example, a local club to me in England, Billericay Town, have been unbelievably popular, whether it’s good or bad on social media because of the R Kelly song they sang. I found it embarrassing, but it was seen by thousands, including R Kelly! Now you don’t have to embarrass yourself to be popular, but they were the talk of a lot of outlets e.g television, radio, internet etc. Make use of what you have football clubs and preach a bit more. The league clearly has quality in certain places so show it off and be proud.

Like I said, I have certain things to think about writing, but I’ll give clubs a chance next season before I may post it to every club, not just one massive tweet! But anyway, I’ll have my transfer roundup on Monday again as there is always movement, including so far this week, but as it’s been broken, I’ll give my opinion soon.

Until next time I guess…or just see ya Monday!

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RIP Cheick Tiote

Over the past few minutes the news out of China has been awful with the passing of former Anderlecht midfielder Cheick Tiote. The Ivorian was an energetic, hustle and bustle sort of midfielder who put himself about to say the least. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Beginning his career in Brussels he had a successful spell in this region of Europe. Firstly at Anderlecht where he won 2 league titles, although he didn’t see much playing time unfortunately, but flourished in Holland and England. He took the route most African players seemed to take through Belgium and then onto pastures new, and even though, as stated, his playing time was limited, sometimes due to injury, the club must’ve given him a taste of what was to come in Europe before Twente and Newcastle United.

Heading north to Enschade, he was very successful winning a league and was runner up in the cup for a second time, previously whilst he was on loan at Roda JC. He was pivotal in what looks now a fantastic side that deservedly won the Eredivisie ahead of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. 

England was next with a short trip to Newcastle where again he was very successful as a key player, just not trophy wise. The Ivorian was key to all that was positive for the club, where he helped them reach 5th and earned his manager the LMA Manager of the Season. He was linked to the top sides in the country, including my club, but I don’t want to bring up off field problems at a time like this.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Sadly, his last destination in his career was in Beijing. Only 30 years old, he still had plenty of time left in Europe and for the national side, where he helped them win the African Cup of Nations. A fine defensive midfielder who will be missed at all his previous clubs and by opposition too.

RIP Cheick Tiote…

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KV Oostende Have Made It! 

In the final game of the season, KRC Genk travelled to KV Oostende in a match where winner takes all. A win meant Europa League football next season, which brings in better players and the possibility of more money! 

This match looked even to me on form. Even though Genk seemed unstoppable in their play off group, I tried not to be blinded by that and tried to think of it as being more even. The thing is…I was wrong. And not wrong in Genk’s favour. Oostende were very good and too good for De Smurfen in the end.

This was proven in the first half where Joseph Akpala opened the scoring with some help from Franck Berrier with an assist. And with that goal, Oostende saw blood and struck again through the experienced Czech David Rozenhal. With the score 2-0 I thought just defend and see the game out with 45 minutes between them and European football.

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However, Siebe Schrivers stroked home a penalty to halve the deficit just before the break, changing both managers team talks in the process and maybe, willing Genk back into the game! 

Stuivenberg decided to swap Malinovskiy for Heynan in a bid to go more attacking possibly? But just 6 minutes into the second half, sloppy play from Genk led to a breakaway by Oostende where Musona hit the bar! With the ball still in play, Oostende picked up the loose ball where a deflected cross led to a tap in for Andile Jali. It looked like 3-1…game over…

Courtesy of Getty Images

The thing is thereafter, Oostende remained professional and looked likeliest to grab a fourth with plenty of time to play. And to be honest, the season the ‘seasiders’ have had with an heroic cup run AND finishing 4th, Europa League is well deserved over their 40+ game league season. And their fans deserve it too. The manager Yves Vanderhaeghe also extended his stay at the Versluys Arena til 2020 too so happy times for now on the east coast.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Genk have to go away and lick their wounds. The worry that Samatta and Pozuelo may be wanting European football could be a concern, amongst others maybe moving on. That’s a concern for the manager, but if they strengthen appropriately, a real push for the top 6 is definitely a possibility with the club’s support and stature, making this season a small blip with many highlights on top.

Congratulations Oostende!

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My JPL Open Blog

I’ve decided to write this blog post as an open one. Not about a specific team and to be honest, it’s not 100% all about football. It’s mainly about me, my love affair with football and why football in Belgium?

To start with, I’ll talk about me, although my ‘About’ part could tell you a lot. I started playing football when I was just 4. I am a person who thinks of you don’t like football, there is something wrong. I know that’s narrow minded, but football is so powerful it dictates your life. It creates superstitions, it can dictate your behaviour, it gives you an outlook on how you’ll go about doing certain things in your day to day life and it gives you heroes, heroes we love, hate and try to mimic now and again. 

When I was 4 years old I wanted to be Ian Wright and then Dennis Bergkamp when I was 8ish. I used to wear my socks like Freddie Ljungberg and I’d always roll my sleeves up always, in every weather. I had to wear the number 4 shirt like Vieira and sometimes I’d try and run like Patrick Vieira. I studied these players because they were amazing.

Even though it makes me sound unbelievably weird, real football fans did the same surely. I can recall most results over the past…erm…20 years that my team played, and going by who I’ve described above with players, it’s a dead giveaway. And with the style as well as what football is all about, I was wanted by clubs as a child. Football is about expression, no fear, passion and above all else…WINNING! Winning can make or break a day, weekend, week, month (if you’re really sad) and that’s why we love football.

To end me and my love of football, if you know what I look like now, and with my pictures with Gary Martin and Roberto Martinez, you’ll see I’ve gained a bit of weight now, but 10 years ago I was at a professional football club in England with an agent. Things happen and when football gets real, it sometimes becomes less fun you know? I had a 17 year career before I started my career and playing isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.

I don’t play football at all now because if I get injured, I can’t support my family, so life sometimes gets in the way, which doesn’t bother me cause I love that I don’t have to constantly diet and go to the gym at least 4 times a week ha!

So now I watch my team home and away and write about a league where, in England, it has no place. We’ll poach your players and ridicule the Pro League until they take Manchester United to extra time, and for that split second people are interested, until they play Celta Vigo and then they forget. To get inform is near impossible. Televised leagues here include France, Spain, Italy, Dutch, Scottish, occasionally Irish and recently CHINESE!?!? You can get the Pro League for a fee on a channel I doubt many subscribe to. 

To find highlights is easy but rare and even they’re hardly watched. I rely on players and fans enjoying my blogs and I’m so thankful a blog about Belgian football is sometimes appreciated, especially by Frèdèric Frans! But I write because I love writing. I feel I have to type this blog that is occasionally read, especially in Italy for some reason, and I’m grateful for that too. But I like Belgium. I went to watch Anderlecht in the Champions League and I really like Brussels. I went to watch the Brugge derby and I love Bruges! Lokeren looked lovely and Antwerp was quiet, but similar to Brussels in some ways. I have an interview lined up in Eupen in a week and a half with Beveren and Genk promising interviews next season.

I love football and Belgium. I do this for you, but it’s a blog, meaning I also do this for me. I hope you now get why I wrote about football and the JPL for that matter. I always accept criticism and especially praise! But above all else, I just hope you like it.

Erm…talk soon

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Is It Now Over in PO2A?

Of course not…right? Four matches. Twelve points to play for. Yet, have Mechelen risen after their Noreen start to take over this group? There has been tough competition throughout in this group, making this the best group, in my opinion, to write about in terms of excitement and intrigue with Standard Liege being the huge subplot amongst real quality.

That unfair on Standard, and as I’ve brought them up, I’ll start with them for the sake of typing out ‘Standard’ at the start. They play the last match of the night in this group as they travel to Sint Truiden who have been very good to say the least, even though they are a bit off the pace. The worrying thing for them I guess is will they hold onto Pieter Gerkens after being nothing short of indispensable to the club, scoring at an amazing rate and winning matches too. Standard FINALLY WON last time out, and as always, Orlando Sa and Ishak Belfodil are formidable, especially the Portuguese. With it being at the Staaien, you’d think maybe a home win is on the cards, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Mechelen kick off the matches in this group with the leaders hoping to steal a march on those below them, facing a Beveren side I wrote off after the third match day. Beveren have just sorted themselves out and performed well in a narrow defeat last time these two met, hoping this time a positive result may go a long way, if not tonight but in the remaining matches left this season. No doubt it’ll be a Mechelen special, best known as a 1-0 win, but with every win it draws them closer to a show down with Genk.

Lastly it’s a second tier bonanza. That okay? Anyway, Lierse welcome Union Saint Gilloise who suffered a setback recently against this very opponent, as well as against Standard. But back to these two, USG need more than Nicolas Rajsel to turn up, who just like Pieter Gerkens, he may be saying au revoir to USG come the summer and looking at the top flight, if not maybe Ligue 1 in his native France?

When it’s all said and done, teams need to be vigilant incase Mechelen slip up, which is possible, and will hope to sneak in sooner rather than later…before it’s too late!

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Tight Night in JPL 

All matches tonight looked like they would be tight beforehand really and it went that way I’m all honesty as the night went on. Four matches took place in all play off groups with some hoping to gain ground, and others hoping to leapfrog others.

Starting in Brugge, Oostende came to town hoping to resurrect themselves and at least put a positive spin onto the end of their season. With a good start that looked like that was going to happen as they took the lead through Nany Dimata, putting more pressure onto the hosts on the quarter hour. With that said, Brugge showed character and hit a quick fire double! Vossen got himself back amongst the goals, and with that confidence, Izquierdo decided to get himself back amongst the goals too! Going in 2-1 at the break, Brugge had something to hold onto going into the second half. With that said, Club still would’ve loved to kill the game off, and with 20 minutes to go, Izquierdo went some way to kill the game off with his second! Full time, 3-1 and Brugge will feel better tonight. More despair for Oostende who are ending the season with a whimper.

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In PO2A, Mechelen had business to take care of against STVV, knowing a win would put them top. Knowing both could put a lot of pressure on Union, things looked as if they were putting more pressure on themselves. Unfortunately for…Sint Truiden, they cracked first as Tim Matthys set up Nils Schouterden to score just before the break. Things weren’t going the visitors way as we approached the latter stages of the match, which was ideal for Mechelen. I’m the end, Mechelen are nicking 1-0 home wins which they won’t mind, crawling towards the Europa League play off!

Going into the most uneventful group, Mouscron needed to bounce back against an improving Lokeren. As the first half wore on, Mouscron needed a confidence booster which was supplied by Nathan Kabasele. Unfortunately, that was too good to be true, and instead of building on that, Koen Persoons equalised really into the second half, bringing the hosts back down to earth, with both teams equally wanting a positive result. As time ticked on one team blinked in the 92nd minute. Mouscron conceded through an own goal from Thibault Peyre and Lokeren smash and grabbed 3 points! And if I’m honest, as I typed that, Mouscron amazingly equalised through villain come hero Peyre. Amazing scenes where yet again in Belgium, it ain’t over til it’s over! Astonishing match.

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With the other match going on, Genk just wanted to avoid defeat really travelling to Eupen. Everything was going well as goal machine Malinovskiy scored on 20 minutes. Eupen showed why they always score though, through their fantastic attacking ability…And Garcia’s nerves of steel from the penalty spot!

With both teams drawing, nothing really changed from before kick off and things keep getting better for group leaders Genk! Mouscron somehow escaped with a draw thanks to Peyre who tried his hardest to create tension and excitement! Amazing night in Mouscron amongst some other matches across the Flemish region.

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Does the System Work?

Now, when I say system, I mean league system. The Pro League. The league that seems to change more than the seasons. Whether it be play offs, relegation, teams promoted, teams relegated, the number of teams etcetera etcetera…But my idea would be similar to a lot of leagues around Europe. 

A couple of things made me think of this post in the first place. The first thing is the number of games these teams play a season. No matter how you look at it, the season kicked off in July and will end in May. That is a loooong season in my opinion. The players (and fans) do have a slight winter break AND there was the break recently from football around the Beker van Belgie, but that just extends the season even more!

I know I’ll be crying in the summer wanting football whereas right now I’m talking, possibly, about less football, but I’m just considering alternative things within the season. Firstly, the Belgian Pro League is the only major league with just 16 teams in it, now that the Portuguese league has eighteen. The fact it then expands to 18 once the play offs begin is beyond me. I just think that 16 teams is fine…Or…Expand to 18? Especially as teams like Lierse and Union Saint Gilloise have done so well so far within this play off situation, and that doesn’t even include Royal Antwerp!

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But if we stick to 16 teams in the top flight, if you want to be ‘creative’ add a relegation play off maybe? Because if we look at the regular season, the title and relegation would’ve gone to the last day, with second place winning the league in the end and the bottom side miraculously saving themselves, which is tense enough. Because of the lack of money within the league, teams seem to switch off positionally in my opinion and maybe they jostle for whether they want European football next season or a title push, but they already had 30 matches to give them that chance?
My point being that teams within these play offs, and maybe I am being unfair towards, oh i don’t know, Lokeren, Waasland-Beveren, maybe Kortrijk, where personally, they’re just looking towards next season? And the teams who may push harder are the second tier clubs hoping their game and proving their worth, or the teams who’d like a push in the Europa League next season, so some matches are total non events. For example, Mouscron vs Eupen Saturday. The Stade Le Cannonier holds just over 11,000. However, Saturday saw around 10% of that figure turn up for the fixture. Was there any point? For Eupen, definitely, but for a lot of other reasons, not particularly like the cost of staff, lighting, police etc costing Mouscron for a fixture where, they simply didn’t care in terms of maybe performance after saving themselves, and fans aren’t turning out.

So…My first point is, stay at a 30 match 16 team league if you’d like. Don’t go for more if the second tier can’t have more than 8 teams. Belgium isn’t blessed with a minimum of 92 professional​ league clubs unfortunately, so if they won’t have the competition below the ‘A’ league, then stick with 16. But don’t have a play offs. Players won’t put in 100% if there’s nothing to play for, and the quality may not be there because the players are humans. They’ll be tired after a 40 match league season (including play offs) if there’s not a lot to get in terms of success.

The other thing I thought of wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but there is method to my ‘madness’ although it’s not mad, just a thought. Why not have a Belgian League Cup. Or an equivalent. I know you’ll say a 24 team league cup isn’t glamorous, or they’ll say they have their Croky Cup. But if Pro League sides are anything like they are in England, certain bigger clubs may not take it too seriously in the early rounds, giving ‘lesser’ clubs the chance to win a trophy.

However, the other thing with this is that I was so shocked at the lack of u21 players in the Pro League altogether. Clubs who may not take this seriously due to a title push or European exploits may give their Beloften players a chance to show some quality against men rather than at their own age level. There is a difference. And that will maybe prolong the season too rather than a play off for Europe, and the winner of this competition too will go into Europe. 

Courtesy of Getty Images

Along with this competition, it will mean that top clubs will be drawn against lower league opposition which will help them too. Look at Sutton and Lincoln this season in England. Fans love a romantic story and the way Belgian football can be, a team may go out of business at any point, in any season before merging with a neighbour and then lose all their history and traditions, stadium, fans and well…EVERYTHING!!! Sorry but writing about Molenbeek and Beerschot this season upsets me as these clubs have almost restarted or are unrecognisable from when they were glorious. Money from this competition will help them. It may help them to survive and hopefully progress too through gate receipts and media coverage. And back to the young player progression. If they perform well that could help progression in the top flight and then maybe in European competition, and if they’re sold, it’s more revenue coming into the league.
There’s no surprise the bigger leagues have the most money. Money within football is what makes it work until the bubble bursts, whenever that may be. But to have that younger option in these tournaments may help them in April when your full back gets injured and they can rely on the academy product instead of a make shift defensive midfielder slotting in that position.

In the end these are just ideas which may help and keep everyone interested throughout the season, and an extended Christmas break may occur from it, but that may not only refresh them, but rekindle the fans attitude towards wanting to go and watch their team (like Mouscron) and support, maybe win some silverware going by my second point.

Til next time…

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My Under 21 Pro League Team

Now…Before I begin, if anyone ACTUALLY reads this I had a very small group of players who actually fit the criteria regarding this post. Obviously the age bracket is 16-21, with the exception of the goalkeeper because going by my research, and no doubt I’ll be incorrect somewhere, nobody within that age bracket played a top flight match. So I went with the goalkeeper who fit my next criteria, who also happened to be the youngest too.

So…To begin with in goal, I chose this player due to the fact he was the youngest goalkeeper who played 10 or more matches. Oh yes, before I continue, that was the second point. They would’ve had to of played 10 or more matches unless they were 16-21 or there wasn’t enough who’d played that much so I had to go with the player who played the most between 16-21. If I’ve bored you, then I’ve successfully bored everyone including myself!!!

Goalkeeper –  Hendrik van Crombrugge EUPEN

He is in goal as he played the most matches as the youngest goalkeeper. Well…There was 1 younger, but to have competed in 3 matches I felt wasn’t sufficient. 

Defenders – Dion Cools CLUB BRUGGE, Ibrahim Diallo EUPEN, Aristote Nkaka MOUSCRON, Emmanuel Sowah Adjey ANDERLECHT

This defence doesn’t only work positionally with 4 at the back starting with right back Dion Cools across the defence, but they pick themselves as being within this age demographic for this post. What it shows for me is that you have a 16 team league with a huge lack of young defenders, but a whole lot of over 30 defenders. Obviously I could’ve brought this up with the goalkeeping situation too, but you’d have to be a Donnarumma at AC Milan to go straight in as a young, inexperienced goalkeeper. So, no offense to a couple of players here, I scraped the barrel.

Midfielders – Sidy Sarr KORTRIJK, Jean Thierry Lazare Armani EUPEN, Bryan Heynen GENK, Youri Tielemans ANDERLECHT

Much like the goalkeeper and defensive situation, lack of under 21 numbers proved to be the downfall in lack of numbers. The positive is the quality throughout. Just a shame in lack of numbers because these clubs love boasting on social media about their young Beloften squads doing well, but how about progressing a couple? Even for 10 minutes in matches? Just to either see if they can cut it in the Pro League or to see if, needs must, they have the physical and mental strength to progress. The next Youri Tielemans may be playing tonight in a pointless u21 fixture when the man himself who I just named is just wowing everyone week in, week out.

Strikers – Henry Onyekuru EUPEN, Nany Dimata OOSTENDE

Now…This was the most difficult section because Wesley, Eric Ocansey and Silvère Ganvoula M’Boussy all missed out. I’ve chosen the 2 above due to goalscoring ability. I mention them regularly and in the case of one of them (Onyekuru) they literally save their team regularly. I just think that the strength up top who are u21 may be because of the aging defences in the Pro League, going by the lack of youngsters in this. I’m not saying there aren’t young defences as you still have 22-29 year olds but still…

This also shows that Eupen and Anderlecht have the most youngsters actively getting minutes. Eupen have the most quite easily. The other thing is that if I did this before the start of the season, the list would be bigger as there are 22 year olds who of course have aged, but I just think a league that may not entice a lot of players, youth may be the answer?