By Laurent Schüssler
With the Luxembourg First Division on its winter break until 19 February, clubs have been taking time to bolster their squads and play friendlies, while the headlines have been taken by the appointment of a new national coach.
Reigning champions AS Jeunesse Esch are currently in third place, nine points behind leaders FC Etzella Ettelbrück. Their hopes for the spring season have been boosted by the acquisition of two strikers, Julien Deharchies from RM Hamm and Brazilian Cleiton from Belgium's FC Denderleeuw EH.
However, their preparations took a setback a week after returning to training when they lost a friendly 9-0 to Germany's 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Coach Roger Lutz is yet to decide on accepting a one-year contract extension.
Koch joins leaders
Meanwhile, also among a total of 12 signings by top-flight clubs, Etzella have taken on former Luxembourg international goalkeeper Paul Koch. Coach Luc Holtz's side are aiming for their club's first title, and lead F91 Dudelange by two points having moved ahead after the final fixtures of 2004. Holtz is delighted to see his ambitions coming to fruition. He said: "Several years ago we adopted a medium-term plan for the development of the club which is already bearing fruit."
Hellers steps up
But it is another coach who has stolen the limelight in recent weeks, with Guy Hellers stepping up to take charge of the national team following Allan Simonsen's premature departure in December. Hellers, also director of the Luxembourg national football school in Monnerich, called up 30 players for a training camp in Belgium last week, promoting Philippe Durrer, Kim Kintziger, Joël Kitenge and Benoît Lang from the Under-21s.
Hellers, capped 55 times as a player, admitted: "I was negatively surprised at the start of the training camp, but in the last week the players showed significant physical progress. First of all I have to start to rebuild the defence. In recent games we were facing too many counterattacks and goals and this had a negative impact on the players."
World Cup campaign
The coach also expressed concern that some of his squad were not getting much playing time with their clubs. Luxembourg, bottom of FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 3 and without a point in any competitive international since 1995, next meet Latvia on 30 March.
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