LOOK. Louwagie: “We understand the anger of the fans”
“At the end of November, the owner, Sam Baro, reminded myself, the coach and the chairman that he is an entrepreneur and wants to work that way. His company cannot be loss-making. Then we looked at what needed to be done to make the club, which suffered a loss of 19 million euros last financial year, financially healthy again. A company must be ‘self-supporting’. Self-sustaining. And for that you have to sell players.”
This is how Michel Louwagie, with Hein Vanhaezebrouck at his side, started his speech. After the angry emails and messages he had received from supporters, he had no choice but to respond extensively. The press conference would last 56 minutes…
About the sale of Malick Fofana. “If you receive an offer of 22 million, you have to accept it in our situation. Thanks to that transfer, the operating loss – this season it amounts to 10 million, as with many top clubs – immediately closed. And then we still had 12 million to reinvest.”
“The story of Gift Orban was well known. We could have sold him for 25 million in the summer, but we wanted to keep him. We refused a transfer for a player who came in with a small contract and could earn ten times more. At that moment you get a player who is not satisfied and started to score less. In September and October he was courted by Eintracht Frankfurt. They offered up to 18 million. At a time when Orban had to perform – I don’t think that is possible. Every time I saw Gift, he asked: ‘Michel, when are you going to sell me?’ Then you will know.”
The situation of Hugo Cuypers, who moves to Chicago Fire, is similar. He was also denied a transfer. “He could go to Bologna or Hoffenheim,” said Louwagie. “Hugo agreed that we wanted to keep him, to perform as well as possible. This winter we rejected Chicago’s first offer. We had already sold two players and are not a savings bank, are we? However, after the match against KV Mechelen, Hugo came to my desk: ‘Michel, I would like you to let me go.’ I mean, players have something to say too. We are now being criticized. We understand the anger, especially after the 4-1 defeat against STVV. But the players received offers that were many times higher than what we pay. Then you have to think along. You can’t lock players up. Did we still hesitate about letting Cuypers go since we could not find a replacement? No, not as far as I’m concerned.”
It was understandable that Fofana, Orban and Cuypers were sold. But the question that concerns many fans: why did AA Gent not anticipate the strong players – Tissoudali, Watanabe and Hong – who had to go to the Asian or Africa Cup? Louwagie: “Which player wants to come and relax? To play for six weeks and then end up on the bench? Players and agents are not stupid, are they? There are no temporary employment agencies for footballers to hire for five weeks. In addition, Hein rightly sets his standards very high. We are not going to bring in replacements if they are not at the same level. It is clear that we will not become champions. it was first things first: making the club healthy again.”
Louwagie assured that last winter mercato was particularly positive for the accounts. AA Gent sold for 55 million (plus 16 bonuses) and bought for about 25 million. After losing 19 million euros last financial year (2022-2023), the club had a negative equity – think of it as the club’s piggy bank – of 1.8 million euros. That is now being completely restored. “At the end of this season our equity will amount to 40 million euros,” said Louwagie. “The club, this company, is very healthy. We are in very good shape. Maybe not in the short term and for Sunday, but in the long term. We have dark green figures, there are no more debts. This now makes new investments possible. We will now be able to anticipate. In the summer we will be able to strengthen ourselves before we sell. There is a future perspective.”
Hein Vanhaezebrouck: “You can go public with it, Michel.”
Louwagie: “Just ask fellow club leaders. They are jealous of our situation. Forty million euros as equity! A new stadium, a new training complex, which we may expand further. We are taking steps forward. We will come back with those options, you should have no doubts about that.”
Vanhaezebrouck joined his CEO. “We had to choose for the financial security of the club. I understand that. There is now a good basis. The fans dreamed of the maximum possible this season, but we may have to give that up. However, if they see that the right steps are now being taken, they will eventually be able to conclude that this was necessary for a while.”
LOOK. Vanhaezebrouck: “We were often close to an agreement”
AA Gent did not sign a new striker. It had reached an advanced stage with Union player Gustaf Nilsson, but he finally said ‘no’. “And we have bid on many other strikers,” said Louwagie. Each time without success. AA Gent has to finish the season with Tarik Tissoudali and Laurent Depoitre as the only real strikers – there is no margin left at all. It is therefore impossible to call the winter mercato completely successful. “Our timing had to be better. We kept players in the summer, which meant we had to sell a lot more. Do you know what it’s really about? We currently have a group that is far too small. That was already the case at the beginning of this season for economic reasons, and it is still the case now. We knew there could be problems. It was predictable. I have made my calculation: on Sunday I may miss 11 ‘titular players’ of the 17 with which we started the season. Anyway, players have been added, we have transferred well. Mitrovic, for example, is going to get fired up again.”
In addition to Mitrovic, AA Gent made several – on paper – excellent transfers. Goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt and Daisuke Yokota already showed themselves. A record amount of 8 million was paid for top talent Momodou Sonko. AA Gent must hope that these newcomers will soon prove to be assets. Tissoudali was back at the club today and looked eager in training. Watanabe and Hong are still active at the Asian Cup. “Hopefully South Korea and Japan will be eliminated soon so we can have them back,” Louwagie winked.
LOOK. Vanhaezebrouck about Sunday: “If we are complete, we should not be inferior to Anderlecht. But that is not the case”
“Play-off 1 is in danger”: Vanhaezebrouck sounds the alarm after Ghent’s disgrace at Stayen
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