Hans Vanaken: Club Brugge’s midfield maestro’s is a romantic throwback to a bygone era of footballers

On Sunday afternoon, Hans Vanaken lifted his sixth Belgian Pro League title at the age of 31. The Belgian midfielder will go down in Club Brugge’s history as one of the most successful players that the club has ever seen. Add to that his two Belgian player of the years, a handful of major tournament appearances for the Red Devils and four Belgian Super Cups, there isn’t much else left for Vanaken to achieve. Winning the domestic cup with Club is just one piece of silverware he would love to add, although prior to joining the club he did lift the trophy for Lokeren.

Vanaken’s time at Club Brugge is a throwback to a bygone era of footballing history, namely that of a player who can be a constant feature of a sides success outside of the top leagues in Europe and remain where he is. Yes, Vanaken could have left plenty of times. Yes, Club have certainly been willing to pay him to remain there. But the fact that a player that cost them just over €4m back in 2015 has been so integral to their dominance of Belgian football over the past few years is something we rarely see these days.

Vanaken sits fourth on the sides all time scorers list and sixth in terms of appearances. With two years left on his current deal, Vanaken will certainly have the chance to jump up the rankings in the next few seasons. His current numbers read 449 games, 127 goals and 91 assists. Those above him, such as Jan Ceulemans Franky Van der Elst all spent well over a decade with the side, back in an era where there was greater parity across the game in Europe and cross border transfers were not as common. van der Elst won five Belgian top flight titles in his time, while Ceulemans won three. When Vanaken’s contract does expire, the midfielder will have spent almost 12 years with the club, an incredible feat and almost unheard of in the modern game.

This season it felt like Vanaken was not as effective as in seasons past, but then you notice he still scored 11 goals and provided nine assists across all competitions. He certainly brings leadership qualities and a willingness to win to the side, as well as the know how.

It is highly unlikely that Club, or many other sides in Belgium, will see a player like Vanaken. The financial gulf in class between the top leagues in Europe and Belgium is growing, and a player who puts up the numbers like Vanaken has been will surely be snapped up.

This period of Club Brugge’s history will be defined by their iconic number 20. It would be fitting that, when he leaves the club or retires from the game, the number 20 for the blue and black should go with him.

GBeNeFN | Ben Jackson

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