Analysis: van den Brom must now build his own Anderlecht side
John van den Brom plans to get himself very drunk this evening. He can be forgiven for celebrating with extravagance having just picked up the first league title of his coaching career and he’s by no means the only one to have been intoxicated by this year’s play-offs. Fans, players and staff alike will saviour the moment but when everyone at Belgium’s biggest club have sobered up, they will quickly remember that there is much work to do.
This promises to be a summer of quite fundamental change in the capital as Herman van Holsbeeck admitted after today’s title clinching 1-1 draw with Zulte Waregem. Two years ago, many Anderlecht fans came to me in the summer after Genk’s title and made their concerns known. Double Golden Shoe winner Mbark Boussoufa’s departure in March left big shoes to fill while Jonathan Legear and Romelu Lukaku were also to move away. The Anderlecht management took what many considered to be an unwinnable gamble when they signed two ex-Standard Liège forwards in Milan Jovanovic and Dieumerci Mbokani. It has paid off with two titles in two seasons under two different coaches (van den Brom having succeeded Ariël Jacobs).
It was a short term measure designed to keep Anderlecht at the top as they prepared for the transition from Jacobs to his eventual successor. Now that John van den Brom has cleared the hurdle of winning the title at the first time of asking, he must now build his own side in his own image.
This remains very much a team of the Jacobs era. Of Anderlecht’s strongest first eleven (see above), only Bram Nuytinck has arrived at the club under van den Brom. Captain Lucas Biglia confirmed after today’s game that he would be leaving the club after seven years and he is almost certainly off to Lazio. Mbokani reaffirmed that he is seeking pastures new with England being his preference for both personal and sporting reasons. West Brom are known to be keen but Mbokani will visit Dinamo Kiev’s facilities at the end of the month. Cheikhou Kouyaté found himself sent off on his final Anderlecht appearance in front of a Monaco scout. Should the latter duo wish to further their careers in the Premier League, they will most likely have to wait until their Belgian passports come through in order to obtain a work permit. Jovanovic had been promised a new deal if they won the title but his future remains an open question while squad members Wasilewski and Iakovenko will play their trade elsewhere. Tom De Sutter is also reportedly close to joining Club Brugge.
If sporting director van Holsbeeck was very much the dominant partner in his relationship with Jacobs, who from the outside was perceived as a weak figure, van den Brom appears to have a much more equal say when it comes to recruitment. It’s a sign of the club’s faith in the young Dutchman but also of his knack of spotting a player. Some have even remarked that it’s makes a change for players from the Eredivisie to be moving south to play in the Jupiler Pro League, although Anderlecht are clearly its biggest draw, both financially and in terms of being able to offer a direct route into the Champions League group stages.
Anderlecht have been quietly integrating a number of new players over the past few months through their under-21 side. Frank Acheampong has impressed for the second string in several youth tournaments, Samuel Armenteros arrived a few months ahead of schedule in January and salvaged a point against Club Brugge while Andy Najar has made a very favourable impression since arriving from DC United. It’s worth noting that Anderlecht’s youngsters won the u21 league, the Viareggio Cup and the AEGON Future Cup. They were knocked out in the second round of the Next Gen Series at the hands of Olympiacos – it was a one-legged knockout tie in Greece and with a Greek referee – though it also came hot on the heels of the Viareggio final.
The task of bringing through the youngsters has proved rather more difficult than the supporters would have liked. Dennis Praet’s potential is doubted by no-one but while he shone when Anderlecht were making light work of their opponents before the winter break, he has begun to feel the rigours of a first full season in professional football. There is a great deal of pressure on Praet, who is seen as the natural successor to the likes of Enzo Scifo and Pär Zetterberg – it’s seen as imperative to have a top class number ten in order for Anderlecht to play the champagnevoetbal the very demanding supporters crave. Think of Newcastle’s number nine or Manchester United’s number seven. Massimo Bruno has been more consistent and his youthful enthusiasm has added verve down the right flank and he was not overawed by the Champions League either. If at least one of Suarez or Jovanovic depart, he will be expected to play an even more integral role next term.
While every other head coach in the Pro League would love to have Anderlecht’s resources at their disposal, domestic success is the basic minimum. Anderlecht enlisted van den Brom to improve the style of play but more importantly still, to raise the club’s standing in Europe by qualifying on a regular basis for the Champions League group stages. The title provides him with the platform to put his own stamp on the club and the impending departures with the perfect opportunity.