On the 17 May 2004 KSK Beveren took on Club Brugge in the Belgian Cup final at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels. Club Brugge were managed by Trond Sollied, with the Norweigian overseeing a side made up on mainly Belgian nationals. Beveren had a Belgian coach in Herman Helleputte, but he and Björn Vleminckx would be the only Belgians having an impact on the game for Beveren. In fact, outside of Latvian defender Igors Stepanovs, the entire Beveren side came from one country: the Ivory Coast.
African players have always been present in Belgian football. Yet never has over 90% of a teams starting XI featured players from the continent, let alone from one country. Yet Beveren had a unique relationship with Ivory Coast’s premier side for producing talent in ASEC Mimosas. The side won the 1998 African Champions League with a young team stacked full of talent, much of which was now on the radar of top European clubs. Following their success, the side formed a relationship with KSK Beveren that would allow top talents to move to Belgium, get more experience and then move on to larger clubs. The architect of this relationship Jean-Marc Guillou, who joined ASEC in 1993 as manager. In 2001, he moved to KSK as technical director and brought players with him. This link was eventually expanded further, with Arsenal then becoming the final part of the pathway. However, very few of those who played in Beveren would go on to North London.
Many players who made the move between the clubs went on to become key members of the countries golden generation, such as the Toure brothers and Gervinho. Back in 2004, the side were led out by the hero of the sides AFCON 2015 cup win in Boubacar ‘Copa’ Barry.
With Guillou at the helm, and an influx of Ivorian talent, Beveren began to improve. In the season prior to the partnership, the side had finished 18th but avoided relegation thanks to RWDM and Eendracth Aalst failing to receive licences. The side finished 11th in 2002/2003, with a number of young Arsenal players joining such as Steve Sidwell and Graham Stack. The following season, the side brought in more players from ASEC and had a worse season in the league, finishing one place lower in 12th. However, in the cup, the side were much better.
Prior to the 2003/2004 cup, the side had one the trophy twice and been runners up twice. However, their last appearance in the final had been in the 1985 edition. Just under 20 years later, the side were back. In the opening round they beat Hamme 3-1 away from home and drew Westerlo in the next round. After a 0-0 draw in regular time the side ran out 2-1 winners to make the quarter finals to face local rivals Beerschot. The first half finished 0-0, but once again the side were able to overcome with a 2-1 win. Mighty Anderlecht now stood between them and the final. After a 1-1 draw away in Brussels, the side held on to a 0-0 draw at home in the second leg to make the final. Club Brugge, having beaten Mouscron in their semi-final, would be their opponents.
Copa led the side out as captain, with the other Ivorians Arthur Boka, Emmanuel Eboué and Igor Lolo joining Stepanovs in defence. The midfield was made up of Seydou Badjan Kanté, Amand Mahan, Marco Né and Abdoulaye Djire. The strikers were Moussa Sanogo and Romaric. Unfortunately, the side would lose 4-2 in the final, but this then saw them qualify for the UEFA Cup.
In order to make the group stages, the side had to overcome Levski Sofia. Sanogo grabbed a goal away from home in a 1-1 draw, with Né grabbing the only goal at home to send the side to the group stages. The side were drawn in Group G alongside Stuttgart, Benfica, Heerenveen and Dinamo Zagreb. Unfortunately, the side struggled in Europe, losing all four matches, scoring just two goals and conceding 15.
Many of the Ivorian players would go onto European sides. Eboué was one of the only ones to move from the side to Arsenal as part of the relationship between the clubs. Gervinho joined the side in 2005, and after two seasons he left for Le Mans and then Lille before ending up at Arsenal. Boka would go on to spend eight years with VFB Stuttgart after leaving the side in 2004. Copa remained in Belgium for his entire career, leaving Beveren after over 100 appearances in 2007 to join Lokeren. He made over 200 appearances for the side, won two cups, won the Belgian goalkeeper of the year in 2009 and won AFCON in 2015. The legendary goalkeeper retired in 2019 and has since been a coach for a number of Pro League sides.
ASEC and Beveren would continue to share players until the two parted ways and the Ivorian club started a relationship with Charlton. KSK Beveren, like many Belgian sides over history, fell from grace. They failed to gain a licence and ended up plummeting down the divisions. Waasland-Beveren then emerged as the premier team in the area. This year, the sides announced a merger to become SK Beveren. KSK still remain an active club in the lower reaches of Belgian football, with SK currently playing in the Challenger Pro League.