Anderlecht battling the odds against PSG and Benfica
Anderlecht and the Champions League has not proved to be a marriage made in heaven over the years. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, if you see which teams regularly take their places at European club football’s top table. A Belgian club will never be able to win a tournament where clubs such as Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern München, Manchester United and Juventus compete for the most prestigious cup. The last five winners of the Champions League are: Barcelona (x2), Internazionale, Chelsea and Bayern München.
Anderlecht used to be a big name in European football. In 1983, the Belgian club won the Uefa Cup by beating Benfica in the final. Benfica narrowly lost the Europa League final last season against Chelsea. How is it possible that Benfica, who were in Pot 1, are still competing with the biggest clubs in Europe and Anderlecht are not? Well, long term vision is something that Belgian clubs have only discovered the last couple of years. Long term vision combined with some great marketing and scouting makes Benfica a bigger club than Anderlecht.
Anderlecht, Standard Liège and Racing Genk have been doing it for a few years. Investing in their youth complexes, monitoring and developing their own youth with Club Brugge, one of the top teams in Belgium is starting with it this season. Better late than never, we say in Belgium. Investing in youth is crucial for clubs with low budgets by European standards. The Dutch clubs are showing us that it’s possible to have a competitive team with your own youth.
This season Anderlecht will play against PSG, Benfica and Olympiacos in the Champions League. Not a tough group compared with the other groups but still very difficult for a team like Anderlecht to go through. Third place should be a goal for John Van den Brom and his boys. Anderlecht coach John van den Brom is happy with this draw and believes that his club can still play in Europe after January. Champions League or Europa League, it doesn’t matter.
Anderlecht has the youngest team in the Champions League. That shows us that the Belgian club’s investments in its youth complex at Neerpede and a renewed commitment to young players at first team level, particularly since van den Brom replaced Ariël Jacobs. Massimo Bruno, Dennis Praet, Youri Tielemans, Frank Acheampong and Thomas Kaminski are not all home-grown players but the brightest young prospects do tend to move around quite a lot in Belgium. Youri Tielemans just turned 16 two months ago.
We will show you some stats to give you an idea how Anderlecht wants to change things. Olympiacos Piraeus has an average age of 26,5 years, PSG’s average age is 26,2 years and Benfica’s average age of their squad is 25,7 years. Anderlecht is doing much better with their 22,5 years. This season Anderlecht did an excellent job of selling a lot of overpaid and fringe players in their squad. The Belgian club always gave huge wages to players in which their rivals also displayed a keen interest. Anderlecht wanted to impress by showing their opponents that they are the biggest and most wealthy club in Belgium.
Anderlecht started this season with a budget of €45 million, which is quite a lot for a Belgian team. In their group Paris Saint-Germain has the biggest budget: €400 million. The difference is astonishing and gives us an idea of just what les Mauve et Blanc are up against. Benfica has a budget of €150 million and Olympiakos’ budget is not known, as they had to cut in their wages due to the financial crisis in their country.
This season Anderlecht are struggling at the back. The champion of last season conceded already 10 goals in 6 matches. Bram Nuytinck, who moved in 2012 from NEC Nijmegen to RSC Anderlecht, his performances this season are bringing his ambition to make it into the national squad in danger. With the young talented Chancel Mbemba knocking on the door the Dutchman will have to improve if he even wants to keep his place in the Anderlecht starting eleven. Another defender in the danger zone is Olivier Deschacht. The veteran of the team, who plays since 1997 for Anderlecht, is having a very difficult start this season. Demy De Zeeuw was spot on when he said that if the side continue to defend like they did in the 4-3 defeat to Zulte Waregem, they will be thrashed 4 or 5-0 by the big boys in the Champions League.
After too long an absence from the group stages and an acknowledgement that they are fighting an uphill battle, Anderlecht are already happy to be a part of the Champions League. Playing against the best football clubs in the world is already an achievement for a club with such a low budget. Nonetheless, Belgian and Dutch clubs should keep on investing in their youth. Maybe, one day, when the strict financial fair-play rules pays off (and our faith in that ever happening is rapidly decreasing by the day), clubs as Ajax and Anderlecht can start dreaming again of having some great glorious moments in European football. In the meantime, the likes of Anderlecht and Standard should be targeting the latter stages of the Europa League.