"Belgian football is not the ugly duckling"

The businessman Bart Verhaeghe, owner of FC Bruges, who receives PSG Tuesday in the Champions League, defends the integrity of Belgian football and sees its rebirth, with the prospect of a joint championship with the Netherlands.

Time to Reading 3 min.

Bart Verhaeghe (left), owner of FC Brugge and coach Ivan Leko, 21 May 2018, at the time of the crown of the club in the Belgian league. Kurt Desplenter / AFP

Knokke, we knew the casino and the beach, not the training center Club Brugge, opened in June in the middle of a big nothing. A quarter of an hour from the jewel of Gothic architecture, the Blauw en Zwart have invested 20 million euros to overcome the rival Anderlecht. And the former Jan-Breydel stadium, where Bruges receives Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night in the Champions League, will soon be a memory. This is the wish of its owner, Bart Verhaeghe, whose Belgian football mocks the ego and fears anger. Since 2011, he has given a boost to the Bruges project, whose budget reaches this season 120 million euros, more than Olympique de Marseille.

For the first time in fourteen years, two Belgian clubs, Genk and you, are taking part in the Champions League. Do you believe in a sustainable renewal of Belgian clubs?

Our desire is to become the first country behind the five major leagues (Belgium is eighth in the UEFA index). Belgian football is waking up and has entered modernity. With the work on big data, we reduce the risks inherent in sport with tools that football did not use.

We are a small country with small budgets. To excel in this world, we must be more economical and more efficient with our money, and attract fans in our clubs. We mainly watched what was being done elsewhere than in football. Our recruitment procedures are as much about the human and the project of the players as their faculties. And the detection of players is based on a database of 100,000 players.

Are Belgian clubs doomed to see their talents leave after a good season?

We are creating a league with the Netherlands that can reduce our gap with the big five, which will open a market of 28 million consumers. A new meeting is scheduled this week. The championship should include eighteen clubs, including eight Belgian. It can go fast. If it's not for next season, probably in the next two.

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Is there too much money from Belgian clubs going into the pockets of the agents?

Belgium is not the ugly duckling, it's worse elsewhere. What I find strange is that I pay, while the players should do it! But the European Union, together with UEFA and FIFA, must make all this clear, open and transparent. Because it's a global problem. Bruges is already doing this, asking agents and players to sign a document. We have an ethics committee and a compliance officer. And personally, I do not interfere in transfers.

You personally, an intermediary has he already offered to pay you, in cash or in kind?

Never ! It's a practice I did not know. We are so professional that no one has ever dared. I was very surprised that it exists.

A year after the "Footbelgate", has Belgian football made sufficient progress on the path of reform?

We can do better. We should already have a clearing house. I'm waiting for the Pro League to create it as soon as possible … even if FIFA should do it.

Does Bruges still accept cases involving people charged with Footbelgate?

Of course there is. Who was sentenced? Nobody. If I do the opposite, I'm not right. I am a lawyer. At home, there are so many procedures, the distribution of responsibilities that the possibility of abuse is tiny. At each transfer, there are several people involved.

What do you think of double representation when an agent represents two parties in a transaction?

If this is done in an open and transparent way, I do not consider it a problem. The key is that everyone can know what is happening, including through the publication of license data for a club, whether national or European.

The transparency was not there when you, in 2014, acquired 50% of the rights of your player Thomas Meunier before reselling in Bruges nine months later … 550 000 euros more expensive, as revealed Football Leaks a year ago.

At the time, the club had no money and could not immediately pay the amount requested by his agent. I charged my holding company and the added value represented the work of this company as well as risk taking. Even the tax rules kept me from selling at the same price! I already had 100% of the shares of Bruges: in the end, they are two companies that belong to me. I just helped my club.


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