Just when they were beginning to believe that miracles might happen and that their club might actually win the Belgian League title in their first season in the top flight, the fans of Excelsior Mouscron have lost the man who was making their dreams come true.
A little club from an industrial town near the French border, Mouscron have been eclipsing the traditional giants of Belgian football like Anderlecht and Club Bruges all season. They lead the First Division by four points. It is the equivalent of, say, Barnsley reaching the Premiership - and then threatening to win it.
This week, though, Mouscron lost their coach, the inspirational Georges Leekens, who was appointed national team coach following the dismissal of Wilfried van Moer.
Leekens, who has in the past coached Club Bruges, Anderlecht and Turkey's Trabzonspor, said: "This is perhaps the most difficult challenge I ever accepted. It will be tough but I'm full of confidence. I hope that we will get that national, patriotic feeling back again."
One player who will not be part of Leekens' squad for his first game in charge, against Northern Ireland in Belfast on 11 February, is Gilles de Bilde. The Anderlecht striker, who was caught on film punching an opponent in the face during a league game against Eendracht Aalst last month, was this week banned from playing until the end of March by the country's football authorities. He also faces court action on assault and grievous bodily harm charges.
De Bilde's victim, Krist Porte, suffered a broken eye socket and nose. He still suffers from blurred vision and headaches, and has to rest for at least two more weeks before undergoing any further treatment.
Ethiopia's football federation said yesterday it would be briefed by the remnants of its national squad before deciding whether to pull out of the African Nations' Cup following the defection to Italy of most of the team.
Sebsebe Haile Marim, a federation official, said it had been decided to hear first from the remaining loyal players who were expected to return from Italy to Addis Ababa last night. The federation would then decide whether to withdraw from the cup.
A total of 16 Ethiopian squad members sought political asylum in Italy on Wednesday after slipping their escort during a stopover in Rome on the way to an African Nations' Cup match in Morocco. Yesterday, though, five players apparently withdrew their requests for asylum and asked to return to Ethiopia.
An Addis Ababa newspaper, The Monitor, criticised the federation yesterday for what it said was "mistreatment and abusive practices" which prompted the 15 players and the coach to defect. It claimed Ethiopia's football establishment was riddled with inefficiency and double standards.
John Toshack's unhappy spell in Spain continues. The Welshman, who has announced he is to leave Deportivo La Coruna at the end of the season, now faces club disciplinary action after allegedly insulting fans who were abusing him for substituting the Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo during last Sunday's game against Athletic Bilbao.
"Although the fans were very nervous, the coach's attitude cannot be forgiven and must be criticised," Deportivo's president, Augusto Lendoiro, said.
"I addressed the fans with words that never should have left my mouth," an apologetic Toshack said yesterday.
Players of the Istanbul club Besiktas will each be given a house by a wealthy fan if they win the Turkish title this season.
"This year we will be champions, 100 per cent. When we are champions I'll give all the footballers a villa," Erdal Acar told the sports newspaper Fanatik. Acar added he had already donated about pounds 600,000 to the club. "I am ready to do everything for Besiktas' success. In life my son comes first, then Besiktas," he said. Besiktas are fourth in the table with 38 points, seven points behind the leaders, Galatasaray.
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