Carlos Avina: “The progress our players have made is fantastic”
With 45 points and a 10th place finish, Cercle can look back on their best season in the top flight since 2011-2012. "We are on an interesting journey but we are not there yet," said technical director Carlos Aviña in an exclusive conversation.
The football season for Cercle is over. Training will take place at Jan Breydel until Wednesday, and a friendly against Virton is scheduled for Thursday (behind closed doors). So this is the ideal moment to look back, but also to the future, with technical director Carlos Aviña: “Going towards next season we want to emphasize stability and keep this core together as much as possible”.
The arrival of Dominik Thalhammer at the end of November caused a real turnaround in the standings. From second bottom with only 13 points from 16 matches, Cercle became a true revelation in the second half of the season. Under Thalhammer, Cercle took 32 points from 18 games: 9 wins, 5 draws and 4 losses. Points were taken against all of the top six teams, with the wins in the home derby and Anderlecht among the highlights.
This improvement was the result of a thorough playing style based on pressing: “We are young, energetic and we dare to take risks”, says Aviña, who attaches great importance to creating our own identity on the pitch. “I don't think there are many teams in Belgium that can say that. We have developed a clear philosophy, where we try to switch very quickly into counterpressing, recovering the ball as high as possible and try to put stress on the opponent. We also place great importance on set pieces."
The youngest team in Europe, and ranked third in Belgium in terms of playing minutes for its own youth players
On a physical level, Cercle were also a leading club last season. In Belgium, the Groen-Zwart was even the most dominant team, and on a European level only Athletic Bilbao have done better. No team in Belgium also covered more distance than Cercle. With regard to sprints, which means running at a speed above 20 km/h, Thibo Somers and Olivier Deman are leading the way, as two academy products. A study by CIES Football Observatory has showed that Cercle has the youngest team in Europe (average age 23.6 years). It's a young and talented squad, and one with players from their own youth system: ahead of Cercle (18.8%) are only Standard (23.1%) and Genk (18.9%) in offering the most minutes to players from their own system.
Not only own youth players impressed last season, but youngsters like Boris Popovic, Edgaras Utkus, Jesper Daland, Dino Hotic and Rabbi Matondo also made an impression. For the first time in a long time, the team also has nine internationals. “The progress made by the entire core of our squad is truly fantastic. We have been able to follow their development for a season and now the plan is to continue with these foundations in place. There is, of course, speculation. For example, everyone questions the future of Rabbi Matondo. Rabbi's performance was very good, he also grew in the competition and also let us know that he is very happy at Cercle. An extended stay with Cercle would also be good for Rabbi and we are trying to convince him of this. Our plan is clear: we are willing to take the purchase option. Rabbi knows our offer but as we are Cercle there are also limits that we cannot ignore. Whether Rabbi will be a Cercle player next season will be his decision.”
Watch the full interview with Carlos Aviña here: