‘Like they are all from Holland’
at the Belgian cup final in Brussels
at the Belgian cup final in Brussels
“Are we doing some more drinks or not?” Fresh cup winner Mark van Bommel looks to the back of the room during the press conference, where ostentatious assistants Andries Ulderink and John Stegeman have nestled in. There is an enthusiastic nod. “Ah, a few more,” Van Bommel laughs.
Antwerp, with that mighty nickname “The Great Old,” the oldest professional club in the Belgian country, is definitely back at the national top. The soccer club from the diamond city has been dusted off and is shining again as in its best days.
And that is partly thanks to the Dutch contribution. You can draw that conclusion after an atmospheric and sunny Sunday afternoon at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, where Antwerp was 2-0 too strong for the powerless KV Mechelen in a mediocre cup final.
Vincent Janssen pulls, drags, pushes, fights and wins. The club’s top scorer chases an extremely cool penalty kick into the corner. Just as easily as a minute before, when it appeared that he had already shot before the referee had whistled.
Calvin Stengs plays a rock-solid second half, in which he comes into his own as a creative passer from midfield. He gives the assist for the 2-0 ten minutes before time, also the decision.
Jurgen Ekkelenkamp forces the penalty kick for Janssen’s 1-0. And Gyrano Kerk is sometimes unfortunate on the ball, but with his speed he invariably creates a threat in the Mechelen defense.
‘Then you can ask a lot from them’
“The Dutch on the pitch are very important for us, but this whole group is well put together.” Van Bommel does not want to zoom in too much on the Dutch enclave in Antwerp after the win – his first as coach.
“The selection is full of nationalities. But if you see how the players interact with each other, it seems like they are all from the Netherlands or all from Belgium. That’s great for a trainer. Then you can ask a lot from them and also get a lot back from them.”
While the players, with Van Bommel at a suitable distance, celebrate in front of the grandstand side full of Antwerp fans, two men in suits look on from a meter or two in front of the dugouts.
For minutes they stand there, in the shadow of the spheres of the Atomium, clapping somewhat awkwardly in front of them. Backer Paul Gheysens, who has already pumped more than 114 million euros into the club, and its technical director Marc Overmars. Important pillars under the current success.
The role of Overmars
“Marc is at the club almost every day. He sees everything,” Van Bommel says of his compatriot. “Often he is ahead of many things because of that, which allows us as technical staff to work very easily.”
“And beyond that, he has attracted a few players who fit here extremely well. That is also his quality,” said Van Bommel, who feels Overmars’ confidence in Belgium and now works with a platoon of Dutchmen.
How will those Belgians feel about “those Dutchmen”? “We come to Belgium as Dutch and always think we know better. But you have to be humble,” continued the former PSV and Wolfsburg coach. “The way we have done, it clicks very well. Also with the Belgians on the staff. And it transfers to the team.”
A winning coach is always right. And whoever wins has friends. So it appears in the press room of the old and imposing stadium in Brussels as Sporza commentator Peter Vandenbempt finishes his report.
“However, the impressions we Belgians get from Van Bommel are very good. He has an open way of communicating and answers questions. Not all trainers here do that,” the experienced journalist stated.
“And Van Bommel may have a rich backer at Antwerp, but he by no means has the broadest selection. Well, he makes Antwerp play very good soccer and who knows what lies ahead.”
And now the title?
Antwerp has qualified for the so-called champions’ pool in Belgium, in which the four highest-ranked teams will decide who can call themselves champions after halving the points in a mutual competition.
Van Bommel’s team, captained by ex-Ajacied Toby Alderweireld, is third for the first of six rounds of play, two points off leaders Genk and Union. Antwerp may dream of its first national title since 1957.
Next Wednesday, Antwerp will visit Union. The cup win undoubtedly gives a dose of confidence. Vandenbempt: “And before you know it Antwerp is champion and Van Bommel gets the double in his first year. It could just happen.”