Cercle Brugge are preparing for the European playoffs, but it wasn’t so long ago that they were mired in the depths of the Belgian second division. Monaco Life spoke with the club’s Sporting Director Carlos Aviña to trace the club’s recent rise, which is in no small part linked to their integration into the AS Monaco family.
In the winter of 2017, Dmitry Rybolovlev, the owner of AS Monaco, purchased a Cercle side that are languishing in the depths of the Belgian second division. Six years later, the club are about to compete in the playoffs with a shot at featuring in Europe next year. “We remember where we came from. We were a club that was struggling in the second division,” Aviña recalls to Monaco Life.
Incidentally, it was a goal from a Monaco loanee, Irvin Cardona, that earned Cercle promotion back into the Belgian first division, and the club’s subsequent consolidation of their position in the top flight, as well as their steady rise into the upper echelons of the domestic game, have been punctuated and defined by their collaboration with Les Monégasques.
“An aspirational relationship.”
Players such as Boris Popović and Edgaras Utkus are examples of players that have become mainstays of the first-team, creating a foundation from which to construct their success, whilst players such as Radoslaw Majecki and Harrison Marcelin have made valuable contributions on loan from the Principality club. These experiences are equally as valuable to Monaco, who upon the return of their loanees will inherit a player that has accrued considerable and valuable experiences in a foreign division.
“There is a strong collaboration in terms of developing players. It goes both ways. From Cercle Brugge we have Thomas Didillon, then Jesper (Daland) going to train at the Monaco training camp. Here we have Radoslaw Majecki and Boris Popovic, two strong players here at Cercle Brugge right now, and playing basically every minute,” says Aviña.
The “collaboration” isn’t unidirectional, although Aviña does refer to an “aspirational relationship” with Monaco.
“There is a clear ambition. Anyone who is recruited to come to Cercle, be it a player or a member of staff, they always have the ambition to go to Monaco one day, having come in and succeeded at Cercle. It is an aspirational relationship. Monaco is one of the biggest landmarks in European football. That’s the way we’re seeing it from Cercle’s perspective: we have the support of such a big club, let’s use it to our advantage, let’s create competitive advantages that can lead us to win games on the pitch,” said the Mexican Sporting Director.
The exchange of players, either on loan or permanently, is a big part of the collaboration between Monaco and Cercle, but their relationship isn’t limited to just this. “There is a holistic approach towards optimising all of the assets within the club. It’s about exchanging information, it’s about supporting each other and in the end it’s about working on the same wavelength,” said Aviña.
He continued, “There is a strong strategy that goes both ways, which is about developing talent, working with young players, a clear philosophy and playing style as well and I think the way we coach, the way we develop talent, the way we analyse our rivals, the way that we work with our performance and medical department, is the same at both clubs. The aim of the project is to work as one team.”
Further movement between the clubs this summer?
Aviña says that the synergies between the clubs have intensified in recent years, which was the objective upon his arrival, as well as that of his Monaco counterpart Paul Mitchell. The English Sporting Director has previously said that when he arrived, he wanted to “modernise the existing strategy between the clubs, starting by presenting a clear strategy.”
The clarity of the collaboration between the two partnered entities is now bearing fruit, with the club reaching their highest position since the 2011/12 season. They are now knocking on the door of European competition, but according to Aviña, there is no question of Cercle’s relationship with Monaco changing as a result.
“I don’t think it will change the dynamic. It’s certainly an opportunity to showcase our talent on a bigger platform, but it’s still too premature to contemplate how this will look,” he said.
One thing looks certain, players will continue to be exchanged between the clubs. Majecki’s performances in particular attest to the worth of sending players to the Jan Breydel Stadium and will encourage further loan moves. Cercle’s and Monaco’s extensive and coordinated scoring network, which covers “basically everywhere in the world,” has allowed for the recruitment of players like Jesper Daland and Ayase Ueda, who are beginning to display the kind of form that catches the attention of the Monaco hierarchy.
“They’re definitely making a big, big statement with the way that they’re playing in the league. Jesper is proving to be one of the best centre-backs in the league, Ayase being two goals off the top-scorer in his first season in European football is amazing. These kinds of talents are going to be, or are already, a success story for us. They’re definitely ready to make a next step and the market, and AS Monaco’s necessities are going to define if they go there or somewhere else,” said Aviña.
Whilst Mitchell may be involved in welcoming one, none, or both players to the Principality club in the summer, the time spent with them will be limited. The English Sporting Director is on the search for his successor, and once that task is complete, he will then accompany his replacement in their first steps at the club before departing.
It will be another Sporting Director on the receiving end of Aviña’s daily calls, but the project itself will remains unchanged. “Paul has been a massive, massive, massive contributor to the success at Cercle Brugge. I don’t think people realise how important his role has been in terms of supporting the club. I think one of the main things he has made sure of is that there is always continuity and a strong project that stands regardless of the personnel, be that players, coaches, or management. We’re in such a strong position from a group perspective that there will always be continuity,” said Aviña.
Under the duo’s stewardship, Cercle have made great strides, and whilst change is on the way, there is no reason why the Belgian club, working in tandem with Monaco, can’t continue their upward trajectory in the weeks, months and years to come.
Photo by AS Monaco