Posted in Back in Time

Back in Time: Christian Piot 

My back in times usually talk about a triumphant title win or spirited European campaign. But one of my previous BIT’s was about Francis Severyns and I thought why not celebrate an individual? The same individuals that made these clubs successful whether temporarily or over a longer scale.

This week I thought I’d talk about goalkeepers. I went back to the 1970s and looked to see which clubs conceded the least along this decade and 3 clubs conceded the same amount of goals, with one goalkeeper doing it twice right at the start in title winning seasons! 

Christian Piot was a young goalkeeper at lowly FC Ougrée in Belgium, when he was spotted by René Hauss for Standard Liege in 1969. The problem at the time is that Piot had a slight dilemma. Unlike now where when you’re a footballer, that’s it! But money was around then and the young goalkeeper used his hands to save shots rather than cut meat…as a butcher.

And what a great choice he made, winning 3 consecutive league titles with Les Rouches and conceding just 24 goals in 1969/70 and 1970/71! Replacing Jean Nicolay, many had their doubts about the youngster, but he rapidly progressed and was called up to the national side for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. He was called up in place of another Jean, this time Jean Trappeniers. 

With a marvellous start to his career he won 3 titles, called up to a world cup, win the Belgian Golden Shoe in 1972, where he also represented his country in the European Championships, helping the Red Devils to a 3rd place finish too. Thereafter he helped Standard to cup finals, but that was mainly it. Competing in 305 matches for his one and only club, along with 40 matches for his country he also managed 9 goals for Standard (all penalties I think). 

When you think about, his career was a rollercoaster, but mainly of good times. Winning caps, titles and records as well as personal accolades, bagging goals and all in a career where….he could’ve been behind a counter serving meat (not that’s there’s definitely nothing wrong with that). Spending his career in Liege, he went on to coach and manage at Standard and RFC Liege. Recently turning 70 he will live on as a fine goalkeeper!

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Posted in Uncategorized

This and That and…Corrie? 

I was going to chat about international football on this post. I even wrote 2 paragraphs and was hoping to try and get everyone’s opinion. I was going to bring up a lot of countries. From Iceland to Italy, Spain to Germany and definitely England. But I scrapped it. Mainly because in my head it would’ve turned into a book as well as who knows how it would’ve read.

For those who have read my posts before, you know my feelings on international football. I actually care more about Belgium’s under 21s because the vast majority play in the Pro League. At the moment Belgium are very good. That goes without saying. People in England have compared them to England’s golden generation of Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard and Owen where I felt they should’ve won something, yet flattered to deceive. 

But I have also stated that I’m not a fan of the Red Devils because the majority play in the Premier League yet not for my club. But if they click they could well win the world cup. But with the lack of Pro League players, I’m never interested. 

Back to the league, I’ve actually turned my attention to the Proximus League because it’s club football and I’m intrigued by Beerschot and their rise to the top of the table. I keep looking out for matches and potential interviews with ANYONE as I have contacted Beveren today after they said they’d arrange something this season. I am also going to Vitesse vs Zulte Waregem in the Europa League too. 

Because I’m watching Coronation Street I’ve lost all trail of thought at now 23:36pm. Erm…I’m hopefully also going to try and do a podcast soon because talking in a quiet room is far easier than typing in a noisy lounge. But back to whatever I were saying. I have so many ideas bouncing around my head but putting them on a screen is tougher than I thought.

Writers block has well and truly hit me here. Like I said, I had the international football idea in my head and there’s no point putting it out there as it’ll either be totally wrong or genius, but I’m not a genius…FACT. All I’m happy about is my perspective I do put across whether through comparisons or experience. 

But I’ll end this drivel now and hopefully write something that isn’t utter nonsense and rubbish (I promise). 

Posted in Uncategorized

I’ve Missed the Pro League

This edition of my nonsensical babble is already within the title. International football has lost its edge in my opinion. The only worthwhile groups include the Dutch who just seem to constantly fail, and without being too harsh, they are the best international football nation never to have won an actual tournament, yet other than the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, they have gradually gotten worse, including in that tournament where they finished 3rd, and have simply underperformed since.

Beyond that domestically, the problem with international football is that it slows down momentum and can revitalize everything. I am English. A nation who thrive on underdog titles and can come out fighting. Maybe that’s why outside the Premier League bubble we live in, there are leagues where if you take notice, you think ‘WOW’ simply because the favourites aren’t already running away with the rest trailing behind. 

Other than Brugge, it’s a guessing game. It’s made me look ridiculous, yet, it’s embarrassed bigger organisations than me (not that I am one of course) and those being Anderlecht, KAA Gent, Genk and others who just seem to from bad to worse. Okay, not so much Anderlecht where Frutos did actually do something good before Vanhaezebrouck has come in. 

But international football may have now changed Gent’s and Anderlecht’s fortunes and could turn their form around. However, Mouscron, Antwerp, Sint Truiden amongst others all faltered before this weekend. Hopefully they could regroup and go back to why they have at least stolen my heart so far this season. Overreaction? Maybe. The good thing is that these 3 teams, as well as others I know, don’t have a plethora of players flying around the world. That could mean that they’ve had 2 weeks to train, rest, rethink, or get back on track.

One of the most famous titles wins in history, Leicester City, had hardly any internationals in their squad at the time, played 42 matches that season and regularly rested in their run in to the title. Now I’m not saying there’ll be a new name on the league trophy, but maybe a fresher team in Europe other than the usual clutch of names. Maybe I’m a dreamer. Maybe because I’m married, as a man, my dreams are now wasted on 16 top flights Belgian teams rather than, well men will know. But regardless, new names now and again stir up excitement, different fans, perspectives and which other words you’d like to chuck out there. 

As per usual my laziness, along with World Cup qualifiers have caused me to slow up recently and then I vent again about why I really enjoy writing, Belgium and football and then squash all 3 together. But I’m hoping to write more often (honest) and hopefully give my same honest assessment with whatever goes on across the Channel/North sea corridor.

Posted in Manager Profile

Vanderhaeghe in at Gent

For somebody who does a Belgian football blog, I feel I let myself down without putting two and two together. Yesterday was Anderlecht informing the world who their new manager was. Today was the turn of KAA Gent. Where I feel I’ve let myself down is that why didn’t I think Vanderhaeghe would go to the Ghelamco Arena?

The former Oostende manager has briefly been out of work and has now been rewarded with one of Belgium’s top clubs. If anything, it is reward for how well did last season at Oostende in my opinion. They aren’t at the level of the others who finished above them last season, as well Genk and Standard I believe, and he took them to a cup final and 4th place. 

Many rumours were bounded around yesterday regarding Yves’ future. He’ll be assistant at Anderlecht. His waiting for the Kortrijk or Standard Liege job. He is now a manager so assistant would’ve been well out of the question. The other options look tenable but could never happen. I’ve always said that there’s a managerial merry go round and that once you’re off you may never get on. Look at Nigel Pearson now at OH Leuven. Nothing was materialising in England but through his connections, he went elsewhere abroad. 

As much as its a rough ride, it’s the most coveted and maybe important jobs in the most watched sport in the world. There’s computer games dedicated to it, so to get that job is a privilege and a top one is unbelievable. I know I’m going on a bit now. Actually sounds like I’m having a bit of a go. I’m honestly not. I’m happy that a good coach has a good job and that only Oostende is left. It’s now a 21 game season for Gent in this marathon to get themselves in place for the sprint…and now, they looking to get on the inside lane.

Posted in Uncategorized

For Why I L _ _ e this League

Fill in the blanks if you will. I know which word I’m thinking of using. But anyway…to my point. The Jupiler Pro League this weekend, in my opinion, sprung some surprises. I decided to do a prediction. A prediction for the matches played and even though I am horrendous at gambling, even though I have quit altogether now, I wouldn’t dream of doing an eightfold bet in Belgium’s top flight.

Getting the scoreline correct is always tougher than getting a correct result. But this weekend would’ve and in fact did embarrass me. I managed to get 2 results right out of the 8 matches. Lokeren surprised us. Oostende managed a win away at Kortrijk. Mechelen fought hard away at Mouscron amongst others. It goes to show how unpredictable this league is going by form, whether it be recent or over the season so far, this is why I L _ _ e this league!

The problem with the season too is also the reason for why I’m so enthralled by it. All the ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ clubs are suffering. Some are again finding their way back to form, but that has caused me to rethink every match. Mouscron, who I genuinely thought would faulter have surprised us all in a brilliant way, along with Sint Truiden and Antwerp. Because, as the season is just over 2 months old, they haven’t slowed down, maybe levelling out into a mid table position, but neither of those 3, along with Beveren, have flirted with the idea of relegation.

The only teams who haven’t shocked are Club Brugge, Zulte Waregem and, unfortunately at the other end, Eupen. But 13 clubs have contested matches in every way in that they have either suffered or succeeded. Without going back and looking I thought Anderlecht would walk the league, with Brugge, Standard Liege and Gent fighting for the Champions League qualification place. So far, Brugge look set on at least a top 2 finish and the rest are hoping that 2018 sees better days. With one of those 3 managerless, with another snatching a manager from the other and now doubters are looking at Ricardo Sa Pinto, those 3 look likely to miss out on at least a top 3 finish because Zulte Waregem have been fantastic, regardless of that defeat on Sunday, and Charleroi have been outstanding. Not impressive but at least competitive in every match.

(As I write this, Vanderhaeghe has become assistant at Anderlecht)

But back to Charleroi. I love that Felice Mazzu has progressed this club this season. Missing out on Europe last season seemed to have spurred them on. I felt if the league went on another fortnight they would’ve been in Europe at the expense of Oostende, but this year they seem stubborn and relentless to do well, with Brugge and Beveren being their only setbacks.

As I no longer no where I’m going with this I’ll end by saying I’ve been challenged with predictions this Friday by a good friend who knows his football and I’m desperate to at least not lose, even if I just get 1 more correct!

Posted in Manager Profile

Hein Vanhaezebrouck at Anderlecht

Well, minding my own business and up pops some information that hasn’t shocked anyone. Hein Vanhaezebrouck is, apparently, being unveiled as the new manager of Anderlecht at 4pm today (European or English time I’m unsure. More likely in CET). I feel sorry for Gent as the minute he left he has been flaunted about as basically the next manager of Les Mauves for the rest of this league and Champions League campaign.

The heavy manager is also a good manager. Let’s not forget that. The best players move from good clubs to great clubs. Why can’t managers? Even if that manager is from a potential rival for honours. Off the top of my head, unless I’m wrong, in Europe the only manager I can think recently who has moved to a rival is Jorge Jesus who went from Benfica to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. But the other thing about that switch was that he moved at his peak.

Vanhaezebrouck has underachieved this season with Gent. Maybe a fresh start is what he needed, but if René Weiler wins a league and then gets sacked in September, who says a poor start to next season won’t see the big manager on his way too? Obviously Anderlecht are sure they’ve made the right decision, and Frutos either didn’t want the job yet, even though there has been an upturn in form domestically. I guess what will please everyone right now is a continuation of that form, and maybe a point in Europe?

He is a proven winner too. He knows the league and has a philosophy, plus an eye for the odd player, even though he has what I felt, the best squad in the league before a ball was kicked. Up first for HVH is an away trip to Mechelen. For me, a nice opener. Even though Mechelen clawed back a fantastic draw for the jaws of defeat on Saturday, and did beat Anderlecht at home last season, I just feel new imputus, a fresh look and recent winning form for the champions may see a win regardless this Friday night.

But going back to the first paragraph. Not that the fans from Brussels will care, but just imagine losing your girlfriend publicly and then she’s being touted all around town that she may have even been talking to somebody you hate behind your back, to then see that in fact she’s going to be starting a new relationship sooner rather than later…with him!?! Obviously football has its own little world and many…ok, the odd one who may read this, will say I’m being a bit drastic? A bit over the top? Regardless, it not entire classless, but maybe could’ve been dealt with a bit better. Without contradicting myself, you can’t blame Anderlecht or Vanhaezebrouck because they’re only looking out for themselves, and that’s all you can do in football, but maybe being more private would’ve been better in my opinion.

At the end of the day, Gent are still managerless, even though they performed extremely well away at Club Brugge, and Anderlecht may feel a poor start could be converted into a brilliant finish. But starting with Friday, we’ll see how the early signs will show if that’s true…

Posted in Player Profile

Player Profile: Davino Verhulst

Of anyone reads this, I like to share out my PP’s amongst all clubs across the season and with this week being a tough week for Lokeren, I thought I’d put Davino Verhulst under the microscope. It’s tough to talk about Lokeren in my opinion. Awful start seeing their manager, possibly prematurely sacked, and since then the club have levelled out in the league, beating or getting points off of those around them, and putting in spirited performances against better clubs, unfortunately always ending in defeat.

This week Lokeren travel to Zulte Waregem. One of the toughest fixtures they’ll play this season. A club that seem stable and ‘normal’ compared to a lot of the other bigger clubs in Belgium right now. With quality, a settled squad and a very good manager. That’s why I’ve decided to pick the goalkeeper. I did that with Bolat at Antwerp on the first day and a clean sheet came his way.

The problem with Lokeren is that the playing staff are unpredictable. You don’t know who’ll turn up on the day and make the difference. But Verhulst has patiently waited for his first run as a first choice, nearly across his career (correct me if I’m wrong) and he had some big gloves to fill.

Since Copa Barry has left he has been a mainstay in the starting line up. Keeping just one clean sheet however, of course he’ll know that’s unacceptable, but clean sheets don’t just come down to the goalkeeper. I guess the only thing is that some matches the club would target a blank than others. Without putting my neck on the line, I’m certain there’ll be goals at the Regenboogstadion against the Tricolores, but a winning performance is needed more.

A bit of a brief write up, the former Beveren and Genk keeper will just have to be courage, focussed and hope that either the hosts have an off day, or that his defence are more solid than they have been in recent matches. I guess a negative is the positive performance, in defeat, but Zulte Waregem on Thursday, and maybe they’ll take it out on Lokeren come Sunday night.

Picture courtesy of Getty Images

Posted in Pro League in Europe

Belgium in Europe

The title is not only imaginative but true too. The nation is within the continent. But moving on. The Pro League has been awful in European competition. So much so that out of 5, only 2 made the actual competitions they were meant to be in, and that’s only because they automatically qualified.

The thing is, as I was about to tear into every club, realistically, only 2 have let themselves down. Gent have been awful all season, only winning 2 matches this season, and one of those was against a second tier club. Altach were their only European opponents in the Europa League qualifiers and were embarrassed away in Austria.

The second team is Club Brugge who have been knocked out of 2 European competitions this season, without playing a ‘real’ match within those tournaments. They did have difficult matches to be fair, but, were so poor at home that they never gave themselves a chance abroad. Ruining any Champions League hopes throwing away a 2-0 lead, and then not scoring at all against AEK Athens. Not good enough on the European stage, no matter how right I was on Twitter and how wrong a good follower was! 

Oostende have gotten away with it as they did have Marseille. Now….the worst team in the top flight, for me, have been the best in Europe, because they performed admirably away in France and were unlucky at home against a too French side. Going by all of that, you do have to give them credit.

But with the 2 actual teams who I have entered Europe, they will be out before Christmas. Both in extremely difficult groups for their level, with Bayern and PSG in Anderlecht’s group. And Nice and Lazio in Zulte Waregem’s group, neither stood a chance. And with no second chances for Essevee, Anderlecht won’t get third at this rate as they lost to Celtic on Wednesday.

The reason I have written this is because NO BELGIAN CLUB HAS WON IN EUROPE AT ALL THIS SEASON. Embarrassing. With 5 teams, all within the top 6 last season, they’ve really let themselves down regardless of what I just typed. Anderlecht beat Zenit and took Manchester United to extra time last season. Gent beat Tottenham for Christ sake. 

What is happening? Genk didn’t qualify, and they wouldn’t have mattered going by their league form. Without being totally disrespectful, Mouscron, Sint Truiden and maybe Antwerp next season? If the current crop can’t do it, how the hell will they? And even if the usual suspects get their act together, who says they’ll crack in too? 

I know we’re only in September (just) but Europe will be out of the question in 2018 and I’ll already write off next season already. I’m never expecting a side from Belgium amongst Europe’s elite as a league or as a club. They are big names, but no longer. If the Scottish champions comfortably beat the Belgian champions, then something’s wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But with observation I just hope something happens. I expected more, but maybe when you’re not consistently in Europe, you forget how to play and deal with other styles…? 

Posted in Manager Profile

Manager Profile: Hein Vanhaezebrouck

The news that broke earlier upsetter me more than probably the fans of Gent. Hein Vanhaezebrouck has lost his job with De Buffalos. Another top top job in Belgium up for grabs much like at Oostende and of course Anderlecht. The reason I am upset is mainly due to the fact I can now spell his name before triple checking I actually spelt it correctly.

I wrote a piece very early into the season at my concern at the direction the club were heading. Could’ve been bad preparation, considering, in my opinion, the dismal start to the league season and their exit from the Europa League before it properly started. Could it have been poor recruitment? Not sure. Players did leave and those who have stayed just haven’t performed. There are players within this crop who can get into every team in Belgium and potentially, bigger clubs abroad, but individually they have let the manager down.

Of course HVH isn’t blameless, and I’m culpable to blaming a manager, but not initially. I usually give the manager time before pointing fingers. The reason I suggested his sacking is because of you’re going to let your manager go at Anderlecht and Oostende, then every manager at an underperforming club has a target on their back. The manor of certain defeats certainly haven’t helped (Mouscron away).

Vanhaezebrouck has been fantastic over his time at the club and last season going into the play offs, I felt that Gent would overtake Club Brugge going into the Champions League qualification places, but with that momentum, it just never carried over into this term. But moving from Gent, if we go down the table, the amount of fresh faces at clubs, rather than faces to the league, has surprised me. Not so much at the leaving or sacking of managers, but just the numbers. Ten managers have left or lost their job since last season and a couple have happened at the same club.

In England, people ask why would anyone go into management when media is an option? It’s a short lifespan and if you don’t get back onto the Merry-go-round, you may never find another ride as some clubs, leagues and countries have a revolving door. I’m still saving space for Mechelen and Eupen, but until then, Hein Vanhaezebrouck is the focus.

Good luck…

Posted in Matches in Brief

Short on Time

Because I’m so good with procrastination I have just, well, not written. There have been positives for me and Belgian football as there is a channel now that shows Belgian football for FREE on English television now. The bad times involve me actually trying to find highlights as I’ve only just seen the Mickael Tirpan goal which was fantastic.

But yesterday showed us who the likely champions will be, who will be challenging and who’s still got life in them. The challengers are Zulte Waregem. I did ask the question ‘can Gent fans now question Hein Vanhaezebrouck’. Firstly, another defeat. Poor defensive error (which he can’t be blamed for) and with the winner coming in the second minute, it shows they wouldn’t have scored regardless. Ivan Saponjic stole in and cooly finished to settle the match. As much as we look at the negatives (KAA Gent) we have to give Waregem credit. They’ve responded incredibly well to the mauling they received by Nice and will hopefully do better this Thursday.

The champions elect already Club Brugge eventually saw off the last undefeated team in the Pro League in Charleroi at the Stade du Pays. Wesley seems to have taken over Bonaventure in taking over the scoring responsibility. But Les Zébres hit back through Iranian Kaveh Rezaei set up a chance of a grandstand finish. Blauw-Zwart obliged as Anthony Limbombe hit the most unimpressive long range winner, but helped Brugge increase their points at the top of the table.

Lastly, 3 goals, 2 red cards and a win for Standard over Lokeren. The visitors took the lead with the other contender for goal of the weekend through Amine Benchaib. Going in 1-0, could the tricolores hold on unlike against Anderlecht. Well…Stefano Marzo seeing red in the 46th minute didn’t help. Duje Cop struck a decent close range effort 6 minutes later to aid the home sides chances. And it took until stoppage time when Paul-Jose Mpoku hit an effort on par with Limbombe to snatch victory, even when Carlinhos saw red himself 5 minutes (ish) earlier. 

Another weekend over where there were some winners beyond the pitch, and the losers on it continue to stink up the place.