Saturday, July 28, 2012

May be Belgium should be placed next – hardly the most entertaining championship, but at least the top clubs were sensational. Anderlecht and FC Brugge made waives in Europe and clearly were there to stay. The rest of the Belgian league was not that good, but competitive enough. High scoring was the norm – only one club finished with less than a goal per game average: the 16th placed Charleroi. Looks like attacking – total football – was the norm, but another look at the final table tells different. Only the top four clubs finished the season with less than 10 ties. On the opposite side were KV Mechelen and AS Oostende with 20 ties in 34 championship matches. Both took the bottom 17th and 18th spots and were relegated, but so many ties in the league hardly suggest total football – after all, total football was about winning, not sharing points. But it was all about winning at the top of the league – a duel between Anderlecht and FC Brugge, somewhat closely followed by recovering Standard (Liege), and stable form of RWD Molenbbek and KSC Lokeren. At the end FC Brugge grabbed the title 4 points ahead of Anderlecht. FC Brugge really established themselves as regular favourites and doing better and better. The champions had the second best attack and the most solid defense in the league. They won 23 matches out of 34 games. And it was not all this season – they made a double, winning the Cup as well.

Anderlecht got nothing. Second-placed at the championship, they hoped at least for the Cup, fought for it, but lost the final 3-4. Francois van der Elst was the best scorer of the championship with 21 goals, but it was nothing really for a club used to victories.
Second best was a disappointment for Anderlecht, having one of their best ever squads. Raymong Goethals, the great Begian coach was at the helm this year and he had excellent squad – 5 Dutch players (Ruiter, Haan, Resel, Rensenbrink, and van Poucke), one English player of good standing, Duncan McKenzie, and whole bunch of Belgian national players – Broos, van Binst, Coeck, van den Daele, Vercauteren, van der Elst. Jacques Munaron also will play for the national team, but for now he was just a reserve. It was a squad meant to win not only at home, building a momentum, and aiming to stay among the best in Europe, but the competition at home proved tough. Yet, as far as performance was concerned, only McKenzie failed expectations and departed back to England. On the other hand, Haan and Rensenbrink were still among the best players in the world.

Anderlecht was solid, but FC Brugge having the edge. They won their 4th title, repeated the success of the previous year, and bested themselves with a double: their very first ever. 1976-77 was the strongest season in the whole history of the club to date. FC Brugge firmly established themselves as the second (so far) best Belgian club, not an accident at all.

Top from left: Roger Davies, Stephane De Taeye, Raoul Lambert, Daniel De Cubber, Georges Leekens, Leen Barth, Paul Courant, Ulrik Le Fèvre, René Vandereycken, Eddie Krieger, Birger Jensen, Mathieu Bollen (assistent-coach) en Ernst Happel (coach).
Sitting: Bernard Verheecke, Gino Maes, Dirk Hinderyckx, Jos Volders, Julien Cools, Fons Bastijns, Dirk Sanders, Norbert De Naeghel.

The squad appeared to be just a notch bellow Anderlecht: one less foreigner than the rivals – 2 Danes (Le Febre and Jensen), one Austrian (Krieger), one Dutch (Barth), and the former Derby County striker Roger Davies. Somewhat weaker foreign line than Anderlecht's: Le Febre was getting old; Leendert Barth was not really first-team material, his highest moment already few years back, when he was Under-21 national team goallie for Holland. The Englishman Davies perhaps played better than his counterpart in Anderlecht, but he did not last in Belgium longer than McKenzie. The foreign bunch was complemented by Belgians of high standing: Vandereycken, Volders, Cools, Bastijns, Lambert. The top player was Raoul Lambert, but as whole FC Brugge had no world-class superstar, and looked a notch weaker than Anderlecht. May be the difference was the coach, Ernst Happel. Yes, it was a battle of the coaches – Goethals vs Happel, and seemingly the old fox was outsmarted by the Austrian. May be that was really – Goethals was already a veteran, nearing the end of his coaching days, when Happel was at his prime, already successful, but still eager for more. His bellbottoms look weird today, but Happel still had to climb higher peaks with them.