The Talent Haemorrhage at Anderlecht
Crop rotation is a vital aspect of farming. It maintains soil fertility, allowing the previous crops to be harvested to promote the growth of new plants. However, one has to ask if Anderlecht’s recent sales have left the soil barren, even if the bank is very full. The feeble excuses for not signing Mitrovic stick in the throat, given the deluge of money flowing into the club from transfer deals and the Champions League.
Were there an in-form forward, scoring regularly, then fine. However, Anderlecht’s forwards at the moment are both towering dyspraxics with no form or confidence. Young forwards, with potential to offer something different, are all out on loan (Leya Iseka, Vancamp etc). At this rate, I can see Oli Deschacht signing a contract extension to play up front.
Counting the confirmed sale of Acheampong, at least 17 milion euros, not including bonuses, has come into Anderlecht this month. Only 6 million was spent (on Saief, Morioka and Markovic’s loan. Here, we analyse the each of these sales, and their justification.
Sofiane Hanni (8.5M€ to Spartak Moscow): Hanni’s departure will no doubt be met with mixed feelings. There is a siezable percentage of the Anderlecht support who have not fully accepted Hanni and some of his poorer performances have been met with heavy booing. Others (including me) saw him as Weiler’s ‘pet’; undroppable, despite indifferent periods of form.
Nevertheless, one criticism that could not be levelled at Hanni is that he does not work for, or care for, the team. When Anderlecht were poor, Hanni’s hurt was visible. He always worked relentlessly for the team and some of these qualities were why Weiler made him captain. He was a leader in the absence of others. You could say that, at times, he wasn’t good enough, provided that it is also recognised that he also produced some sublime performances. Leaving on a hat-trick was a fitting departure, and he leaves the club an under-appreciated player.
Nicolae Stanciu (3.5M€ to Sparta Prague): There was a large amount of expectation when Stanciu arrived for a club-record fee of 7.8M€ in 2016. Great things were expected. The transfer was considered ‘a coup’. Yet, despite occasonal moments of genuine class, his time at Anderlecht has been largely disappointing. Reasons for this include Weiler’s direct style, lack of pace but mostly a lack of game time. When Hanni was going through periods of dreadful form and Stanciu was still on the bench, you had to ask yourself “what is wrong with him”? Did he refuse to comminucate with players? Was he lazy, or arrogant, in training? Was his life away from football not professional enough? These questions need to be asked, as this is a footballer bursting with talent. With Frutos and Van Haezebrouck playing different styles from Weiler, yet still ignoring Stanciu, you have to wonder what the problem was. He would have been on big wages, so selling him was the correct decision if he was not being considered for the team.
It was widely considered that Anderlecht would be Stanciu’s stepping stone to the more lucrative leagues, with the abundance of scouting done in Belgium coupled with exposure in UEFA competitions. However, his new destination of Prague looks like a sideways move at best. What remains to be seen is whether or not he can produce big performaces for them, and Romania, in high-stakes competition. He was criminally underused at Anderlecht, and the jury remains unconvinced, but I have a nagging feeling that in a technical league such as Serie A, or La Liga, Stanciu will flourish.
Dodi Lukebakio (1.5M€ to Charleroi/Watford): Lukebakio burst onto the scene a couple of seasons ago and looked full of promise and talent, albeit he was still very raw. He is exactly the kind of player who fits the supposed Anderlecht model of bringing through academy players, yet was sent out on loan (twice) by Weiler. He was exactly the kind of player who could have been a good impact sub, or cover for a more experienced player last year. I would argue that, right now, he is better than what we have at the club. Quick, direct, unpredictable, athletic. He would have increased the ‘home-grown’ quotient too, which restricted Anderlecht’s purchases to Belgian players (or those in the pocket of Mogi Bayat…).
Hamdi Harbaoui (0.5M€ to Zulte Waregem): Harbaoui is a big, strong penalty-box centre forward, who will score a bundle of goals in a team playing direct football with 2 up front or two wingers. However, he is ill-fitted to the Van Haezebrouck system, which is crying out for a false 9. He will score plenty at Zulte, and look like a bargain, but Anderlecht have enough slow, clumsy centre-forwards as it is, making this a good sale.
The non-sale of Leander Dendoncker is also a tricky one. He was excellent in 2016-17, doing much of the ugly work alongside Tielemans, allowing the latter to flourish. There are, however, far too many false comparisons drawn here. Tielemans is immeasurably more gifted than Dendoncker and justified his >20M€ fee during the summer of 2017. Dendoncker’s reputation has benefitted from these comparisons.
However, anybody who has watched him regularly this season will have seen a player whose form has deserted him and whose versatility has kept him in the team. The 16 million euros, with add-ons, offered by West Ham is a fair return for a player in such poor form and who clearly wants to leave. He is effective as a fast and strong defensive midfielder, but he does still kick the ball the way his nose is pointing, and I wonder how much he can actually improve. I believe the loss of Hanni is more troublesome than the departure of Dendoncker would have been.
On the other hand, had Dendoncker’s departure not been offset with a significant permanent arrival, then the fans may have boycotted the remaining matches of the season. With the club changing ownership in March, Vanden Stock probably couldn’t risk his last significant action as Chairman being the sale of a home-grown key player, tarnishing his legacy.
Anderlecht are meandering on without a plan. Players like Hanni or Dendoncker will always leave for richer leagues: that’s inevitable. Let’s hope Coucke and the coaching staff promote a model where academy players are brought into the team and the money recouped from sales is properly invested in more experienced players. Having to bring in Sels, Kums and Gerkens to raise the Belgian population of the squad, and not for their inherent qualities, sums up the scattergun approach.