Date:Friday December 8 2006
Last month saw Blackburn Rovers being linked with talented Belgium under-21 International Stijn De Smet from feeder club Cercle Brugge. After learning of this it got me thinking to myself, who are Cercle Brugge?
My knowledge of the club and the relationship is vague but what I do know is that Cercle Brugge are in the Belgian Jupiler League and as for this league, all I know is that it is the Belgian top elite and Jupiler is a beer; I only know this as I had quite a few plus many more bottles when I was visiting Belgium some time ago as an 18-year-old and it was very cheap to buy but by no means in a cheap and nasty way.
After a little research I found that Cercle Brugge (Cercle Sportief Brugeois) were founded on 9th April 1899 by the Xaverian Brothers. They are by no means a lesser Belgian club but are very much in the shadow of current Belgian Champions Club Brugge.
Cercle have however won three First Division league titles being 1910-1911, 1926-1927 and 1929-1930. They also won the Belgian Cup in 1926-1927 and 1984-1985 and have represented Belgium in Europe on many occasions. They did in recent times have a six-year exile from the Belgian top tier but returned to the Jupiler League in 2004.
The feeder relationship deal was finalised early in 2004 during the Graeme Souness era with the aim of us taking first pick of their promising players and in return give our young players first-team experience in Belgium. By having this agreement we followed in the footsteps of fellow Premier League giants Manchester United and Arsenal who had already forged similar partnerships with Belgian clubs Antwerp and Beveren respectively.
The relationship is now running into its third year and the likes of Sergio Peter, Keith Barker and Luke Jones have benefited in the past, although Keith Barker is currently on loan at Rochdale and Luke Jones has since departed. This relationship reminds me of being a student where you would have the foreign exchange student's trade places and try their hand at a different culture; I guess that's what this is in a way, except they are broadening their horizon with the diverse approach to football.
Hopefully with time this relationship can only strengthen and benefit both of us, and our chairman John Williams speaks highly of the club and their talent having said the following:
"It's very much a learning process with Cercle Brugge.
"They've been over a couple of times to stay with our coaches and we've played games against them at the academy in pre-season.
"The relationship is very much in its infancy and it's something for the long-term rather than the short-term."
This indicates to me that there is still work to be done but there is definitely something very good in the making. It is becoming more common these days as it gives clubs the opportunity to give their youngsters a taste of European football and advance their development.
Arguably you could say we benefit the most as we are sending players over there to not just get first team experience but also gain European experience and I would have thought with the players coming our way, if they are good and were to be sold then we would have first choice.
As of Stijn De Smet Williams said:
"We were told about Stijn through the agreement we have with Cercle.
"We passed it on to the scouting network and now we've decided to get him over and have a look at him.
Williams' final comments about the relationship saw him say:
"It's going very well so far and it's to the advantage of both clubs."
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Date:Friday December 8 2006
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