Waiting Genk crowned in Belgium
As in the Netherlands, fans were left biting their nails until the last day of action for the 2010/11 Belgian champions to be crowned. Standard Liege made a dramatic tilt for the title in the end-of-season play-offs, but ultimately it was Racing Genk who finished on top, the celebrations surrounding their third league triumph contrasting with disappointment for outgoing champions Anderlecht. FIFA.com looks back over a fascinating campaign in the Jupiler League.
After nine years in the wilderness, Genk ended their wait thanks to a late equaliser in their final outing of the season to secure a 1-1 draw with closest rivals Standard. That result proved sufficient enough to keep them on top of the pile by merely half a point, the club’s various tallies having been divided in half at the start of the play-off process. In what was a nail-biting title decider, 19-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois emerged a hero for his three crucial saves in the closing stages.
Coach Franky Vercauteren has taken many of the plaudits too for turning around a side languishing in the bottom half of the table when he joined in December 2009. Having already steered Anderlecht to championship glory, he brought the best out of his young and gifted squad, with forwards Jelle Vossen and Marvin Ogunjimi leaving a particularly strong impression. Genk hauled themselves up into the top two places for the entire campaign and did not falter in their ultimate test, with Kennedy Nwanganga powering in a header to secure the club’s third crown to add to their previous wins in 1999 and 2002.
Eight points shy of Genk in sixth as the play-off series began, Standard looked set to complete a remarkable triumph heading into the final 15 minutes of the season. Significantly short of their best over the first 30 games, the 2008 and 2009 champions settled into a rhythm when it mattered most, collecting 26 points from the 30 available during the play-offs. Winter recruits Jelle Van Damme and Meme Tchite gave Dominique D’Onofrio’s side a telling boost, but Laszlo Boloni’s replacement in the Standard dugout was also aided by Club Brugge’s shaky form, not to mention Anderlecht’s struggles after Mbark Boussoufa left for Russia in the spring. Indeed, with Romelu Lukaku in less explosive shape than last season, the Brussels giants could not even console themselves with a berth in UEFA Champions League qualifying. The UEFA Europa League awaits instead.
Also of note
Runners-up last term, AA Gent found the going tough after coach Michel Preud’homme was snapped up by FC Twente last summer. The club’s new signings had trouble settling and disappointment ensued when they ended the campaign outside the European places. In contrast, there was much to admire from former KV Mechelen manager Peter Maes’s Lokeren, as well as Westerlo and their Brazilian striker Paulo Henrique, and Cercle Brugge in coach Bob Peeters’ debut season.
The big names
Top scorer during the play-offs, Paulo Henrique often left Belgian supporters in awe of his talents this term, even if he was sometimes guilty of inconsistency. For meticulous regularity, no one could beat Club Brugge’s Croatian marksman Ivan Perisic, who plundered 22 goals as he carried the team after Venezuelan prodigy Ronald Vargas, so effective in the first half of the season, picked up an injury in February. Elsewhere, Genk duo Jelle Vossen and Marvin Ogunjumi may have flagged during the play-offs, but both can look back on excellent seasons, while it was a breakthrough year for their young team-mate between the sticks, Thibaut Courtois, and Standard’s Moroccan international Mehdi Carcela. For Anderlecht, finally, Belgian Golden Shoe winner Mbark Boussoufa set sail for Russia in March and, without his services, Romelu Lukaku’s progress stalled.
Ups and downs
After flirting with relegation for the last couple of seasons, Charleroi paid the price for their chronic instability, with no fewer than four coaches having held Les Zèbres’s reins in 2010/11. They will be replaced by a club cut from very different cloth in OH Leuven, who owed their first-place finish in the second tier to impressive constancy. Leuven will also pass Eupen on their way up, with either RAEC Mons ou KV Waasland-Beveren destined to take their spot.
At a glance
1 – Genk, 51 points
2 – Standard Liege, 51
3 – Anderlecht, 44
23 – The average age of Genk’s precocious line-up. The champions boasted the youngest side in the division along with runners-up Standard, suggesting the Jupiler League has become a genuine cradle for budding talents.