Despite their Brighton links, Union St Gilloise 2023/2024 season success is of their own making

Since Tony Bloom and Alex Muzio got involved in Union St Gilloise, the side have suddenly rediscovered their swagger in Belgian football. The 11 times Belgian champions have not been a force amongst the countries footballing elite for well over a century now. Yet, since gaining promotion to the Pro League, they have been mixing it with the big boys ever since.

While many may point to the link to Brighton to suggest that it is the route cause of all Union’s success, this season has been different. Over the years they have been graced with the likes of Simon Adingra and Karou Mitoma, amongst others. Yet no one has swapped Brighton for Brussels this season. Instead the club has, as it has been doing for years now, relied on its recruitment of players from place that many seem not to be looking.

Over the summer, the club saw a mass exodus of some key players from seasons prior. Siebe Van der Heyden went to Mallorca, Teddy Teuma, the inspirational captain of the side over many years, left for Stade Reims. Senne Lynen joined Werder Bremen, Bart Niewkoop left for Feyenoord and Victor Boniface was snapped up by Bayer Leverkusen. According to Transfermarkt, the outgoing deals netted the club around €35m.

Their biggest signing of the summer was just around €4.5m on striker Kevin Rodriquez, with Mohamed Amoura just behind on €4m. This has been the Union way of the previous years. Sell big, buy on the cheap and repeat. Yet what they do better than most is anticipate departures. Over the years, they’ve looked ahead and signed ready made replacements for key players.

Teuma is the best example of this. In his place has stepped Cameron Puertas. The young Swiss midfielder has been a revelation, leading the league with 15 assists. Boniface has been replaced by Gustaf Nilsson, with Amoura playing the role that Denis Undaz and Dante Vanzeir have played in the past.

What is even more remarkable is that the club have also changed head coach in each of the last three seasons. Felice Mazzu came close a few years ago before leaving for Anderlecht in the summer. His replacement, Karel Geraerts also fell just short of the 12th title in the clubs history. This year they turned to Alexander Blessin, whose last job was not a success as he was sacked by Genoa. However, the club saw something in the German, who had earned the Genoa job after his success with Oostende in the Pro League.

Blessin has now taken the side to the brink of the title. They have an eight point lead over city rivals Anderlecht and have only lost twice all season. They are in the Belgian Cup final and are through to the Europa Conference League Round of 16. Their approach is summed up by Ross Sykes, signed from Accrington Stanley, being the player to deliver their first trip to the cup final since 1914.

To attribute all this success to their link with Brighton would be an oversight on the work the club has done on its own, without the need for players from their sister club. The side have been keen to stress that they are not just a subsidiary of the Premier League side, but their own entity who do things their own way.

Their success in terms of recruitment and now performances has certainly put pressure on the other sides in Belgium. The first season under Mazzu may have taken everyone by surprise, but this campaign has certainly cemented Union’s return to being a top side in Belgium, regardless of whether or not they win the title.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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