Harm Van Veldhoven’s time at KV Mechelen is up, but no one can be surprised
That Harm van Veldhoven’s tumultuous time in charge of KV Mechelen has come to an end will be no shock to fans of Belgian football.
Teams often see the winter break as the perfect opportunity to not only adjust the playing staff of the squad but also make necessary decisions concerning the management side – and after seeing Mechelen go down 3-0 to Lierse on Boxing Day, the board considered change was necessary. He was sacked on 30 December 2013.
It comes after a run of just one win in the last 10 matches for Mechelen, and while the win showcased what the team can do when things are right, the defeats were too often and showed that they can’t perform consistently to a high level. Pity, really, because before the start of last season Mechelen were mentioned in the same breath as Lokeren and Kortrijk as contenders for sixth place in the league but a steady decline means that come January 2014, the team are now one of several teams genuinely concerned for their top flight safety.
Last season they finished a disappointing eighth, and with Gent slipping up due to their own managerial failings, it opened the door for another team to get into the top six. While unlikely lads Zulte Waregem profited and amazingly pushed Anderlecht all the way in an unexpected title race, Mechelen and Kortrijk just couldn’t make themselves relevant. Gent have changed manager multiple times over the last 18 months with Mircea Rednic steadying their ship to some extent, van Veldhoven has only just been thrown over board after a mutiny on the deck. So Mechelen may still be some way off finding the perfect balance.
The damning part is that Mechelen have gone from a potential top six team to looking like candidates for relegation in such a short space of time; yet no one seems too surprised and worst of all no one seems to overly care. While it’s argued that there isn’t such a thing as a ‘big five’ in Belgium – Anderlecht, Standard, Club Brugge, Genk and Gent (and instead it’s very much Anderlecht and Standard as a big two and then the rest some way behind them) – there are still six places available in Playoffs 1 at the end of the season and until recently Mechelen had a very real chance of asserting themselves as one of those top teams. Unfortunately for them and their fans they have had to watch a smaller team than them in Zulte Waregem perform above expectations with a smaller budget. Essevee have tugged at the heart strings of all neutral fans as they defy expectations and mix it up with the big boys and no one seems all that bothered that Mechelen have faded into obscurity and are nearing relegation. Mechelen fans will look at the strong guiding hand of Francky Dury at Essevee and wonder why he couldn’t be their coach.
It’s not all blame that can be laid at the feet of van Veldhoven. The players have under performed too but it’s a lot cheaper to axe one manager than a raft of players. Perhaps one of the most culpable is Danish striker Mads Junker, who arrived at the start of last season and despite flashes of brilliance, much like the performances of his team they have been conspicuous by their absence. In what transpired to be van Veldhoven’s penultimate game, Mechelen ran riot against a Kortrijk side – who must be nursing similar thoughts about their manager Hein Vanhaezebrouck- and there Junker’s quality was in full flow. The intricate ball through to a running player that can, with one stroke, render an entire defensive line useless was evident in abundance and the whole team benefited from defence splitting balls and profligate defending from their opponents as Mechelen won 5-2.
But the underlying problem was brought home just days later as instead of capitalising on their win, using it as a foundation stone upon which to build on, they surrendered meekly to Lierse in the aforementioned 3-0 defeat. Sure, Benjamin Mokulu ‘s move from Lokeren has not materialised as many would have hoped or expected, with the Belgian striker of Congolese descent scoring just three in 20. Most would have expected more goals from him given his undeniable quality but they just haven’t been in the offing. The fact that in January, Mechelen’s top scorers are Destrome and midfielder De Witte with five each is testament to how Mechelen just aren’t finding the goals. However, the fact remains the whole team aren’t performing adequately so either all the players are substandard or the basic fundamentals are incorrect. When that’s the case then the buck can only stop with the coach.
This isn’t a sudden change or a knee jerk reaction – Mechelen have consistently declined under the reign of van Veldhoven and though 18 months may not be a huge amount of time to a football manager it’s reaching the upper limits of what can be expected today. It isn’t a decision made after ten games, van Veldhoven has had ample time to push his desires onto the team but they just aren’t working. No one likes to see a manager lose his job and van Veldhoven has always seemed amiable enough he just wasn’t getting the results and at this level there is really only one thing that matters: winning. This is professional sport and at the end of it van Veldhoven’s winning record just wasn’t in line with what the club expected. He came into a team that weren’t capable of mixing it with the big boys, but then that was never supposed to be the plan. Instead the expectations were that the club should be able to challenge the top six but the team still failed in that aim and when you look at it that way it’s easy to see why Mechelen are now in the hunt for a new manager.
*feature image from kv.tv