Belgium unknown coach revives Anderlecht
When Anderlecht plucked coach Rene Weiler from German second-division side Nuremberg, the immediate reaction of fans and pundits alike was: “Rene who?”
In the event, Weiler had a traumatic year. Appointed in June, he was on the brink of dismissal in November but ended the season by winning the Belgian league in May.
His appointment had been a vital one as Anderlecht had not won the championship since 2014 and the last time the Brussels club had gone three seasons in a row without a title had been 20 years ago.
Weiler was capped once by Switzerland but his playing career was ended by injury at the age of 28. Yet it had been as a 20-year-old at Swiss top-flight club Aarau that he had first shown signs of the shape of things to come by advising coach Rolf Fringer on the tactics that the team should employ.
By the time he was 32, Weiler was sporting director of Swiss side St Gallen. Moving to Germany, he narrowly missed out on taking Nuremberg into the Bundesliga, losing to Eintracht Frankfurt in the play-offs. Normally a proponent of free-flowing football, he was criticised for his defensive tactics against Frankfurt, but he’d done enough to attract the attention of Anderlecht.
Now 43, Weiler has a young family, a degree in communications and speaks five languages.
Kicker journalist Christian Biechele has described him as “smart”, explaining: “He’s a perfectionist who is obsessed by details. He has a plan and the players have to follow it.”
Weiler showed himself to be a strict disciplinarian on arrival. He had a good look at his squad and by the end of August had engineered the departures of Sebastian De Maio and Stefano Okaka. De Maio lasted just one month.
The first few months passed without incident but then Anderlecht lost at Beveren – which is never a good move for potential champions. Weiler decided to tell some home truths. Stung by criticism that Anderlecht had to play champagne football, he told the press that you can’t score goals with tradition and, with the players he had at his disposal, there were better teams in the league.
It brought an avalanche of media criticism – most notably from ex- Anderlecht luminaries such as Johan Boskamp and Jan Mulder – who wanted a return to the days when the likes of Robbie Rensenbrink, Franky Vercauteren and Enzo Scifo strode the Parc Astrid turf.
Weiler stopped talking to the media, but there then followed a confrontation with club captain Sofiane Hanni. It was all too much for the club’s administrative manager Herman Van Holsbeeck. He said he could support coaches when they deserved it, but there came a time when it had to stop.
Despite having the backing of Alexandre Vandamme, Anderlecht’s billionaire majority shareholder, it is likely that Weiler would have been dismissed if the team had not won the next game: a Europa League tie in Azerbaijan.
Weiler made changes, the most significant being keeper Davy Roef, the long-time heir apparent to Silvio Proto, replaced by Frank Boeckx, a journeyman who had been on the dole in 2014. While the charismatic Boeckx stayed in for the rest of the season, Roef was banished to Deportivo La Coruna.
They beat Gabala 3-1 in Baku, and with Weiler insisting that everyone in the dressing room was equal and would get their chance, Anderlecht went unbeaten from late November to early March.
“He’s a perfectionist who is obsessed by details. He has a plan and the players have to follow it” Kicker journalist Christian Biechele on Anderlecht coach Rene Weiler
The summer sale of Steven Defour to Burnley – which Weiler had reportedly opposed – proved a blessing as it allowed him to fashion a team around talented home-grown youngsters Leander Dendoncker and Youri Tielemans.
In the play-offs, the football was rarely attractive, but the title never looked in doubt and it was won on the penultimate day. Weiler had not delivered the much-coveted champagne football but president Roger Vanden Stock was moved to say that he had never known a dressing room that was so solidly behind the coach.
With the title won, Weiler insisted that football has changed and clubs now have a choice between playing attractively or winning points. With pundits such as Marc Degryse continuing to argue that Weiler’s style of play would never please the fans, next season promises to be interesting.
Significant...keeper Frank Boeckx
Ups and downs... Rene Weiler ended a traumatic season by winning the league