"I am very excited about the opportunity... Our first goal is to challenge for promotion and build from there. We hope to do that by playing attractive, attacking football and with the help of the fans we can make this project work. This is a fantastic club that has been underachieving for several years – a sleeping giant. The hard work starts now."
Those were the words yesterday of former Chelsea and Leeds United striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The 41-year-old former Netherlands striker is now taking his first steps into management.
Previously Hasselbaink has coached at Woking and Chelsea while he was on the coaching staff at Nottingham Forest until January.
Since then he has worked towards completing his UEFA ‘A’ coaching accreditation and now he has his first sole management role; in Belgium’s second division with Royal Antwerp.
The team, known as The Great Old, are rightfully described as a sleeping giant by Jimmy. Four time winners of the Belgian championship and UEFA Cup Winners Cup finalists in 1993 recent years have been far leaner for the club; who have not played in the top tier of Belgian football since 2004.
This season they finished tenth in the second tier; off the pace for potential promotion and ready to plan for the future.
A future that will not only involve a Chelsea and Leeds United hero but also one of their biggest rivals.
Because as many will know the two teams have a long-standing partnership which has seen several players go out on loan to Belgium.
In fact some of those players have been pretty big names and had very successful experiences in Antwerp.
Jonny Evans, Ryan Shawcross, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson have perhaps gone on to have the best success but former Chinese protégé Dong Fangzhou was a sensation at the club while Sylvain Ebanks-Blake, Danny Simpson, Alan Tate and Phil Bardsley also spent time at the club.
Next season scope is once again there for the club to bring in young loan players; especially those who struggle for British Work Permits such as some of the young Brazilian lads expected to arrive at Carrington this summer.
So while in his playing career Hasselbaink may have been gunning for United it now seems he will have to be much friendlier with his old foe to bring success back to the city of Antwerp.
Which United players do you think would benefit from going to Belgium next season?
image: © hunganh3