Club Brugge – 2052/53 Open Thread
July 2052 – Squad Review.
I typically estimate that, to take a Nearly Men club from a “smaller” nation to the Champions League title is a 4-6 year job, depending on luck. (By the same token, I estimate that taking a top-flight club from a “larger” nation is typically a 3-5 year job, if they aren’t immediately in contention.)
It thus only makes sense that, at the start of Nicolaj’s 4th year at Club Brugge, I’m trying to assess where we sit on that 4-6 year continuum. More on that, below.
At the moment, we’re carrying a 24-man first team squad — 2 full XIs, plus 2 additional backups, inclusive of one signing that is already in the door.
We’re still primarly playing PM Haaienkanon — my Nagelsmann-inspired, “inverted strikerless” tactic.
Club Brugge’s No. 1 should be well-known to anyone following this thread — Kunle Agu, a full Nigerian international, who took over for club captain Felix Leon last year. He’s an absolute beast, still with some potential to grow.
His backup is Alexander Andersson, who earned his first Swedish caps during the 2051/52 campaign. Easily the best backup in the Jupiler Pro League, Andersson appears to be more than good enough to take over if Agu were to be injured or otherwise unavailable.
At libero we have the 2051/52 Fans’ Player of the Year, Osman Karatas. He’s extremely well-rounded and effective going forward. I like my liberos to have an attacking profile, and while his is not as extreme as others I have employed I’m really pleased with Karatas. He has the ability to both create and take chances in the attacking phase, which is what we need. His capable backup is Mamady Toure, another extremely well-rounded player who has a lot to offer in the attacking phase.
Our starting centerback pairing is the Colombian-Greek axis of Nikos Tsitsibis and Kevin Garcia. Nikos is clearly the more creative of the two, as a converted midfielder, but each fits the ball-playing defender mold that I prefer. In the 2nd XI, we have Diederik Schepens and Armando Redjepi, both of whom could push for time in the 1st XI as they develop.
The 23rd man on the roster is Ioannis Lefevre, another centerback who has been too good to sell, but not good enough to build a team around. Until now. As we’ve recruited and filled out the squad, Lefevre simply does not have a role to play. He spent last year playing from the bench in both the 1st and 2nd XIs, but I intend to move him along once we receive a decent offer for his services.
If you’ve read anything about my tactics this year (or followed my threads), you’ll have noted that wingbacks are crucial to our success. And, that I prefer to deploy players who have something to offer in both transition and the attacking phase — essentially, wingers who can defend.
At left wingback, we see a brilliant example of this in Dayron Murillo, a brilliant Colombian midfielder who has the speed to beat people on the dribble and can also pick out a cross. Jorrit Willems is a tremendously solid backup, even if he doesn’t have quite the attacking skillset to compete for a spot in the 1st XI.
On the opposite flank, Rutger Geerts is Murillo’s brother-from-another-mother at right wingback. An attacking winger who isn’t helpless in the defensive phase. Up until now, Geerts’ competition for the role has been Yves Tanghe, an academy prospect who simply has never lived up to his promise and potential. Yves’ best asset has been the ability to slot him in on the left flank in a pinch.
This year was Yves’ last chance to impress. He damaged his spine in late April, and I am planning to move him on as soon as possible. He’s the 24th man in the squad.
Yves’ replacement in the 2nd XI? Shin “Biggie Smalls” Sang-Ho, a South Korean youth international that I’ve been tracking for some time. You’ll immediately note Sang-Ho’s best quality — bags of filthy, nasty speed. You may also note the problem…he’s 5’2″ and weighs 121 pounds, soaking wet. This guy makes Messi look like the Jolly Green Giant. He may never see the pitch in the late stages of the Champions League, but I think he could be devastating in our 2nd XI, against domestic opposition. It may be doomed to fail, but we’ll have fun in the process.
One of my favorite players in the squad is our starting roaming playmaker, Adnan Alibabic. If he was any taller, I’d have stuck him at libero. He can do it all. I couldn’t be happier with him. His capable backup is academy graduate Wolfgang Aerts, who I hope has room to keep growing.
Last year, our starting mezzalas were Jimmy Boonen and Issifu Dauda. Boonen is another holdover from the prior regime — a player who is obviously talented, but I have no love for. Going forward, Boonen will be replaced in the 1st XI by Sabelo Mntambo, a tremendous young player who’s development has been slow. Very, very slow. But steady. Sabelo is more of a goalscoring threat and, let’s be honest, a better all-around player at this point.
The big question is whether Boonen simply plays in our 2nd XI alongside Bilal Erdogan, or if I try to move him on. If I get a good enough offer, Boonen will be out the door. He’s 27 and on 71k per week. That’s practically sacrilege when you think about my approach to building a squad.
Erdogan is a perfectly good player, but his wage demands are excessive in relation to his current ability. I gave in, to avoid losing him. But I am carrying a grudge, for the moment…I’ll forgive him if he meets his potential.
We do not have any players in the U18s or U21s to backfill for Boonen. But, I could see Abdullah Mesinovic transitioning from the attacking midfield/pressing forward role, to a mezzala. Mesinovic is a nearly ideal “central winger,” and should be able to play that role in our 2nd XI to great effect.
In the youth ranks, we also have Emiel Brackez — the most heralded young prospect at the club when we arrived 3 years ago, who simply did not impress me. I still don’t see it, even as he’s developed.
Attacking Midfielders / Pressing Forwards.
Up top, our starting duo will be Meris Pavicevic and Leander Mestdagh. They’re utterly brilliant. Pavicevic was a big signing 3 years ago, with all kinds of promise. Mestdagh was the jewel of our 2050 youth academy intake, who pushed his way into the 1st XI in the 2051/52 campaign, as: (1) the club’s leading goalscorer; (2) the Jupiler Pro League’s leading goalscorer; and (3) joint-top goalscorer in the Champions League.
I had Mesinovic in the 1st XI to start the campaign last year, but he simply wasn’t the goalscoring or creative threat up top that I was hoping for (and that he should be). If he doesn’t transition to a mezzala role, he’ll stay in the 2nd XI, paired up top with Gergo Pentek — a brilliant young Hungarian international who has a bright future.
The reason I’m willing to let Boonen move on, and shift Mesinovic into the midfield? Two words. Albert. Grille. This Spanish youth international was the highlight of our 2051 youth academy intake. While he may not have the potential to challenge the likes of Pavicevic and Mestdagh for a spot in the 1st XI, I think he could be a solid squad player for years to come, if he can develop a bit further. If Grille doesn’t join the first team squad this year, I play to send him out on loan for experience.
In all fairness, Dries Vermuelen is another solid player who could have a role to play in the first team squad, although my intention is to send him out on loan for another year.
If we can keep this squad together, we’re not far from being able to compete for the Champions League title.
My gut says that a return to the quarterfinals would be a good result, this year. But for 2053/54 and beyond, we need to be aiming higher. With another year of development and experience under our belts, we will (should?) be a threat.
Euro 2052 Review.
A relatively boring Euros, as hosts France claim the title after a 4-1 curb-stomping of Fernando Llorente’s Spain in the final.
Belgium and Croatia were the notable underperformers in an otherwise bland tournament.
As the campaign begins in earnest, we are able to celebrate a big milestone — the completion of the expansion of the Gert, to a 68,690 all-seater, to make it the biggest stadium in the county.
A home befitting a club of our ambitions.
One of the hallmarks of our first three campaigns in Brugge was dropping points early. This year? No, sir.
We’re ****-hot out of the gates, smashing goals and setting a Jupiler Pro League attendance record in the first match at the Gert. Ruthless. Efficient. Just what we need.
We’re going to need to maintain this form, though, as we’ve drawn a challenging Champions League Group — Samuel Yepie-Yepie’s Schalke, Ivan Perisic’s Lyon, and Chrislain Matisma’s Betis.
At the close of the transfer window, both Tanghe and Lefevre left the club as expected. Although I’m definitely judging Fiorentina for signing Lefevre…since we left, they’ve finished 6th, 6th and 7th. His signing is not a mark of ambition, in any sense.
When it rains, it pours.
We are electric. We are the storm. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
That is, if you ignore that one night at the Benito Villamarin… That 1-nil loss to the Spaniards, sandwiched between a 4-nil thumping of Lyon and a 5-nil rout of Schalke, stands out as an aberration. And it was. An utter and complete misfire.
These matches are but moments in time, sliced into 90 minute increments, give or take.
But they demonstrate that we are no easy meat. No more.
I catch the Board in the afterglow of our evisceration of ze Germans, and we promptly reach an agreement to expand the Gert again, to reach a capacity of 74,000.
After all, what good is hunting for glory, if you can’t savor the meat?
Forgive me, that sounded much more bad-ass in my head…
Any thoughts of revenge on the part of Samuel Yepie-Yepie’s Schalke were dashed within moments, as Dayron Murillo put ze Germans to the sword with goals in the 1st and 3rd minutes. Pavicevic’s goal in the 55th minute completed the rout, a 3-nil win to put our stamp on the Group Stage.
A clear statement of intent. Of purpose. We will not be ignored.
We conclude the Champions League Group Stage the way we began — dominant. A 3-1 win away to Lyon, followed by revenge against Betis in a 3-1 win at the Gert. Given how the campaign is going, I can forgive the 2nd XI losing away to Kortrijk a few days later. It was simply one of those days.
But we will need to focus in 2053, as we’ve drawn Baptiste Santamaria’s Gladbach in the knockout rounds. Our former club is at the pinnacle of the game in Germany, having won 7 straight Bundesliga titles to add to their 4 Champions League titles, not to mention finishing as runners-up in the 2050/51 and 2051/52 Champions League campaigns.
Reports from the Academy are positive, but I’m not holding my breath until we see what the lads look like on the pitch. It’ll take someone special to break into this squad.
The business end of the campaign has arrived. The last two years, we’ve been eliminated by German opposition by narrow margins– on away goals to Schalke in 2050/51; 1-nil by Stuttgart in 2051/52. Schalke and Stuttgart each went on to win the title.
This year, we face our toughest challenge yet in Gladbach. The first leg at Borussia Park is key. We need a result.
Ze Germans strike first, as former Zulte man Dierickx sends Papantoniou through in the 16th minute. Pavicevic pulls it back with a 65th minute penalty, after the rampaging Mestdagh is taken down in the box.
Minutes from a massive result, disaster strikes. Gladbach counter from a corner kick, with Dierickx burying it past a helpless Agu. In the 91st minute.
We have a big task ahead of us, back at the Gert.
The initial stage of the Jupiler Pro League is all Blauw-Zwart — 25 points clear, with a +85 goal difference.
We go in search of an early goal, without any luck. But we strike gold on a counter in the 37th minute, with Murillo bursting past 2 players in the box, and a loose ball falling to Mestdagh who calmly finishes.
The match hangs in the balance until the 91st minute, when Murillo again instigates the attack with a whipped cross that finds Bilal Erdogan rising, hammering home. 2-nil. We kill off the match in style, the German curse broken.
Even better news? The 3 German sides left in the competition were all beaten. Surely, the more superstitious supporters believe, this means that we cannot be defeated. If only it were that simple.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a lot of football to be played. We can all but secure the Jupiler Pro League title in the next 2 matches, and we must focus.
The 2053 youth intake has 4 players worth considering, although I’m not sure what to make of them just yet. Joan and Lars Peters are a solid duo at wingback, Ivan Barbero provides a much-needed depth in goal (even if he won’t ever push for the starting role), and Lachezar Simeonov does not live up to the earlier hype.
April 2053 – Champions League Quarterfinals.
The match at the Gert is wide open. Almost too wide open, for my tastes.
Both sides are threatening. End-to-end football. Glorious.
Yet, somehow, neither side can find the back of the net until the 44th minute — as Mestdagh finishes from close range, assisted by Geerts. Karatas finds the back of the net on the hour mark, but it is chalked off by VAR. While both sides have tightened up, the sense remains that either could break through at any moment.
But still both sides hold firm. In the 80th minute, Mesinovic whips in a free kick, looking for Garcia at the far post…but he is shoved from behind. Penalty. Harsh, perhaps…but Murillo puts it wide to restore karmic balance.
The final whistle blows. We will take a 1-nil lead to the Olimpico after a wide open match that, by all rights, should have seen a half-dozen goals. My only hope is that we will not regret Murillo’s miss.
(Takeover rumors continue to swirl, ahead of the 2nd leg. Four years of this nonsense. Will it ever end?)
We are under the gun from the first whistle at the Olimpico. We are playing our standard PM Haaienkanon, but with the forwards sitting deeper as shadow strikers. We must be compact and, when given the opportunity, take our chances.
In the 42nd minute, we are given that first chance as we soak up pressure, recover possession and launch forward at pace — Dauda hits Mestdagh in the seam, and the young Belgian does what he does best, rounding the keeper for a vital away goal. 1-nil on the night. 2-nil on aggregate.
Agu appears unbeatable in our goal, until the 53rd minute when a shot from Datko takes a nasty deflection off of Tsitsibis. The Romans have yet to beat him, but we are level on the night.
Roma continue to control, but we threaten in transition. The ebb and flow of the match, locked in like the tides of an angry, fell moon. With 20 minutes to play, we ring the changes.
Still Roma press forward, looking for a path back into the match. And still, we hold them at bay, launching forward in numbers looking for the killing blow. Back and forth, until the 90th minute, when a mazy run from Pentek draws the defense, allowing Mntambo to slip beyond him into the channel…free. He slides it home. 2-1 on the night. We’ve done it. A result for the ages. 3-1 on aggregate.
Yohann Cabaye’s West Ham will face Felix Uduokhai’s Milan in the other semifinal.
May 2053 – Champions League Semifinals, 1st Leg.
We claim our 4th Jupiler Pro League title on the bounce in the run-up to the 1st leg of the Everton tie, with a 2-nil win over Oostende after our 2nd XI scraped by in a handful of other matches. A dire, scoreless draw against Zulte follows, but all eyes are on Europe.
Our ultimate goal is within our sights. Zlatan can’t sleep. He’s like a kid on Christmas Eve, unable to sit still, his mind endlessly weighing the possibilities of tomorrow.
Playing the first leg at the Gert is an advantage, if we can take it. We threaten in the opening stages, but not seriously. Mestdagh comes close in the 23rd, but Skvorc is equal to the task.
Shortly before the half, Everton turn the tie on its head. Their first real look at goal, and Fasano smashes it in off the far post. ****.
Just when it feels like we have lost our edge, Geerts breaks forward and is fouled right on the edge of the box. VAR confirms he was inside, and awards the penalty. Pavicevic steps forward…and smashes it wide. A disaster.
The despair grows, but in the 84th minute Osman takes matters into his own hands, rising at the near post to head home a corner from Mntambo. Back level. All to play for.
We will head to Merseyside with a massive hill to climb.
May 2053 – Champions League Semifinals, 2nd Leg.
Goodison Park. Zlatan hardly recognizes it, these days. The 50,000 capacity crowd tonight is ready for everything, as the Blues chase their first-ever appearance in the Champions League finals, having fallen at the semi-finals four times in recent years.
Over the intervening weekend, Zulte claimed the Croky Cup with a 2-1 win over our 2nd XI. Let them have it. We’re hunting bigger game.
But Everton come out of the starting blocks at a dead sprint, smashing home a goal in the 3rd minute. We gain our composure and Pavicevic nearly draws us level in the 13th. We cannot hope to advance if we do not take our chances. It is as simple as that.
Fasano punishes us in the 37th with a header. We need two goals now. And while we test Skvorc repeatedly, he is unbeatable on the night. Massive, while we snatch at our chances.
Goodison erupts at the final whistle. Their heights of the elation matched only by the depths of our despair. The dream is over.
They’ve earned it. We did not. It is as simple as that.
May 2053 – Season Review.
The grieving is over. The anger returns after 3 losses in 7 days. The indignation wells up inside, and we regain our dignity with back-to-back wins to close out the campaign.
Watching Everton face West Ham in the Champions League final, Zlatan has to excuse himself. He canont watch. We know that we should have done better, and that with a bit more of an edge we would be on the pitch in Berlin.
It is the third year in a row that we’ve been eliminated by the eventual champions.
There is only one thing to do. No, not that.
We must go again. We’re weighing up our options with the squad, as Chinese clubs have been circling around Boonen. He is the most likely casualty of the campaign. The only likely casualty.
The rest of the squad is between the ages of 18-22, with the world at their feet. Short of splurging to sign a world class prospect, there is little to be done. We are running the rule over several players, with final decisions to be made in the coming weeks.
While takeover drama continues on a slow boil in the background, the Board has confirmed that we will expand the Gert to a capacity of 74,000, with the final unveiling in late November.
Goals for 2053/54: Domestic and Continental dominance.
In the Champions League, Everton took the title on penalties after a 2-2 draw with Yohan Cabaye’s West Ham.
In the Europa League, Inter beat Steven Berghuis’ Dortmund on penalties, after a scoreless draw.
In the Europa Conference League, Pavle Ninkov’s Cukaricki beat Frankfurt 2-1 (aet), narrowly avoiding the penalty-shootout trifecta.
If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are finding yourself a bit confused… Don’t worry. The basic concept behind the Nearly Men save is explained here. Just need to catch up? Each installment in Nicolaj Bur’s story can be accessed through the Nearly Men Archive.
And if you just can’t get enough…join us for The Ballad of Toothless Bob, a series that explores the world of Nicolaj Bur, away from the pitch. What is Project Arcturus? What lies beyond the twisted redstone door, deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu?