Jupiler Pro League Previews: The Stragglers
With the end of July nearing, the start to the 13/14 season is getting closer for fans of Belgian football. This Friday, Club Brugge and Charleroi will open a season which will proceed in its rather unusual way. New member of Benefoot (we are delighted to announce) and Belgian football expert Chris Mayer of The Belgian Waffle will preview the season, starting with the teams he is expecting to fighting at the bottom.
The green and black half of Brugge left late to secure their Pro League status, first dispatching Beerschot in a relegation playoff before defeating the second tier playoff sides. With Lorenzo Staelens now at the helm permanently, Cercle finally have a manager capable of stopping the rot since the departure of Bob Peeters.
Staelens has gone over to the noisy neighbour to sign some unwanted players, namely Bart Buysse and Thibaut van Acker, both of whom are looking to kickstart their careers. However the coach has had to say goodbye to Rudy, who is bound for Deportivo. Much of the squad is the same as last year, but we shouldn’t expect a last gasp escape like last year. Look out for Sporting loanee Gael Etock, one of Cameroon’s brightest talents.
Last appearing in the top flight of Belgian football in 2005, De Kustboys romped to the second division title in the previous campaign, sealing the championship by ten points. Much of their success last season can be attributed to striker Laurent Depoitre and midfielder Yohan Brouckaert, both notching double figure goal tallies. Depoitre was bound for Zulte Waregem leaving them without an experienced marksmen, but the deal was cancelled due to it being part of a share acquisition between the two chairmen of the respective clubs.
Frederik Vanderbiest has made a few important signings, bringing in Cedric Berthelin and Tom Van Imschoot from Mons, and Frederic Brillant from the now defunct Beerschot. Although they hold varying degrees of Pro League experience, none are particularly well versed. They’ll enjoy the ride but will likely end up bottom of the pile.
Les Zèbres come into this campaign hoping to solidify their status in the Pro League. Felice Mazzu has been wheeling and dealing, bringing in a number of unknowns and lower league talent. Olivier Renard could be a useful backup to the often-erratic Parfait Mandanda (brother of Marseille’s Steve) between the sticks, while Greek right-back Stergos Marinos joins the club.
Charleroi’s season rests on David Pollet, the French striker who hit the ground when he joined in January to replace Hervé Kage. Keeping Giuseppe Rossini’s temper in check will also help. Could be dragged into the relegation fight if morale drops, but should be ok.
A quiet summer for the club managed by Belgian football legend Enzo Scifo, with little action in terms of ins and outs. Jeremy Perbet joins Villarreal permanently, but there’s mainly the same squad who finished 7th in the regular 2012/13 season. Herein lies the problem. Despite their lofty finish last year, Les Dragons lacked bite up front and continually leaked goals at the back.
Shlomi Arbeitman has joined for much needed firepower, but it doesn’t look like it will be enough. Scifo needs to weave his magic and quickly.
A frenetic off-season period for the Egyptian owned-club, who will be looking to write-off last year’s damp squib, narrowly avoiding a relegation playoff. That was mainly thanks to teams around them being that much poorer. The changes have been rung, with former Lierse keeper Stanley Menzo installed as coach. Much of the Egyptian influx have gone and enigmatic Mohamed El-Gabas has left too.
Menzo hasn’t taken long to make his mark, signing free agent Hernan Losada, ex-Spurs midfielder Hossam Ghaly and Belgian U21 international Jimmy de Jonghe on loan from Club Brugge. Yet there’s a lingering feeling that if these new players don’t gel quickly, they could be dragged into the mire. Like Beerschot, it feels like Losada or bust, and look what happened there. This could either go brilliantly or disasterously, I’m betting on the implosion.