From League One to Belgian Cup winners: Former Portsmouth and Accrington Stanley defenders show the value of Union St Gilloise’s extensive scouting

Union St Gilloise ended a 110 year wait to lift their third Belgian Cup yesterday afternoon with a 1-0 win over Antwerp. Defender Koki Machida was the hero with a goal just before half-time as the Brussels club were able to finally celebrate a return to being one of the top sides in Belgian football. Part of their success has been being able to find value in players from leagues where not many other top clubs would look. Defenders Ross Sykes and Christian Burgess are two of the best examples of this.

The latter has been with the club since the 2020/2021 season, heling them win the Belgian second tier. He has become a fan favourite amongst the Union faithful for always wearing his heart on his sleave. Burgess, now at the age of 32, had never left English football before joining Union. Furthermore, he had never played higher than League One, coming close to Championship promotion with Portsmouth during the 2019/2020 season. Yet, since joining Union, he has competed for the Belgian Pro League title on three occasions and has played a big part in Europa League and Conference League campaigns. In 168 games for Union he has scored 15 goals and been a real leader at the back. Burgess is arguably the sides best signing in recent years considering he came in on a free.

As the game was winding down, Alexander Blessin brought on Ross Sykes to see the game out. The 25-year-old, like Burgess, spent the beginning of his career in the English lower leagues. He too had never played above League One before leaving Accrington Stanley to join Union during the 2022/2023 season. He immediately swapped the EFL Trophy for Champions League qualification, and has played in the Europa League and Conference League as well. At the cost of just €280k, Sykes has been an absolute bargain. For a defender, he has also chipped in with a fair few goals during his time in Belgium, grabbing seven in over 50 appearances. The Belgian Cup is Sykes second professional trophy, having won League Two with Accrington.

Sykes and Burgess are just two of a number of examples of how Union have dipped into the lower reaches of other European leagues and found value. Both former League One regulars will be hoping to add the Pro League title to their CVs at the end of the season as well.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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