Expectations were miles high at the start of the competition in 1997-1998. The hundreds of fans who gathered around the training fields to witness the first training of the season, agreed unanimously that their heroes would cruise through the competition with ease towards a new title. The season started on a false note, however, with the sudden and tumultuous departure of striker Robert Spehar to AS Monaco.

1997-1999: The claws of ‘De Leeuw’ Eric Gerets
1997-1999: The claws of ‘De Leeuw’ Eric Gerets

The team saw the arrival of Darko Anic and Edgaras Jankauskas and as the figurative icing on the cake, Serbian stopper Milan Lesnjak was presented to the Bruges fans at the beginning of April. Leaving competition miles behind, the championship title was by then no longer just a dream. The infamous double was close, but Racing Genk was worse opposition than expected in the Cup Final and sent Club packing with a thumping 4-0 score: a sign on the wall for what was to come the next season. 

As easy as it went in the previous season, the reigning champions were no longer as prevailing. Club was off to a bad start, in which it suffered from the aftermath of the World Cup, where it had sent many of its (key) players. Unfortunately, the guys in blue and black also had to compete Rosenborg Trondheim at an early stage of the season for a place in the Champions League.  Rosenborg was at the end of their season in Norway, Club had only just started, so the elimination did not come as a big surprise. It turned out to be a very turbulent season, with a lot of conflicts as dark clouds kept gathering above Club.

The sudden gulf of injuries can also be seen as one of the causes of this cumbersome season, and given the circumstances it was a small miracle that on the last day of the season Club was still among the contenders for a renewal of its title. One could say that Club should have progressed further than the three rounds in the Uefa Cup, beating Hungarian Ujpest Dosza and German VfB Stuttgart and losing against Olympique Lyon, but one can hardly say that it was an altogether mediocre endeavour. For the first time in three seasons, Eric Gerets finished empty-handedly, not taking into account a ticket for next year’s Uefa Cup. Even though he was very disappointed, thecrowds did not notice in the season’s last game against Westerlo. Club won the match, as the fans waved out another Club legend by the name of Franky Van der Elst.

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