Brugge derby: Gudjohnsen can haunt ex-employers Cercle
by Bradley King
Mar 04, 2013 8:35 PM GMT
When Cercle Brugge signed Eidur Gudjohnsen in a surprise deal last summer, there were questions over whether it was an ambitious swoop for an unfashionable Belgian club or a sign that Iceland's most celebrated footballer was on his way out. The general consensus was the latter.
For over 80 years, Cercle have been in the shadow of their city rivals Club Brugge and this season has been no different. When the two meet in a Pro League fixture at Jan Breydel Stadium on Thursday, both need the points, but for very different reasons.
Club are set for a top-six finish, and therefore a place in the season-concluding 'play-off 1', which would see them compete with Belgium's other top sides for European qualification.
On the other hand, rock-bottom Cercle need to beat Juan Carlos Garrido's side, who have lost just one of their last seven matches, if they are to have any chance of avoiding the dreaded 'play-off 3' - essentially a relegation face-off, most likely against either Germinal Beerschot or Lierse.
The whipping boys of this year's Pro League celebrated promotion back to the top flight in 2003, and have stayed there ever since; a relatively steady and assured mid-table presence which even managed to finish fourth in 2008.
As recently as 2010, the club qualified for the Europa League, before crashing out in the third qualifying round at the hands of the Cypriot outfit Anorthosis Famagusta.
But that modest European jaunt now seems a million miles away. Now there's disarray, disappointment and a sense of resignation at Foeke Booy's club. Cercle prop up the Pro League, with just 14 points from 27 matches and a measly three victories to their name.
However there may be hope for the Groen en Zwart in the slightly bizarre format of the relegation play-off. The bottom club starts on zero points in the head-to-head, but the team above them begins on three points, regardless of the points difference between the two in the regular season.
That's wiping the slate clean to an extent - until the realisation that the team finishing second-bottom, which will most likely not be Cercle, gets to play three of the five head-to-heads at home. Cercle are yet to win away from Jan Breydel in this campaign.
In the end, not even the influential figure of Eidur Gudjohnsen could help pull them out of the gutters. In something of a shock move, the 34-year-old traded allegiances in January - swapping a relegation battle for a European push; Cercle for Club.
It's not an unprecedented transfer in the same way a River Plate to Boca Juniors or Rangers to Celtic transfer would be viewed - but the timing was far from ideal.
Gudjohnsen had a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for a foreign club on a free transfer should he be approached. Instead, Club Brugge offered a rather understated €300,000 for the former Barcelona star's services and he promptly made the switch across the Flemish region.
He's unlikely to start against his former employers on Thursday but is in line to make an appearance from the substitute's bench. If he could help Club to an expected three points, the veteran would nudge Cercle closer to relegation and, at the same time, prove that he still has plenty to give on the football pitch.