JPL Week 9 Preview: Six months can be a long time
Six months ago, Enzo Scifo was being praised to the hilt for guiding Mons to the title of “best of the rest” after they finished the regular season in seventh spot. No mean feat with the smallest budget in the division and after losing arguably the most natural finisher in the Pro League in Jérémy Perbet in January. Now Scifo is out on his ear after a poor start to the season and he has been replaced by ex-Club Brugge coach Cedomir Janevski, who stepped down from his role with the Macedonian national team. Scifo is seen as a fall guy for others’ shortcomings but his contribution to the slump was deemed to be a lack of discipline. Speaking of which…
Few people, if anyone, doubt not only that Maxime Lestienne is a precocious talent, that he is the best player in the league right now, is the favourite for the Golden Shoe and will play many times for Belgium. That last objective is now a little longer off, however, as he was given a six-month ban for his recent severe breach of the disciplinary code. The player has publicly accepted the ban but one gets the impression Michel Preud’homme was saying what Lestienne could not when he criticised its length. That the ban in terms of games is three matches does not render it any less significant for the association have emphasised the temporal element in order to send out a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated. And what of this disciplinary code? What does it consist of?
Fortunately, we have the answer in this morning’s Het Laatste Nieuws with full credit going to Jeroen Bossaert for the scoop of the weekend. Without repeating it here in full, there are eleven articles in total and the code is signed by both u21 boss Johan Walem and Marc Wilmots. The players must be on time for meeting up, meals, theory sessions, the bus to and from training/the match, they must wear the appropriate gear complete with sponsors logo as set out in their contract and respect the rest periods set out by the physio. They must fulfil their media commitments and in those, refuse to speak about other players, transfers, rumours or news relating to their club and limit what they say to matters regarding themselves. They are not allowed mobile phones etc. in the massage room, around the dinner table or during the theory sessions and can only have them on the bus to listen to music. All players must be in their room by 2300 at night, room service is forbidden and no outsiders may enter the team hotel. Every breach is punished with a €100 fine with repeated offences leading to a punishment to be decided upon by the team hierarchy.
Lestienne will be hoping to put the whole affair behind him with another stellar performance against Mons later. Two new coaches taking charge of their first league games at opposite ends of the table. It will be particularly intriguing to see how much Preud’homme changes over the coming weeks. He’d be tempted not to after the 4-0 win over Anderlecht but he’s been hired for a very good reason.
The most enticing game of the round for me is the first – between Lokeren and Zulte Waregem. Koen Persoons has made reference to the progress both clubs have made in recent seasons, establishing themselves just behind the big four (or five). Back in May, Essevee came from two down to win at Daknam so Peter Maes’ men will be out for revenge. Francky Dury welcomes back Skúlason but Colpaert and Godeau are still out. Standard Liège coach Guy Luzon gave an impassioned defence of both his credentials and his rotation system on television last Monday night. William Vainqueur is due a recall tomorrow while Ciman, van Damme and Batshuayi should all be fit after some minor injuries. Cercle Brugge are in danger of repeating last season’s malaise if they don’t turn things around soon and ominously have failed to score in three of the last four. It looks bleak against the Pro League’s meanest defence.
John van den Brom is looking to repeat last season’s trick of rejigging his team in giving an extended run to the likes of Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans (now attracting interest from Spurs) in order to improve his side’s stodgy midfield. The enforced absence of Mitrovic is in some ways a blessing in disguise as it makes it easier for Anderlecht to play three in the middle. Lierse were convincing winners over Kortrijk last week with Tony Watt already making waves in Belgium but in their last three visits to the Constant Vanden Stock, they have shipped four, four and six. KAA Gent coach Victor Fernández has been given a stay of execution and will rightly expect a massively improved performance when they go to OH Leuven following on from last week’s shambles. Dejaegere joins Thijs and Zukanovic on the injured list. OHL are yet to beat De Buffalo’s in three meetings but will take encouragement from their gallant display in last week’s 4-2 defeat in Waregem. Marvin Ogunjimi is still missing due to illness but Mohamed Messoudi is playing again at OHL after an indifferent spell in Gent.
Racing Genk again dropped points they can ill afford to when they drew 0-0 in Beveren. Mboyo has not recovered as quickly as first thought and in an effort to support Jelle Vossen, Kim Ojo is in line to start. Benji De Ceulaer’s return is welcome news for Mario Been. Genk face a KV Mechelen team on a high after their pressure releasing win over Mons last week and Harm van Veldhoven, whose defence will be much stronger for the return of Sheldon Bateau, will be anxious to avoid the kind of hammering Anderlecht subject Malinwa to recently. KV Oostende are on an upwards curve but need to start getting the points on the board. Their clash with Charleroi promises to be entertaining as neither side like to hold back. Unsurprisingly, les Zèbres feel the key to any success is stopping Franck Berrier but in Danijel Milicevic and David Pollet to name but two, they have some good attacking players of their own. In the final game, goalshy Waasland-Beveren took a lot from last week’s draw with Genk and they travel to inconsistent Kortrijk. Hein Vanhaezebrouck will be keeping his fingers crossed that nothing happens to goalkeeper Darren Keet as his club have asked for a playing licence for 45-year-old Patrick Deman, who could follow Cédric Berthelin to be the second goalkeeping coach to take to the field this season.