Clubs face uncertain future as new Belgian football season starts
Players at Belgian football clubs have returned from their vacations, ready for the next season of the national competition, which starts tonight. But the landscape has changed since the start of the summer: KAA Gent has a new owner, while the fate of other clubs is still uncertain.
Three clubs in the Belgian first division were looking to sell before the start of the summer break: Club Brugge, KAA Gent and KV Kortrijk. Only KAA Gent has succeeded.
The club has been looking for a new owner since February 2023 and is undergoing a transformation: main sponsor VDK Bank was replaced in June after 35 years by insurance company Baloise. At the time of writing, it is not sure who will buy the naming rights for its stadium, currently known as the Ghelamco Arena.
Flemish entrepreneur Sam Baro ended up in pole position to become the new owner over the summer. His takeover of Ghent’s biggest club was finalised last week. He bought 95 per cent of the club for around 30 million euros and promised to invest a significant sum in social projects in Ghent. This was mandated by the city, one of the club's shareholders.
Other clubs are still looking for a new buyer. Club Brugge is without a doubt the hottest prospect in the Belgian Pro League. The club made history last season, by surviving the Champions League group stage for the first time. With the eyes of Europe on Bruges, owner Bart Verhaeghe has decided the time is right for a change in ownership.
Interested parties will need deep pockets. Two years ago, the club was estimated to be worth 215 million euros. For comparison: Verhaeghe paid just 15 million in 2012.
KV Kortrijk, owned by Malaysian entrepreneur Vincent Tan, reached an agreement with the American-Polish Kaminski Group earlier this year. Despite the deal, the new owners turned out to be frauds. They failed to pay the 15 million euros, leaving Kortrijk without any prospective buyers. Tan eventually halted the sale and extended his tenure as owner. The club will depend on Tan’s goodwill in future investments.
KAS Eupen is another club whose fate hangs in the balance of its rich foreign owner. The Qatar-owned Aspire Zone Foundation bought Eupen in 2012, to prepare Qatari players for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Since the end of that tournament, the club seems to have lost its purpose for Qatar. While Aspire promised to financially support it until 2023, its long-term future could be in danger.
Rumours have been swirling around the fate of other clubs, such as Charleroi, Zulte Waregem, KV Oostende, Beerschot and the Monaco-owned Cercle Brugge. They underline the risk of owning a football club in the current economic climate. But a new owner doesn’t always guarantee financial safety, and it remains to be seen if these clubs will be better off under new management.
© BELGA PHOTO KURT DESPLENTER