venerdì 10 dicembre 2010

Belgian giants Club Brugge slipping further behind

An alarm is sounding at Belgian giants Club Brugge. Dressing room bust-ups, supporters in a state of revolt, suspensions aplenty through a real lack of discipline and a disappointing mid-table spot, 13 points from the top of the league table at the time of writing. These are worrying times for one of Belgium’s biggest clubs.

Since 2006, the Flemish side have been on the slide, and the current campaign is acting as the nadir of their fall. Last Sunday, against St. Truiden, Club Brugge suffered their seventh loss in 17 Jupiler Pro League games. Just one week before, they had been subjected to the ignominy of losing to local rivals Cercle Brugge, a club whose budget is less than half their more illustrious rivals. Coached by Dutchman Adrie Koster, Club Brugge find themselves eighth, two spots from the end of season playoff zone. The Belgians have also bid farewell to the Europa League, managing not a single win from their five group games so far.

American author Mark Twain once said that “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth for Club Brugge coach Koster – numbers do not lie about the Dutchman. Since Norwegian coach Trond Sollied left the Jan Breydel Stadium in 2005, Koster has been the club’s worst performing boss. Since the start of 2010, Koster’s side have lost 13 league games out of 36 played, conceding 49 goals in the process. Results like these put the 13 time Belgian league champions closer to mid-table clubs like Kortrijk and local rivals Cercle Brugge than title challengers and traditional foes Anderlecht – the Brussels club only lost three times last season. Koster’s percentage of defeats stands higher than all his predecessors since 2005: Jan Ceulemans, Emilio Ferrera and Jacky Mathijsen – caretaker coach Cedomir Janevski is not included in the statistics, despite winning the Belgian Cup in his 20 games in charge, the only silverware won by the blauw-zwart in the past five years.

Koster however, is the president Pol Jonckheere’s – an architect who became Club Brugge’s owner in 2009 – own man. Jonckheere is steeped in blauw-zwart history, having worked with the side since 1986, when he acted as the club’s consultant during transfer talks with AC Milan over the sale of striker Jean Pierre-Papin. The ambitious Jonckheere, who has increased Club Brugge’s budget to €22M, explained he chose Koster as head coach “because it’s a fact that the history of our club has been made by foreign coaches. Think about Henk Houwaart, Georg Kessler, Ernst Happel and Trond Sollied.”

Last season though, after a good start, Koster’s men slowly lost contact with the top of the table. While the Belgian side entered the end of season playoff for the title by virtue of finishing second – the tournament containing the top six league finishers – they were a sizeable 12 points behind Anderlecht; during the playoffs, Koster saw his men end up third, losing out to Michel Preud’Homme’s Gent for a Champions League preliminary round spot.

Tactically speaking, Koster has at least proven himself to be a flexible coach, switching between a 4-3-3 system to a 4-4-2 and often even deploying a 4-2-3-1. However, for all his tactical nous, the feeling thus far is that the Dutchman has been unable to manage the high expectations both inside and outside the club.

Koster has been accused of being too “nice” to his team and failing to enforce sufficient discipline on a squad full of young and talented players who have often hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Several Club Brugge stars have exhibited a poor mentality and a lack of self-discipline. Midfielder Nabil Dirar often shows up late for training – and has been sent to train with the youth team; 21-year-old Croat Ivan Perisic was caught in a disco the night before a match; Defender Ryan Donk and other players were seen in a casino playing until dawn; and Cameroonian striker Dorge Kouemaha launched a critical attack on coach Koster in a national newspaper – De Standaard. All were fined.

These tensions within the side often explode on the pitch with a somewhat violent approach to the game. In 17 Jupiler Pro League matches, referees have handed Club Brugge’s players no less than 35 yellow cards and six red cards. Defensive midfielders Jonathan Blondel and Vadis Ojidja-Ofoe – a talented 21-year-old graduate of Anderlecht’s youth academy – are the most culpable.

“Young players must always be handled with care”, said 39-year-old goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger, one of the few veterans in the team. “They have talent, but they miss continuity, a key element to create a competitive team. We must work towards it. Our youngsters must understand that in every game they have to produce a 6 out of 10 and not an 8 out of 10 one week and a 4 out of 10 the next.”

One of the few bright spots in Club Brugge’s season so far is Venezuelan forward Ronald Vargas, the side’s current top scorer with 12 goals to his name. Vargas, a futsal player until the age of 14, arrived at Brugge in 2008 from FC Caracas, and after a disappointing first season finding his feet in the Belgian game has truly shown his value this year.

Last season Vargas still managed to end the campaign as the blauw-zwart’s top assist provider, and this year has displayed remarkable versatility, playing as a central striker or second forward, even roaming across the frontline, and continuing to produce the goods. The forward’s contract expires in 2012 and the signs are that Vargas will soon fly the Belgian league nest. However, in the meantime, Koster and Club Brugge would be well advised to build around the 24-year-old and hope he can help push their blauw-zwart train back on the tracks.

Fonte: Inside Futbol

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