Jupiler Pro League Transfer Window Review: Part 1 – Anderlecht and Standard Liège
The transfer window has shut for another five months after a hectic month of activity. Underachieving sides and those who have experienced instability this season see January as a last opportunity to salvage their seasons while the surprise packages look to hold what they have. In the first part, I look at Anderlecht and Standard.
We start with the champions and current league leaders, who have managed to keep the likes of Dieumerci Mbokani and Cheikhou Kouyaté for another few months until they are sold on in the summer. Lucas Biglia ran off home to Argentina where seemingly all telephone connections to Europe were down and complaining of migraines. No club was willing to pay the €10.85m asking price, of which €8m was to go to Anderlecht directly but sporting director Herman van Holsbeeck hinted that there could be some leeway should Anderlecht add to their trophy cabinet this spring. The club did manage to let go of a whole host of fringe players such as Guillermo Molins (Betis) who was unable to establish himself following a long-term knee injury, Reynaldo (Karabakh), who failed to take his “last” chance and went east to Azerbaijan and Nathan Kabasele (Torino), a young, talented but deeply frustrating striker. Matias Suarez passed his latest interim set of medical tests as he nears full fitness but seems ever more reluctant to join CSKA Moscow.
The real excitement has surrounded those coming in. A familiar face was welcomed back in Anthony Vanden Borre for whom the sky was once the limit. After a miserable five years since leaving the club, he returns to train with the reserves but has not been handed a contract. John van den Brom’s growing influence was clear with the move for Heracles forward Samuel Armenteros being brought forward ; the Swede is fast, tricky, versatile and has an eye for goal – suffice to say he looks a real coup for les Mauves et Blancs. Demy De Zeeuw has joined on loan after being out of favour at Spartak to bolster the midfield and while currently ring-rusty, he is capable of being an outstanding player. Andy Najar is a promising Honduran attacking midfielder, who can play at right-back and whom Anderlecht have been chasing for a long time.
In many ways though, as alluded to above, this is the calm before the storm with Anderlecht facing vultures around some of their most prized assets. The club have looked to act now to at least partially insulate themselves from the impact of key summer departures. And let’s not forget Ronald Vargas and Cyriac are yet to break through. It sure beats turning to the likes of Bulykin and Veselinovic!
Rarely is it an oasis of calm on the banks of the Meuse and this latest transfer window was no different for les Rouches. Owner and chairman Roland Duchâtelet came in for yet more sustained criticism over the direction of travel the club has taken under his stewardship with yet more calls from passionate supporters that the club has not just lost its soul but sold its soul to commercialism. To add to this already potent cocktail of opposing viewpoints, there appears to have been something of a power-struggle between coach Mircea Rednic and his superiors. It’s against this backdrop that we can split the window into two distinct phases.
Last summer, the squad had been reshaped in order to meet the needs of Ron Jans’ 4-3-3 system. When the likeable Dutchman was shown the door, Rednic returned to the fans’ favoured 4-4-2 and like any new coach, the Romanian had his own preferences. However, Duchâtelet (and De Sart) were the prime movers – Reza finally joined from Duchâtelet’s old club Sint-Truiden while Japanese duo Kensuke Nagai (a striker) and Yuji Ono (a winger) joined. Many cynics felt this was a blatant ploy to allow the club to eventually profit from the lucrative Japanese (television) market – though in my view it is only a valid criticism if the players brought in are substandard. Over the border in Germany, they may have a different view. Perhaps it’s the timing more than anything, which stuck in the craw of many supporters, coming after club stalwarts Réginal Goreux and Sébastien Pocognoli were ushered out the door. Rumours of the likes of Laurent Ciman and even Jelle van Damme leaving spread like wildfire. I agree with Wenger when he says we must look past a player’s passport but equally a proud club like Standard must also retain its identity going forward – there is a balance to be struck.
Rednic was unhappy that he was not getting the kind of squad he wanted and even hinted that he may walk away from the club, prompting a flurry of activity in the last days of the window. Mindful of the mistake the club made in letting Remi Gershon go on loan to Celtic, the club decided to grant their coach’s wish. He turned to some old acquiantances, bringing in attacking midfielder Adrian Cristea, left-footed defender Zié Diabaté and target man George Tucudean, all whom he knows from his time in Romania. Young right-back Loïc Négo was loaned from AS Roma to provide competition for Daniel Opare.
Earlier in the month we witnessed the controversial move of Ezekiel Fryers to Tottenham, which on the face of it was a surprise but not when you consider the two men at the top of both clubs. Marvin Ogunjimi was forced to admit defeat after an injury-hit spell and he went north to Beerschot while the likes of Dudu Biton (APOEL), Yohan Tavares (Estoril) and Nacho Gonzalez (Hercules) left the club. Many fans may be uneasy with the unknown nature of many of the newcomers, however, Rednic has turned the club’s results around and deserved the chance to bring in a number of his own targets. If enough of them hit the ground running, the popular ex-Standard defender will be putting down some roots in Liège once more.