Ivan De Witte will be in charge of KAA Gent for a few more months, and this summer he will pass the baton to the new owner Sam Baro.
After 25 years, that is the end of an era for De Witte. “I shouldn’t stop, I want to stop,” emphasizes the 76-year-old chairman of Ghent. “25 years is already a good period. And I want to stop at the right time, certainly not too late.”
And that moment has arrived this summer. “Then Sam will take over,” said De Witte. They no longer have to offer him an honorary chairmanship. “I think that is an empty title. I might want to remain a member of the board of directors to supervise the transition. After 25 years, I can contribute something.”
“My course deserves to be seen,” he reflects. “We have transformed the club from a hopeless, almost bankrupt situation into a club with the most beautiful stadium in Belgium. We won the national title and we hibernated in the Champions League. So I look back with satisfaction.”
In any case, other clubs no longer have to contact De Witte. “I can’t imagine being chairman of any other club,” he laughs. “I will remain a huge supporter.”
And perhaps De Witte can look back on an even better story this summer. AA Gent is still active in the Cup, is 3rd in the league with one defeat and will play in the Conference League tonight.
“If we win tonight in Iceland – which we should – and we also beat Luhansk at home, then first place in our group is as good as assured.”
“I was skeptical when the Conference League was born, but this is a competition with substance. I would rather play in the Europa League or the Champions League, but we have to remain realistic and not dream.”
That is also De Witte’s attitude to the competition. “We don’t talk about the title. We live in the present and don’t dream of more yet,” he is certain.
“We have a strong team that can get somewhere, but I am not going to put a place or title on it. We will see where we end up. I am satisfied with the quality of the group and the work of the coach. You can clearly see the hand of Hein Vanhaezebrouck.”
A look at the annual accounts shows that AA Gent made a loss of 19.2 million euros last season. Will De Witte leave his club with a big financial hole?
The chairman puts things into perspective. “It sounds like a high number, but it is not frightening,” said De Witte. “We have made the sporting decision to keep some players in order to be able to play with a strong core this year.”
“We could also have sold 1 or 2 players and then it would have looked completely different. In football you have to look at that relatively. Next season it could be completely different.”
Shouldn’t AA Gent have sold Gift Orban already? This summer a hefty price tag was placed on the Nigerian, now the striker is looking for his best form. “Gift will reach its peak again,” De Witte is certain. “There is also a lot of competition now that Tissoudali is resurfacing.”