A Belgian Story – The Road to World Cup 2006: Part 19 | @Verbist_Philip

Fresh from managing Barcelona in Champions League Manager, here’s Philip back at his day job in Beveren.

Happy Saturday everybody!

Last week we finished the blog with an emergency meeting at the Belgian Football Association’s headquarters. In a press conference later that day they make the following announcement: “Because of the disappointing results the last years we have decided, in mutual consent, that Georges Leekens will step away as head coach of Belgium. We are grateful he will stay on board as assistant and press responsible. We have approached Philip Verbist, the current head coach of Beveren, and we are extremely happy that he accepted our offer as new head coach of Belgium. We wish to thank Georges for his tremendous efforts and are confident that we are taking the right step for the future. Thank you very much, we will take no questions.”

It was about time! Finally Georges “Mr 90%” Leekens is out. Let’s hope we can do a better job!

We are already in Season 7. If you consider the last 4 seasons, we have become the most successful team in the league. We still have 3 seasons to go, and we are well positioned to add some additional silverware to our collection. As I have now a dual job, I will give more attention to our European campaign with Beveren, and especially Belgium’s path to Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

In all my excitement I should not forget to look for new regens at the start of the season. Let’s have a look! Marc Degryse, when will you finally retire mate? Our anchor points we no longer need, I am only adding top regens as of now. I have an interest in the first 3.

And they all 3 join the team. Best in class this year is Gino Massaux, regen of Philippe Albert. He was one of Belgium’s best defenders in the 90s and is most well-known for his period at Newcastle United. A hard-hitting defender with an offensive mindset, there are 2 goals that will stay in everybody’s memory: the first one was his match-winning goal at the 1994 WC against Holland, the latter his chip over Peter Schmeichel in a 5-0 victory of Newcastle over Man Utd.

With him on board, I could go for the defensive line-up I had in mind at the start of the blog: Grun (Appels) & Englebert (Vervoort) as centre backs (because of their sweeping ability), Massaux (Albert) as our anchor, Goosens (the “real” Scifo) as left wing back and Van Acker (Staelens) as right wing back. We will see. Mommens (Verspaille) so far has been an eye-opener for me on the right wing back and Massaux (Albert) will need time to mature.

Who are the others? Van Vooren (Karagiannis) & Albert (Czerniatynski). I do not immediately see them as starters, but they will give us the necessary squad depth.

We open the season against Standard in the Super Cup. We start with the same 11 of last season and Massaux (Albert) starts on the bench. They have to deal with several injuries and are definitely not at their best yet. And it shows, we win the match and our second Super Cup fairly easy.

Our season opener is against Mechelen. A simple 3-1 victory sets the tone for the season. Our supporters will take nothing less than a new title!

That’s a bold statement after just 1 match day, isn’t it. We play Club Brugge and Standard next, so that will gives us an indication how realistic that is.

I believe it is a rightful claim. Even though we got behind in both matches, we won them both. We show we are top of the league. Then this comes in. Job offers do not get better than this one, and I cannot recall this has ever happened to me in previous saves. Damn, damn, that was difficult to refuse…

Then it hits me. How come we haven’t played a Champions League match yet? Because we are a seeded team, which I didn’t expect at all. This is a tricky, tricky draw. It makes you believe you have an opportunity to qualify, but that can backfire big time. We’ll have to see which direction it goes.

The draw for the Belgium Cup is worrying much less.

How many time will we beat Waterreus this time? 4 times, we are making progess!

Let’s get to work, shall we?

I call it “Operation Overhaul”. Everybody who doesn’t add value, goes out. And that turns out to be nearly half of the squad. The core of the team will be my own starting 11, mixed with the best Belgium has to offer at that moment.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Back to domestic level, where we keep the maximum of the points. But if we keep conceding that many goals, that won’t last to long anymore.

Time our international debut! Do we still make a chance to qualify for the 2004 European Championship? I am afraid our chances are small, perhaps it’s even impossible. We already had both our matches against Denmark, so let’s see where the 3 remaining matches will bring us. We start at Finland and it could not have gone any better. Thanks to our first win, we immediately jump from last to second position. Is there still hope?

Englebert (Vervoort) picks up an injury and we move Massaux (Albert) into the line-up for the first time. Not on the anchor position, but as centre back. The important thing here is to give him experience and time to mature. The ultimate goal is the 2006 WC and the sooner he reaches his potential, the better. He takes a good start as we dispose of Germinal Ekeren.

We kick off our Champions League campaign at home against Rangers. With players like Beckham, Scholes & Iuliano, this is a much tougher team than I imagined at first. In an even match we draw 1-1.

It is not even the end of September and we already faced all the other Big Four teams. Thanks to De Vlieger, Anderlecht concedes just 1 goal.

We have now won 7 straight league matches. Gerets realizes that getting another title with Anderlecht will be very difficult, takes the high road and accepts the PSV job. In real life he won 2 titles as their manager, so all in all this is a good move.

You can’t win ’em all and it’s at Antwerp where we lose our maximum. We have a comfortable 0-2 lead at half time, but they play a very strong second half and even take the lead. Luckily for us there is Cannaerts (Emmers) who gets us a point.

A few weeks ago Hiddink was sacked as Holland manager. I didn’t think it was important, so I didn’t bother to take a screen shot. He surely wasn’t unemployed for long. Welcome to Belgium, Guus!

Next we travel to Turkey in search for our first CL win this season. Similar to last year at Fenerbahce, we are in control for the entire match at Galatasaray, yet we somehow lose 2-0.

In the dressing room I give the lads a lecture on converting chances at the highest level. Failing to do do so, will result in a loss. I am expecting an answer and we get a solid 3-0 win against Waregem. But should I expect anything less against a team that gets 2 red cards?

It’s already October and time for Belgium’s second-to-last qualifying game. Can we build on our strong start? Bosnia is a much tougher opponent than I had imagined. Our home crowd holds its breath when we get 0-1 behind just after the hour. It’s a wake-up call and all of a sudden we convert all our chances. Thanks to the win we secure the 2nd place in the group. Will it be enough? Even if we win our last match against Armenia, I honestly have no idea…

Our next domestic match feels like a walk in the park. The lads enjoy, but my mind is already on the next fixture.

Lads, if we still have any ambition in the Champions League, we’ve got to win this one. Van Acker (Staelens) is out and I am putting Massaux (Albert) on the anchor. The stats may give you a different impression, but this wasn’t as easy as it looks. We were only able to tear down their wall well in the second half.

That’s it for today’s blog! Where does that leave us in the standings? We are leading the league, but Club Brugge is following closely. In our CL Group we are only 3rd, but it is all to play for!

And also, is there any hope left for Belgium for Euro 2004? We will find out next week!

For now I am wishing you all a lovely weekend. Tot volgende week!

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