Feature: Tears and anger in West Flanders; Can Adnan Custovic really turn things around for Kortrijk?

Kortrijk were one of the first teams to pull the plug on their manager this season. Karim Bellochine took over from Luka Elsner when the latter departed for Standard Liege during the 2021/2022 season. Elsner had got the Kerels punching well above their weight at the top end of the table. However, the prospect of being the one to turn things around at the Walloon based club proved too tempting for Elsner, with the Slovenian heading to Liege. Under Bellochine, Kortrijk were not the same side, and following a defeat to Standard Liege during the 2022/2023 season, Vincent Tan and the clubs board pulled the plug.

The replacement surprised many. Adnan Custovic was the man given the job of turning things around in West Flanders, despite having a poor managerial record. Apart from his one game in charge at Oostende in 2020 , the Bosnians most recent job had been with Waasland-Beveren (now known as SK Beveren), where he finished second bottom.

With Kortrijk, it appears that Kortrijk are heading in the same way as Custovic’s former club. In 10 games under the new manager, Kortrijk have only one twice, losing six and drawing two. One win was against Eupen in the first game of the new managers reign, while the second came in a surprise 2-1 win over then league leaders and unbeaten Royal Antwerp. Since beating Antwerp, the side have lost crucial games against fellow struggling teams. They have taken just two points from a possible 18 since the victory over Antwerp.

First came the embarrassing 3-1 defeat to West-Flanders rivals Zulte Waregem, who were bottom of the league at the time. Despite taking the lead, Kortrijk crumbled in the second half as Zulte Waregem out fought and out thought the home side. The second came this weekend against Oostende, who had recently parted ways with former Kortrijk manager Yves Vanderhaeghe. Under new man Dominic Thalhammer, Oostende looked reenergised and despite Kortrijk playing well in parts, the home side deserved the three points.

The red card to Habib Keita, on loan from Lyon, certainly helped the home side. However, playing with 10 men is nothing new for Kortrijk. They have the second worse record when it comes to red cards, with five coming in their 16 matches.

Following the match, long serving Kortrijk captain Kristof D’Haene was seen in tears after he went to speak to the travelling fans. Kortrijk’s fans have certainly not taken the poor form and abject performances lieing down. During the game against Cercle Brugge there were obvious boo’s coming from the home side when Billal Messaoudi was set to come on. Ironically, it was Messaoudi who scored the equalising goal. However, it highlights the increasing frustration that the fans of the club are experiencing.

In addition, the summer transfer of Didier Lamkel Ze already looks to be a mistake. When the club signed Lamkel Ze it felt like a good match between a player who needed to reinvigorate his career after a string of controversial episodes, and a club in need of an on field spark to kick start their season. However, apart from the Antwerp game, Lamkel Ze has yet to bring the quality that he clearly possesses. Furthermore, he recently said in an interview that he was better than the club and would be moving on to Ferencvaros in January. In 10 games the striker has scored once and provided two assists.

Scoring, as highlighted by Lamkel Ze’s one goal, is a major issue for the side. They are the lowest scorers in the league with just 14 goals. Four of these have come from Faiz Selemani, a player linked with a move away from the club in the summer. It would not be surprising if offers came in for Selemani in January, as the player will undoubtedly want to move to a club not battling to stay in the league.

It’s unlikely the side will enter the world cup outside of the relegation zone. With just one game left, they face an inform Gent side who just beat reigning champions Gent 2-0. Before that, they face a RWD Molenbeek side in the cup who will fancy their chances of an upset. An early cup exit to a lower ranked side would be a microcosm of the season Kortrijk are having so far.

All but one of the sides in the bottom half this season have changed their manager, with Kortrijk getting the ball rolling with Bellochine. Given the stakes with the increase from one to three automatic relegation spots from the Pro League, Kortrijk could be the first to go through two managers this season. Despite the early win, performances under Custovic have not significantly improved, and with the tension between the club and the fans only increasing, the manager could well be the sacrificial lamb to keep the fans on side.

Ben Jackson – GBeNeFN

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