For most of the fans outside of Belgium, Royal Antwerp FC is a little known club, which you may have heard of in the odd UEFA Europa League match. However, it is the “oldest” club in Belgium and a member of the Club of Pioneers of world football.
Founded in 1880, it is one of the most respected clubs in the country due to its longevity and some historical moments that marked the institution, such as that European Cup tie (current UEFA Champions League) against Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid CF. At some point in its recent history, it was known to be the club where Manchester United FC sent some of their young prospects.
Having won 4 Belgian Pro Leagues, 3 Belgian Cups and 1 Belgian Supercup, it is not exactly the most winning club in that country, in fact, it had to suffer up to 2 relegations, one in 1998 and the other in 2004 and 2005 which led them to the third tier of Belgian football.
In 2017, Royal Antwerp FC managed to return to the Belgian Pro League and would bring the experienced László Bölöni, as their manager. The Romanian is known for his capaciting of giving opportunities to young players, being the one who gave his professional debut to Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Bölöni’s idea was to bet on young players who would give a new energy to a club that, ironically, is known as The Great Old. In that first season after promotion, they would achieve a deserved eighth place in the league. In the 2019-20 season they would finish in fourth position but the most important thing was that they managed to lift the Belgian Cup, which was not achieved with the Romanian manager on the bench since his contract expired during the season break due to COVID-19 and his successor would be the one who would coach during the final.
Royal Antwerp FC supported its youngsters with more experienced players such as Sinan Bolat, Steven Defour, Faris Haroun or Kevin Mirallas, helping the team to reach a higher competitive level. For this season, the team suffered several casualties, but it managed to replace them adequately and that has allowed them to maintain the level they have had in recent years and are currently second in the Belgian Pro League, behind the best Belgian team in recent seasons, the Club Brugge KV.
Additionally, they are in the round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League, after finishing second in Tottenham Hotspurs FC’s group, leaving the Austrian LASK and the Bulgarian Ludogorets Razgrad out of the competition. This week they face Rangers FC from Scotland, one of the best teams in Europe this season yet Royal Antwerp FC have been a constant surprise in recent years, so why they cannot do it once again?