From Aruna to Thiago: the Changing Landscape of Anderlecht and Club Brugge

On August 28, 2004, Anderlecht coach Hugo Broos was in shock. His Ivorian top striker Aruna Dindane did not show up to go to Grimbergen in isolation. “I’ve never experienced this before,” Broos gushed. Soon it was whispered that Aruna sent his cat to force a transfer abroad. Anderlecht chairman Roger Vanden Stock held his leg indignantly. The apple of his Ivorian eye could not and was not allowed to leave.

The 2004-2005 season would turn out to be a disappointment for Anderlecht and Aruna. The Ivorian played six matches in the Champions League in which he scored zero times. Anderlecht took zero out of eighteen and at the end of the season Aruna left for a ‘paltry’ 3 million euros to the French Lens. Manager Herman Van Holsbeeck expressed his regret and stated that for him it was the last time that Anderlecht would go against “the will of the player” (or the agent?). The Purple & White had to fully face the reality of the era after the Bosman judgment (1995), Van Holsbeeck argued. Anderlecht would be better off actively participating in the transfer market, instead of stubbornly following their own course.

Van Holsbeeck’s “insight” led to a new reality at Anderlecht. A revolving door culture was installed in which players (and agents) came and went. ‘Wheeling and dealing’ would become Van Holsbeeck’s new nature. Anderlecht struggled in the Champions League but won national titles in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017.

In the meantime, a new duo had started working in Bruges. Bart Verhaeghe and Vincent Mannaert succeeded in improving the Van Holsbeeck method. The focus was no longer on pure trade, the duo used the transfer money to reinvest in the club. While Anderlecht became impoverished, Club Brugge, partly thanks to the flywheel of the Champions League, became the new financial power of Belgian football. The success paid off twice over. Not only could Club Brugge afford better players and higher wages, but because it was financially resilient, it was in a stronger position to negotiate.

Club Brugge delivered the strongest example of this last week. With a transfer fee of 33 million euros, excluding bonuses, Brazilian Igor Thiago is without a doubt one of the biggest sales in recent decades. In six months, the striker acquired from Bulgarian Ludogorets first became a “bad buy” and then a “record transfer”. Not all smoke has cleared yet about the precise timing and background of his transfer from Brentford. The fact is that the announcement of the transfer happened outside the transfer window, which is unusual. Another fact is that he was moved to the same club for the same amount as was previously agreed for the canceled transfer of the Norwegian Antonio Nusa. According to Thiago’s brokers, both files are separated. Brentford already followed the Brazilian before he played for Club Brugge, they told Sporza. When the London club determined that he met the required level, they decided to “act quickly” to get ahead of the competition.

Wrong shoes

The agents also suggested that Brentford wanted to complete the transfer in January, but that Thiago himself still wants to win a trophy with Club Brugge. His attempt to do so started with a big disappointment at Cercle on Sunday. In the Bruges derby he started with the wrong shoes, missed two big chances and received no fewer than two red cards (the first was rightly overturned by the VAR). Afterwards, coach Ronny Deila revealed that he had also had a difficult week as a family. Players testified after the 1-1 against Cercle that the 22-year-old Brazilian was a pile of misery in the dressing room.

Ronny Deila did not dare to answer whether the events of the last few weeks, including a trip to London, had negatively affected his performance. “But it was a lot for him. It would be surprising if it had done nothing to him.”

Due to his red card against Cercle, Thiago cannot help Club in the important match against Anderlecht. That match, Sunday afternoon in Jan Breydel, already seems to be a key match. With four matchdays to go, Club Brugge cannot afford to lose any more points compared to Union. The gap is now seventeen units. Even after halving, that still seems too much to dream of the title.

Thiago must hope that his last season at Club Brugge does not turn out to be a disappointment, just like Aruna’s. The difference with Aruna is that the former gave his club four more good years. The tragedy of Thiago is that his last season was also his first.

2024-02-18 21:00:19
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