“The feeling that there was more to it,” Dimitri de Condé had after last weekend’s defeat against Antwerp. We have the feeling that he has felt that feeling often in recent months. De Condé laughs. “That’s right,” he nods. “We haven’t been outplayed anywhere, but in the end it’s about scoring goals and avoiding them.”
De Condé watches over the DNA of his club – “we can be proud of what we have achieved” – but at the same time wants to raise the bar. “Creating an environment in which winning is central. At Genk it is still too much about transfers. No, the main goal here, with Genk, is to win prizes.”
The title match, the European preliminary rounds, you should have had six more points in the competition… You never seem to get the most out of it. Can’t you use an ‘Atlético Madrid’ workshop?
“I think the match against Servette (Champions League preliminary round in July, BFA) came too fast for us. You still need five or six weeks of preparation. Well, we could and should have won. If you play that match ten times, you win it nine times and you get into the flow. While now it has often become a flow that is not quite there. It’s not all dramatic either. We are fourth in terms of goals scored and second in terms of goals conceded. On the other hand, I note that we have rarely played well for 90 minutes. It is that extra 10, 15 percent that we often miss. They have to be included if we want to participate at the top. It really won’t work without it, that’s Wouter (Genk coach Vrancken, BFA) and I agree.”
Perhaps volatility is inherent to having a young team?
“I don’t think you should talk about experience. Our boys are in the national teams of Colombia, Mexico and Slovakia. That stupidity you talk about – ramming the ball into the stands – you either have it or you don’t. Galarza has that naturally. It is more a matter of profiles, but our DNA is that of a football team. Our way is to win with positive, technical football. Play faster than our opponent. If we win even half of the matches, we will be unbeatable.”
Genk wants to be more than that friendly provincial club that plays nice football, sometimes participates and sells its best players every year.
“In terms of results, we have been number two in Belgium for the last five years, but we are ambitious. Last season we competed for the title and you hope that you will also be there from day one this season. That did not work. (Chairman) Peter Croonen has given me the task of making Genk the best club in Belgium. How will I do that? It is a process that does not happen overnight. I want a situation where everyone – including your media – sees Genk less as a jumping off point, but starts to associate us with prizes. In communication with our players, we emphasize that only Genk counts. That top transfer will really happen if you perform.”
It is known that you have to make at least one outgoing top transfer every year. This makes it difficult to compete in a competition that is packed with external investors and international groups.
“We are the last non-profit organization, are financially healthy and have built up a lot of equity. Although there is pressure to sell, the sporty aspect should not suffer. Football will always be leading here. We did not go into sales mode in the summer and proactively took advantage of the transfer market. With Bonsu Baah we had to strike quickly because at one point the Premier League beckoned to him. I’m glad we were able to get him, because he has something special. I have experienced Leon Baileys here and dare to say that he certainly has that level. But of course, we are not naive and see that the football landscape is changing. As a result, you always have to keep thinking about how you can grow as a club. That could be by injecting fresh capital, but that is not my department.”
What is the life of a TD like outside the mercatoes? Scouting and drawing up shadow lists every day?
“Certainly. In football you have to be prepared for the unexpected. In January we will miss at least four players due to the Africa Cup. We are going from a core of 21 to one of 17 field players, to which we will add two more young people. I want to be clear: we want to keep this core together and not let anyone go. There are always exceptions – an offer that cannot be refused is always possible – that is the case everywhere. But we are going to be very difficult. If that exception does occur, you must ensure that you can anticipate. Players, in turn, must be clear with their wishes. We want to know by mid-December, they shouldn’t come knocking on January 7.”
In the summer you did everything you could to bring Paul Onuachu back. That seemed to work, until Southampton suddenly asked for more. Is it true that the small print said Aziz Ouattara had to go to Valenciennes, which has the same bosses as the English club?
“Price agreements had been made in connection with the Paintsil-Onuachu exchange. As said: Joseph’s heart was in Genk. I certainly wasn’t going to force him to leave. Anyway, we were prepared to put the agreed amount on the table for Paul. It would be the most expensive incoming transfer in Genk’s history. Everything seemed fine, but in 24 hours everything changed. It suddenly became times two and Aziz had to leave for France. Then we said: no way. If we had agreed to that, we would have been in trouble in two years. Not nice, because Paul wanted to come back. He didn’t sleep for three nights.”
Does it hurt that Onuachu is reviving at Trabzonspor?
“On the contrary. I am very happy that Paul is doing well in Turkey. I’ll tell you even more: I initiated that transfer. I knew that Trabzon was looking for his type and I put his entourage in touch with the club. I just didn’t want Paul not to play for six months.”
That is to the credit of the Genk club. You seem popular with players. Nowadays the top talents of Anderlecht and Ajax choose you.
“That’s because those boys know that they get opportunities here. Don’t get me wrong, the bar is much higher here than in the past. In the past, good youth players were automatically given a place in the first team, but those times are over. Today we expect an 18 to 20 year old to be able to compete in the top three in Belgium. You often hear that these guys have to get their chance, but I think you should also dare to open the path for them.
“When Thorstvedt left last year, we could have brought in a 28-year-old number ten in addition to Castro and kept Bilal at hand. “He’s only 18. He just has to prove it.” No, you have to dare to choose that young top talent. We know very well which youth players from fifteen to nineteen years old can handle it. You can feel that in the PSGs and Dortmunds who come to report for them. Well, those guys need to keep our perspective. That is what Genk stands for.”
The Conference League then. Ferencváros tonight. If I calculate logically, is it almost over with a loss?
“If we lose, our chances shrink. Although it’s not over until it’s done. Fiorentina are seen as the favorites, but Ferencváros are 0-2 up and if we don’t hit the post, we will beat them. The differences are too small to draw any conclusions. We are also supported by a thousand supporters. Football is alive in Genk. The proof is the experience in our stadium. There is enormous solidarity. Yes, missing the title by one minute hurt, but it certainly created something here. That, in combination with the attractive football and various refereeing decisions that turned out to our disadvantage, have brought us together.”
Ferencváros – Genk, tonight at 6:45 PM.