Jupiler Pro League Previews: The Also Rans and Hopefuls
The start to the 13/14 season is just one day away for fans of Belgian football, as Club Brugge and Charleroi will kick things off this Friday. The newest member of Benefoot, Chris Mayer of The Belgian Waffle, continues his season preview, with a look at the teams who might just sneak into Playoffs 1.
Last year’s surprise runners-up couldn’t have envisaged a tougher off-season. Coach Franky Dury has had to come to terms with the departure of energetic enforcer Junior Malanda, who broke his contract with the club to force through a big move. This was possible through Law 78, a gentleman’s agreement which allows the player to unilaterally break his contract if he moves abroad. Needless to say, the Jupiler Pro League are angry at the frequency of its use this summer.
Couple that with the infighting between Franck Berrier (still at Essevee but close to the exit door) and Mbaye Leye, and the coach has a difficult task to keep the squad morale high.
Fortunately, a second year loan for Thorgan Hazard, their brightest star last year, could be a welcome pick-me-up, especially as they pipped Anderlecht and Genk to the signature. Losing the unsung hero Jonathan Delaplace, who spent most of the campaign mopping up in midfield, could be hugely detrimental though. The potential distraction of Champions League football could prove pivotal in deciding how their season goes, although they’d have to perform miracles to get into the group stage with a tricky tie against PSV Eindhoven lying in wait. Dury has all the nous to make the top 6, but to repeat the heroics is a big ask.
Prediction – 7th
Last season sixth-placers could well replicate their performance this campaign, under the tutelage of Peter Maes. The coach is the strength of this team and he is consistently able to get the best out of some average players. His signings this summer have been astute, bringing in right-back Denis Odoi and Jordan Remacle from Gent, both of whom will have something to prove after failing to make the grade at bigger clubs.
The dampner on things is the departure of Benjamin Mokulu to Mechelen, who combined so well with Hamdi Harbaoui in the latter half of last year. Encouragingly for Lokeren, Ayanda Patosi is back in training after a long layoff and could prove to be the spark the side needs. Big things are expected from Dutra, a gifted Brazilian midfielder who joined from Kashima Antlers, and should be settled in the country.
Of all the clubs in Belgium’s top flight, Waasland-Beveren have been by far the busiest, welcoming 17 new players (and counting) and saying goodbye to nearly as many. This huge turnover could see some early unrest at Freethiel if Glen De Boeck’s side fail to gel quickly. But amongst the bunch are some dab hands. ‘Big Serb’ Dalibor Veselinovic can always be relied upon to bundle in goals, Milos Maric has a eagle eye from long range dead-ball scenarios, while Ivan Trickovski and Rami Gershon can often be a handful.
I fancy them to be a surprise package, just falling shy of Playoffs 1, so naturally they will finish much lower and in crisis. I’m just hoping the league’s sole English representative, Jonny Rowell can force his way into the team.
The Guldensporenstadion was a fortress last season, with Kortrijk holding an impressive defensive record. Much of this was down to the steady defence and the gloves of South African Darren Keet. Serbian Stefan Mitrovic however has gone on to bigger things, being picked up by Benfica, which could leave a gaping hole.
Goals were KVK’s main problem in 2012/13 and things don’t look too much better this time round. Argentine Pablo Chavarria, who was on loan from Anderlecht, has gone to Lens while Ernest Nfor left in rather bizarre circumstances. The striker was sacked after threatening CEO Patrick Turcq that he’d kill his family. Nfor was barred from training after trying to force through a move abroad.
Hein Van Haezebrouck has brought in Teddy Chevalier and Ivan Santini to solve the lack of goals, but will it be enough? The coach’s best deal looks to be the loan signing of Benito Raman from Gent, who showed brief glimpses of quality in Beerschot’s dying days.
KV Mechelen’s owners must be hoping the club doesn’t go into another season sleepwalking. Last year Harm van Veldhoven’s side were the very definition of average, slumping to shock defeats directly after good wins. The departures of Pedersen (to Gent) and Henkens (to Waasland-Beveren) may be felt, but Benjamin Mokulu has all the assets to do well for the club. The addition of Viktor Prodell from Atvidabergs FF adds firepower as well. The board demand Playoffs 1, but there’s a sneaking suspicion that this team will fall short, unless the coach finds the magic touch and signs others.
OHL were out of the traps quickly last season, thanks to Ibou’s strikes, before fading just as fast. They got their act together in Playoffs 2, when most were already on the beach, showing some promise for this campaign.
Ronny Van Geneugden’s signings this summer are a mixed bag. Mohamed Messoudi wasn’t needed at Gent and is a proven midfielder at this level. Marvin Ogunjimi is looking to get over his annus horribilis at Mallorca, Standard and Beerschot, failing to find his feet at any of them. The former international’s thyroid problem means he is a bit of a gamble but one that OH Leuven might reap the ultimate rewards from if he gets his confidence back. Tom Petterson and Muhamed Subasic (Dynamo Dresden) are relative unknowns too.
Their goal should always be to stay in the top flight. If their start isn’t as good as last year, they could be looking downwards
Stay tuned tomorrow for a piece on the title contenders: Anderlecht, Gent, Standard, Club Brugge and Genk.