The State of Belgian Club Football
May 21, 2019
Jupiler Pro League
Most Championships: Anderlecht, 34
Last 5 Winners: Genk (18/19), Club Brugge (17/18, 15/16), Anderlecht (16/17), Gent (14/15)
UEFA Ranking: 8th
Highest Ranked Club: Anderlecht, 33rd
Since the EL was rebranded, a Belgian side has made the last 16 seven times. How have the last years been viewed by the Belgium football fan in this regard? Par for the course? Successful? Or disappointing?
Especially the 2016-17 campaign will be still remembered. With Anderlecht causing Manchester United difficulties in the quarter finals, Genk upsetting Tottenham at Wembley. Genk and Gent playing against each other in the round of 16. That campaign was a huge satisfaction, but for the rest fans have stayed indifferent. Only when big and well known teams are involved, we tend to get excited.
We have been doing okay, with a few highlights that specific fans will never forget. Like Mourinho praising the Anderlecht fans at Old Trafford. And Gent’s celebrations at Wembley.
In that time five different clubs have made the last 16 too. Despite the fact a Belgian side has never made the last four of the EL, does that show that there is a lot of strength in depth across the league?
Belgians are quite realistic. Ajax’s recent performances in Europe sometimes make us dream, but we know that our league isn’t among the top in Europe. We like that underdog role, so nobody expects us to do well.
The quality gap between our top-6 teams isn’t that big. So you could call that depth. But it also means we have no dominant teams with players who can make the difference in the big European ties, like Ajax do nowadays. We don’t have that amount of talent. Getting in to the second round is mostly the target. All later stages are a bonus.
Do most of the country get behind the Belgian sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?
Well, there’s the tribalism. Anderlecht fans will never cheer for Club Brugge or Standard – and the other way round. Same goes for AA Gent and Club Brugge, Genk and Standard, Antwerp and Club Brugge and Anderlecht. Neutrals hope them to do well for the coefficient though – but that’s it.
How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Belgian EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Belgium?
There hasn’t been a lot of reaction to be fair. Our league has been redeveloped a few times, with play-offs and so. We will just see what happens. It hasn’t been a real item.
What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?
Call me old-fashioned, but I always liked unseeded competitions. Even if the playing field is not even, I always enjoyed play-off battles between a minor team and a European top club. Like Liverpool – Standard in 2008. But that’s utopia nowadays.
It’s like with the tech giants and the high street shopping streets. All are dominated by a few brands who take all the money and become stronger and stronger, bigger and bigger. But what fans of a closed competition forget: the joy of the once in a lifetime meeting between a small club and a top club.
That experience Gent fans had at Wembley, Anderlecht fans at Old Trafford – money can’t buy that.
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.