Worry, pending salaries, visit from the Ultras: how the Standard players experienced a tormented week

Worry, pending salaries, visit from the Ultras: how the Standard players experienced a tormented week
Worry, pending salaries, visit from the Ultras: how the Standard players experienced a tormented week

It was not a Monday like any other. Usually, the day after a match, Ivan Leko gives his players time off. After the defeat at OH Louvain (3-1), the Croatian coach modified the program: training on Monday and off on Tuesday. Last attempt to shake up habits? Simple practical change? When they arrive this Monday at the SL16 Campus, the players become aware, little by little, of the latest developments and setbacks of 777 Partners, attacked from all sides in court.

They take leave, above all, of Steven Alzate. The Colombian midfielder, in agreement with the Liège management, has ended his loan contract and will return to England. He comes to greet his teammates and the staff one last time, who will not regret it… Alzate, since he returned to Standard after a successful last season, has dragged on his spleen. He came back for the wrong reasons – he had no other opportunity – and he was never a player capable of mobilizing his teammates to lift them up.

The concerns of 777 Partners were not too present in the conversations, any more than they had been during the round table provoked by Leko, in the locker room, directly after the defeat in Louvain. It was still a question of positioning, of tactical choices and if one or the other disagreement was heard, the bottom line was the same: it was too insufficient. In a small room in the Den Dreef locker room, Fergal Harkin, the sports director, is said to be very marked; he almost has tears in his eyes.

After a day off on Tuesday, the scene completely changed when everyone met again on Wednesday. The group, as well as the staff, first received a communication from Fergal Harkin. The sports director, in essence, explained to them that he could not give an exact day for the payment of April salaries, while they are expected this weekend or at the beginning of next week – the salaries of May should be paid in June, the club is assured.

Ivan Leko no longer hides his concerns on Wednesday and the Ultras meet the players on Thursday

Ivan Leko finds it difficult to hide his worry.

Concern is increasingly spreading throughout the group and if the extra-sporting situation was not (yet) at the heart of the discussions at the start of the week, it set a good rhythm at the end, and weighed down morale which was already not very high. If the players are paid a few days late, and some are waiting for bonuses to be paid, independent staff members have had to wait even longer.

To his group, Ivan Leko and the staff delivered this message, in essence, on Monday: “Everyone says you suck, prove otherwise. Don’t do it for the supporters or for the club, do it at least for your career, and the rest of your career.” Personalizing the effort, to get your head out of the water, is what remains as a lever to cause a final electroshock.

At a press conference on Wednesday, however, the coach had difficulty masking his concern. Is he living his last days at Standard? Unable to say, he finally blurted out: “When I signed, the plan was to play in the Champions playoffs, not playoffs 2 or relegation. If I had known all this, I would not have come.” For the first time, officially, Leko has left doubts about the future.

Thursday, on the eve of the Westerlo reception, the players prepare what can still be done, in a heavy atmosphere. A few Ultras showed up at the training center to speak with the group. The meaning of the message is as much support as a desire of the main animation group of the Liège club to make itself heard, to demand accountability from a physically absent shareholder, represented by a Liège management who had yet to meet the president of the Family des Rouches, by videoconference, Thursday evening.

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