Those of you who know about the Belgian league, or follow it, know that a war is going on between the so called G4 (â€˜The Big Fourâ€™; Anderlecht, Club Brugge, AA Gent and RC Genk) and the smaller clubs (supported by Standard, a club that is also one of the bigger ones in Belgium). The reason is simple: play-offs.
The start of a new competition
Three years ago, 2/3 of the Belgian Pro League decided it was time to revamp our national competition. They wanted to bring play-offs to Belgium, a system they had seen in England and the Netherlands. The idea behind this was that there would be many top duels, which would provide more money and would benefit the general level of the Pro League. An odd decision since the system had recently disappeared in these countries due to too many problems and unhappy clubs and fans. But the Pro League thought it was an easy way to create more money out of ticketing and sponsor deals. It would also benefit our national side, the Red Devils. In short: Belgium would, once again, be Football Nirvana.
Last year, the first season of the new competition formula, the first doubts already arose. It wasnâ€™t benefitting the level at all; every team was playing defensive football, because they didnâ€™t want to risk getting into play-off 2. The teams who had to play play-off 2 noticed no financial benefits and the fans were unhappy. So this season, another vote was held. 12 out of 16 clubs wanted to reverse the competition to how it had been before. The G4 lost the vote and everything was being prepared to go back to the way it was.
Victory for the G4
Until a few weeks ago. The Pro League decided to meet again to discuss the competition formula. Against all odds and against every sense of logic, it was decided that the current competition formula would be altered, but kept. The G4 had â€˜bribedâ€™ smaller clubs into voting pro rather than contra. The smaller clubs would receive more money and a new relegation rule would be put in place; the relegation play-offs would not be played by the two worst teams in the league, but by two teams who had gathered the least points over the last three seasons, thus making it ridiculously complicated and unfair. Protest actions were held by players (including players from clubs who had voted pro) and fans but the G4 would not give in. It seemed that the clubs had chosen money above values and were ignoring their fans. On the 16th of March, however, the â€˜competition councilâ€™, in charge of keeping the competitions fair and competitive, concluded that this relegation rule was not legal. For a brief moment, fans and players were relieved that the Pro League had to alter their plans. To everyoneâ€™s astonishment, they did not. In spite of all the protest and actions, the Pro League decided to keep their new formula but without the relegation rule.
For the next three years, the Belgian Pro League will be decided by play-offs. Not the team that won most points in a season will be named champion, but the team that wins the play-offs. Fans will keep protesting, but they are likely to be ignored. The only thing we can be sure of is that we have not heard the last of it.
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