JPL Preview: Club Brugge – Michel’s magic touch
Nine years have now passed since Club Brugge’s last title win under the maverick Norwegian boss Trond Sollied. As coincidence would have it, Michel Preud’homme is the ninth permanent manager tasked with bringing league glory back to the Jan Breydelstadion. The perennial bridesmaid, they have finished seven times in the top three since then. Christoph Daum took the title to the last day in 2012 only to see Anderlecht clinch it in front of their own fans while there remains more than a mere aftertaste of regret at how the championship slipped through their fingers last spring.
The close season has seen the departure gate much more crowded than arrivals. Eiður Guðjohnsen’s class will be missed while Meme Tchité’s lack of application will not. Enock Adu looked to have much more to contribute but he has been moved on while Mushaga Bakenga is loaned out again in an effort to see him finally fulfil his potential before being thrust into a leading role at Club.
Preud’homme was keen to add experience to the ranks in order to see a growing contingent of youngsters through the season. The move for Zulte Waregem captain Davy de fauw came as a shock to Essevee boss Francky Dury but the 33-year-old can play across the back line, impart his leadership in the dressing room and mentor Thomas Meunier whose Eric Gerets-like conversion to rightback has been a roaring success to date. The other major newcomer is a player who too has been around the block a few times in ex-Bordeaux midfielder Fernando Menegazzo whom the manager knows from their time together at Al-Shabab.
Given the frantic nature of Club’s transfer activity in recent seasons as they attempted to wrestle the title away from Anderlecht, Genk and Standard, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed. Things are on hold for the moment, however, until the futures of midfielder Vadis Odjidja and winger Maxime Lestienne are resolved. Preud’homme doesn’t believe he can count on having them for the campaign ahead. Vadis took a long time to rediscover his form after his failed move to Everton, which undoubtedly dissuaded potential suitors from making a move. Lestienne faded towards the end of last season having begun it as our favourite to win the Gouden Schoen/Soulier d’Or (he lost out to Thorgan Hazard). He remains an exceptionally gifted player though – tricky, fast and with an eye for goal but Club Brugge’s insistence on receiving a top dollar fee may have to be weakened before the ex-Mouscron man takes on a new challenge.
Despite Lestienne’s undoubted class, Blauw-Zwart are well-covered on the flanks. Waldemar Sobota is a winger who can beat his man on both sides and chip in with his fair share of goals, Lior Refaelov on his day is as good as anyone in the league even if the long and arduous fixture list usually gets the better of him at some point and Nikola Storm is being hotly tipped to breakthrough. He gave a taste of things to come in the recent glamour friendly with Bordeaux and promises to wreak havoc when given the chance.
There is a plethora of experience in the midfield to cover the departure of Vadis. Timmy Simons quickly put his World Cup rejection behind him and took it with class, not running complaining to the newspapers like a certain other midfielder who was shunned. He played the most minutes of any outfield player last season and while it may be his last, doesn’t look set to simply make up the numbers at 37. Unfortunately, Jonathan Blondel has had to go under the knife yet again and there are real fears for his future as a player whilst the mercurial Victor Vázquez is injury prone. Perhaps fan-favourite Shangyuan Wang can be the joker in the pack with his vibrancy and penchant for a long shot or two. It’s no secret that Club have coveted Lokeren star Hans Vanaken who would add the requisite star quality and while publicly he’s not for sale, as we have intimated above, the real fun and games are yet to begin in the transfer market.
If Club Brugge are to ultimately fall short for another season, it will be due to the fact they do not have a clinical striker in the shape of a Mitrovic or a Harbaoui. Tom De Sutter was last season’s leading scorer with just twelve and the man sometimes pejoratively nicknamed Sputterke will miss the start of the campaign, leaving a hole up front. Nicolas Castillo has had a slow start to his Club career but the consensus is that he will not then make great strides as Carlos Bacca did. Nevertheless, the Chilean will start the season and an early goal or two will do wonders for his fragile confidence. The young Latvian Valerijs Sabala is highly thought of in his homeland but Preud’homme is not yet ready to throw him into the firing line.
Maty Ryan returns from a bittersweet World Cup looking to build on a superb first season and he can only get better under the tutelage of one of Belgium’s greatest ever goalkeepers while Oscar Duarte, his red card notwithstanding, did his reputation the world of good in Costa Rica’s fairytale run to the last eight. The latter is still recovering from that campaign in Brazil so Brandon Mechele and Bjorn Engels can continue their development at the heart of the defence, while Laurens De Bock is now showing why Club forked out €3.5m. With a new stadium shamefully not on the horizon, Club fans go into this season hoping that now that Preud’homme has his feet under the table, he can replicate his success of ending Standard’s long drought. If the title is to return to Brugge, Michel’s magic touch will be required.