Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht were in fine form in qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage, sweeping to a 3-0 home victory over SL Benfica to eradicate a 1-0 deficit from the away leg in one fell swoop.
Coach Hugo Broos, a former Belgian international defender and Anderlecht stalwart, showed his mettle and penchant for attacking play by employing three strikers up front, Nenad Jestrovic, Aruna Dindane and Mbo Mpenza. With two goals from Dindane and one from Jestrovic, it was a tactic which clearly worked.
But what can Europe expect from the Brussels side during their European campaign this season, after last year's elimination at the group stage? "When I compare the side I have now with last year's at the equivalent time, then I feel that this team is stronger. But I will only be sure of this after the transfer market has closed on 31 August," Broos said, and looking at his squad it would seem to support his assertion.
Retention of players
Significantly, Anderlecht have managed to retain their most important players despite a healthy level of interest from abroad. Vincent Kompany, Christian Wilhelmsson, Dindane and Jestrovic have all been the subject of transfer speculation after their performances in the Champions League last season, but regardless they remain in the purple and white of Anderlecht.
Past lesson learned
The club has learned this important lesson from bitter experience, after losing key players Jan Koller, Tomasz Radzinski, Bart Goor and Didier Dheedene following their successful Champions League campaign in 2000/01.
'Aim to win prizes'
"But now we have more financial resources than three years ago and we want to keep our best players. Our aim is to win prizes, not to get rich," explained Anderlecht president Roger Vanden Stock.
As well as retention of players, the Belgian side have made important signings in Fabrice Ehret from RC Strasbourg and Mpenza from R. Excelsior Mouscron, and Broos has also shown that he is not afraid to look to youth. Kompany impressed in the Champions League last season as a 17-year-old, while Anthony Vanden Borre made his first-team debut at the tender age of 16.
To secure the club's future, Anderlecht will invest a large part of the revenue from this year's Champions League campaign into their youth department. "On Tuesday the match with Benfica was worth €7m to €8m.
We were playing for the future of the club, because we will use the money we earn to rebuild our youth department. We will have a brand new modern facility and four extra training pitches close by," said general manager Herman van Holsbeeck.
Anderlecht's aim this season will be to go one better than last time at least. "We have fought really hard to keep players like Aruna, Kompany, Vanden Borre and Walter Baseggio at this club, and our ambitions this season must be to reach the first knockout round," Van Holsbeeck added.
Broos is optimistic about his team's chances, sensing they are a wiser and more mature outfit one year on. "Last season the Champions League was new for a number of players and for me also. We learned a lot from the experience and probably would have played differently in certain matches with the knowledge we now have. But it prepared us well for the Jupiler League and we are a better side today," he said.
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