Club Brugge fire Garrido, Enter Preud’homme
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye, as the song goes. We can add adios to that list. After ten months in charge, Juan Carlos Garrido has been given his marching orders by Club Brugge owner Bart Verhaeghe. The trigger was pulled once Michel Preud’homme stepped down from his role as Al-Shabab boss, after their Asian Champions League elimination at the hands of Reysol and comes just three days before the home game against Anderlecht.
Former Villarreal coach Garrido is the latest man in a long list of coaches who have tried and failed to bring the title back to the Jan Breydelstadion. Not since Trond Sollied in 2005 have Blauw-Zwart been the pick of the punch in Belgium and for all his faults, Club (and arguably KAA Gent) have struggled to replace his winning formula. Of the eight men who have followed the Norwegian, Christoph Daum is very much the one who got away and Carl Hoefkens was certainly in tune with popular opinion when he said he felt the controversial German would have made Blauw-Zwart champions. Five head coaches have left the club in the last two years. Never mind the Venice of the north, Club Brugge are more akin to the Charleroi of the north.
The curious aspect of this decision is that Garrido’s results have been pretty good. Last season, he took over following five successive defeats under Mack the Knife and lost just four games in 25 games, with Club Brugge peaking in the play-offs. They took 19 points from 30, more than anyone else and were right in title contention until a 5-2 thrashing away to Zulte Waregem that was precipitated by an Oscar Duarte red card. This year, Club Brugge are unbeaten in seven league matches having amassed seventeen points. They sit second, four points off a so far faultless Standard – hardly the circumstances in which the axe is normally wielded.
It would be very harsh were that the reason he had been fired but it’s not. The embarrassing elimination to Slask Wroclaw in the Europa League play-off round certainly served to push Garrido closer to the exit door. The club’s general manager Vincent Mannaert acknowledged that the Spaniard had enjoyed relative success last season but was unhappy with his side’s recent performances, telling Radio 1 that “Recently we were knocked out of Europe and we hoped to perform better in the league. Our points total was fine but we haven’t played well for an entire 90 minutes once this season.”
Ever since Garrido was appointed, there has been a feeling that like his compatriot Rafa Benitez, he too was the interim one. While many welcomed him due to their open dislike of Leekens, he soon confounded many with some of his tactical choices, most notably playing his best defender Ryan Donk in midfield, with mixed success. He was unpopular with his players, especially Eidur Gudjohnsen from whom he never got the best. Garrido demanded a lot of his players and placed a great deal of importance on physical fitness. Club’s expensively assembled and highly paid squad felt that they were being worked too hard.
In Garrido’s defence, he had to deal with the loss of Ryan Donk and Carlos Bacca, who have not been adequately replaced – Daum also was unhappy at the sale of Nabil Dirar to AS Monaco. He has also had to cope with various injuries to the likes of Vadis Odjidja, Jonathan Blondel and Victor Vázquez to name but three while Laurens De Bock has spent as much time suspended as he has on the field since his €3m+ move from Lokeren. Unfortunately, he had been on borrowed time for a while. With one day of the transfer window to go, the club told Eidur Gudjohnsen to pack his bags and look for a transfer. Gudjohnsen decided to dig his heels in and stay put, believing that he would outlast the coach who objected to his lack of fitness and frequent flights to and from his family in Barcelona. He was right.
Back in February, I said rather opportunistically that owner Bart Verhaeghe would be moving heaven and earth to bring Michel Preud’homme to the club. He is the best Belgian coach around, notwithstanding the recent hype surrounding Marc Wilmots. No coach can guarantee success but a chairman can minimise the chances of failure. Verhaeghe (and Mannaert) had lost any belief that Garrido could take them to the championship and from that point of view, it’s not difficult to see where they are coming from.
It is no secret that I am a fervent supporter of Preud’homme. He is quite simply my favourite Belgian football figure but that need not mean that objectivity goes out the window, along with Garrido. A quite magnificent goalkeeper in his day, he has a track record not just of success but in ending long droughts of failure. In 2008, he guided Standard Liège to their first title in 25 years with a wonderful side containing the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Steven Defour, Axel Witsel and the striking triumvirate of Mbokani, Jovanovic and De Camargo. He sensationally walked out to take over at KAA Gent, delivering second place, qualification for the Champions League qualifiers and their first major trophy in 26 years (the Belgian Cup).
More recently, he won the KNVB Beker with FC Twente and the Saudi championship with Al-Shabab, who were not the pre-season favourites. Though it had been a source of frustration of many of his admirers that he was living the easy life coaching at a standard equivalent to Belgium’s second tier and earning a princely sum, he also enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of football in Europe. It remains to be seen if he still has the same hunger after his time in the Middle East but now he will be closer to his family. What will be interesting to see is how he gets the most out of the forward-thinking players and whether he opts for two up front.
Another interesting angle to this appointment is that perhaps the allure of the Spanish coach has diminished somewhat. Although Spanish football remains fashionable, the influx of foreign coaches in recent times had provoked anger from Hugo Broos and the Belgian Managers’ Association, who felt that home-grown bosses weren’t being given enough chances at the very top clubs. While an insular attitude would be unfortunate and inadvisable, neither Victor Fernández (under pressure at Gent) nor Garrido have ever struck me as necessarily being superior to their Belgian counterparts, at least not in the context of the Pro League.
Returning to Club Brugge, they are only third favourites for the championship at best given their squad but it’s a long season of 40 games (30+10). In appointing such a renowned coach, they are giving themselves the best possible chance. There is considerable pressure on the shoulders of Preud’homme and if he fails to buck the trend, you wonder how long Verhaeghe would stick around. For the man who holds all the power at one of Belgian’s traditional big three, there is only one palatable outcome – the league title.
Do you think Preud’homme is the right choice or should they have stuck with Garrido? Let us know below. Comments are welcome in English, French, Dutch or even German.