By Berend Scholten
Any match with ten goals in it is worthy of being called a thriller, but when Belgian table-toppers Club Brugge KV beat rock-bottom KV Oostende 7-3 last weekend, the man who got the biggest thrill of all was hat-trick scorer Philippe Clément.
Off the bench
After several weeks of sitting on the bench, the 30-year-old grabbed the opportunity of a first-team start with both hands. "It was the first hat-trick in my career," he said afterwards. "And aside from my UEFA Cup goal against [LB] Châteauroux they were also my first goals this season."
A 24,000 crowd saw how much scoring for Brugge meant to Clément after he opened his account after nine minutes. As he wheeled away in wild celebrations, it was easy to imagine that all his frustration at being left on the bench was exploding forth in a torrent of joy.
Not so according to the player. "There was no frustration involved, it was more like relief," he said. "I have been dying sitting on the bench. Don't get me wrong, I am still this team's biggest fan but still you cannot get rid of your energy on the bench. After scoring I finally could."
That surge of energy brought Clément further goals after 28 and 75 minutes, as the 21-times capped Belgian international epitomised the strength and hunger that have characterised Trond Sollied's Brugge this season. The Norwegian coach has already won one Belgian title and two Belgian Cups in his five seasons at the Jan Breydelstadion, and has developed a side with such strength that even experienced campaigners like Clément are not guaranteed a game. Indeed, he was third choice to start Saturday's game on the right wing.
With his usual right-winger Gaetan Englebert suspended, Sollied had pencilled in Olivier De Cock as his replacement, but a minor injury to De Cock saw Clément handed his first start of the season. It was something of a coaching coup for the Norwegian.
"I did not want to take any risk with De Cock, and had Clément start," explained Sollied, whose side is now unbeaten in 32 consecutive league games. "
It is better to field hungry bench-sitters than players who are not fully fit. And today [Clément] proved again that he is able to decide a match."
Clément, who previously played for KRC Genk and had a brief period in England with Coventry City FC, signed a four-year extension to his contract in January 2004. His ability to play in virtually any defensive or midfield position saw his club tie him down until the summer of 2008.
That, and giving a one-year extension to Norwegian striker Rune Lange, is another sign that Brugge are planning for the long term, rather than just concentrating on battling for their 13th Belgian title, or indeed their tenth Belgian Cup, this season.
"Rune prefers to stay here, so we have a valuable player here for next season," explained Brugge sporting director Marc Degryse. "And seeing that the Belgian champions of next season will automatically qualify for the [UEFA] Champions League tournament of 2006/2007 makes it even more valuable for us."
And in Clément's performance, Sollied has further proof that he has a squad which no one in Belgium can match. "I can choose my team right before the match," he said. "The eleven players that start must be glad we have such a good bench, because normally no one can play all 40 matches in one season."
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