Column: Genk sack Emilio Ferrera, Hamdi Harbyebye

After waking up this morning, my BeNeFoot colleague, editor Chris Mayer, remarked that “Genk don’t hang around”. Nothing remarkable in that, I thought, since they had responded to the 3-1 opening weekend defeat away to KV Mechelen by unveiling two new signings. It soon became clear as I was munching on my morning breakfast that Emilio Ferrera was toast.

We wrote in our season preview that Ferrera had a real opportunity due to the direction of travel the club were taking with their summer recruitment. However, it has to be said that the 47-year-old was already fortunate to have been kept on after showing little sign he was the man to turn Genk into genuine title contenders in the wake of the rather pathetic ending to Mario Been’s otherwise successful time in charge.

Emilio Ferrera has been sacked by Genk after just one game of the new season.

Emilio Ferrera has been sacked by Genk after just one game of the new season.

Genk looked to have shrugged off the news that wantaway captain Jelle Vossen had been left out of the squad with a supposed knee inury picked up in training.  However, the confidence that Khaleem Hyland’s confident finish should have imbibed in them gave away to a capitulation Achter De Kazerne. Mechelen responded superbly to going behind, launching wave after wave of attack and getting in behind a weak Genk defence. The young converted winger Ayub Masika was horribly exposed at rightback in Anele’s absence and Jeroen Simaeys is a good squad player but not a starter at one of the big five.

It wasn’t so much the result as the manner of defeat, which rankled with the club hierarchy, who faced criticism at last night’s press conference. Genk showed no drive and no resolve to try and stem the tide of Mechelen dominance with the likes of debutant Sofiane Hanni and Glenn Claes having a field day in a performance that has earmarked KVM as a team to keep an eye on. Not only was the turnaround swift in that all three Mechelen goals came before the break but the second period saw the hosts see the game out with little trouble. It’s a response to be expected at the end of a hard season with little to play for but not on the opening weekend when hope and optimism should spring eternal. Genk chairman Herbert Houben’s expression in the stands spoke for the club’s many thousands of supporters.

Two new midfielders in Okri and Hervé Kage should add some much-needed creativity to the squad and a new centreback is needed but in truth the problems run much deeper. Ferrera has had a nomadic managerial career and little more than the occasional notable success without any sustained body of work to suggest he could build upon what has been a fruitful fifteen years in Limburg. However, there has to be a degree of sympathy shown to someone whose contract was extended recently and whom the board appear to have panicked over. There is no recent precedent although for sacking a manager after one game, though the likes of Ferrera himself (Beveren), Johan Boskamp (Standard) and Willy Reynders (Lokeren) have all had to pack their bags early season and as HBvL point out, Philippe Saint-Jean resigned from Mons after one game, officially due to health problems.  By all accounts, Ferrera was still in post when the two new signings were unveiled last night and it was only subsequently later in the evening that the trigger was pulled. With the worst defence in the league since Ferrera took over, it’s the right decision taken at the wrong time but that said, it’s better coming now than later after more damage has been done. Whoever comes in has a sizeable task on their hands and the Genk board will need to show more patience than they did with Ferrera.

Lokeren manager Peter Maes will now be linked with Genk but Sporting will be loathed to let him go.

Lokeren manager Peter Maes will now be linked with Genk but Sporting will be loathed to let him go.

The leading candidate to replace Ferrera is Lokeren manager Peter Maes who is an outstanding coach and has consistently enabled Lokeren to punch above their weight, compete with the big boys and win silverware in the process. However, as with their star players, the price to be paid is high in order to pluck Lokeren’s crown jewels away. Speaking of which, Hamdi Harbaoui has effectively retired by moving to Qatar Sports Club for a fee reported to be around €2.5m. While I wrote after the Supercup that Lokeren fans will rightly have fond memories of the man who was both consistent and who scored the winner in the 2012 Cup final, there will be a certain amount of derision at his new destination. Still, Harbaoui is a player who worked his way up the leagues in Belgium before becoming last season’s top scorer so playing in Qatar will bring him back to his days in the third tier with Visé albeit with much greater remuneration. And he’ll be able to catch up with Imoh Ezekiel who is set to play his last game for Standard Liège tomorrow.

Hans Vanaken remains a prime target for Club Brugge and the player himself admitted that the transfer speculation is getting to him. He was singled out for praise at the weekend after Lokeren’s surprise 1-0 defeat at Westerlo with Maes saying the result would have been different had the others given the same level of application and performance. Belgian clubs will always be vulnerable to big-money bids for players and managers but it is regrettable to see talent being lost to what is the equivalent at best of the Proximus League and at worst, provincial football.

There’s more European football this week and transfer speculation is in full swing as the top clubs look to make the best of a difficult situation before the transfer window shuts. Contrary to the image Belgium itself is often unfairly saddled with, Belgian football is seldom boring!

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