Hein Vanhaezebrouck wants to increase the pressure on the top four: “It will be a hellish battle”

“Everyone got a few days off during the holidays”, the Ghent coach looked back on the end-of-year period, which looked a bit different than usual: “We could all enjoy a few days with the family. We’ve been training all week now. Everything went well. There are always some little problems in winter: a cough here, a sneeze there. That’s all fine. We are not complaining and are ready to start 2023.”

And 2023 immediately announces itself spicy. A Saturday evening game at the Bosuil and next Thursday a party visiting Union. The Buffalos can therefore not afford to slip: “We look upwards. Unfortunately, just before New Year’s, we didn’t get the points we deserved against Standard. Fortunately, besides Union, the others also dropped stitches. However, we are the chasers and we are supposed to benefit from the loss of points from the front runners.”

“Now we have to visit a direct competitor that leaves few points for its own audience. Everything is possible in Belgium. Genk suddenly loses in Kortrijk. Nothing is easy. All matches in Belgium are difficult. For now, we’re out. I already said it would be very difficult to get there because we have four good teams in front of us. We’ll see who loses, I don’t care. We will do everything we can to get there. It will be a hell of a fight to get there.”

At the Bosuil, AA Gent will meet an opponent who has not always been able to convince in recent months. Yet Vanhaezebrouck still has a lot of respect for the ‘Great Old’: “No, Antwerp may have put down a lesser series, yet they only lost against Genk at home. So they remain difficult to beat. I think Bruges is currently the closest competitor, they are only three points behind us. Antwerp already has five points more than us. But everything is so unpredictable.”


“The biggest plus: we didn’t see anyone drop out”

A new year, a new start. Also for the Buffalos, who can count on almost all strong players: “We didn’t see anyone drop out in recent weeks. That is perhaps the biggest plus. Last year we were badly battered in January. Injuries, COVID but suddenly Tissoudali also left for the Africa Cup. We didn’t immediately expect that. We didn’t have the most difficult opponents on paper then, but we still lost too many points. If you see how we conceded goals then, well, that shouldn’t happen. Even if you miss some guys.”

“Now we already see Lemajic and Hanche-Olsen training. Tissoudali is also training outside, but not yet with the group. Fofana was only able to join the group today. He will play with the reserves this weekend. Furthermore, I can dispose of everyone. That has already been different. The list of absentees was often much longer. Guys like De Sart can now train every time, you notice that. You see them getting stronger day by day.”

Meanwhile, veterans such as Kums, Odjidja and Ngadeu are still waiting for a signal from the Ghent management. Together with many other Ghent players, their contract expires in June. Vanhaezebrouck realizes that this affects the peace of mind of these boys. Still, he asks for some understanding: “I am not the club. I give advice to the club, not to the journalists. I discuss this with the group, but do not exaggerate.”


“They need to accommodate that”

“They are working on it but I don’t notice it. I don’t notice it in training either. Which is good. They are concentrated on their job. It makes sense that they are working on it. Family too. They need to accommodate that. They shouldn’t walk around dirty at home, neither should their partners. They must be patient. If they raise their level, solutions will emerge for everyone. Especially focus on what you are doing.”

Vanhaezebrouck realizes that the freedom of movement of the Buffalos is currently rather limited: “I do not immediately expect a cartload of new players. On the other hand, this is also the modern age. The clubs that can work with the same players three years in a row can be counted on one hand. Club was able to do that for a period with Vanaken, Vormer, etc. Genk also succeeded in that once. Not everyone is capable of that. It is no coincidence that these are two teams that are financially strong.”

“That is also part of football. Some clubs can decide faster. Circumstances also play a major role in this. Our sporting situation can also play a role in this. Vanzeir said this week that he is only focusing on Union, despite the interest from abroad. Well, he said that well. It’s just me, if you’ve been a coach at Kortrijk for so many years. I am no different. I also completely changed everything here in my first period.”

money talk. Also in the Jupiler Pro League in 2023: “If there is interest in your players and you can raise some money, they will leave. Even Brüls leaves six months before the end of his contract, that is the reality of football. Players have to be able to deal with that too. When you’re at the end of your contract, it’s not like it used to be. At that time, they negotiated a year in advance. That is no longer the case with more than 90% of the clubs.”

“We still have a whole month transfer window. For example, we also brought in Jens Petter Hauge this summer, but we are not suddenly going to push him out either. He’s in the balance with other guys. We do expect more. We brought in someone with reasonable credentials, who played at big clubs. Currently he is in the balance with the young men and often loses the battle. We expected more but you can’t blame him in terms of drive. It just doesn’t always work out. He has to move on and continue to evolve positively.”

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