This piece is an extract from yesterday's The Rugby Road Gates newsletter, which is emailed out at 6pm every Wednesday. To receive our full, free Kilmarnock newsletter straight to your email inbox, click here.

With Scotland papped out of Euro 2024 before the schools broke up for summer, the full focus for us Killie fans is firmly on club matters again. Last week brought us the exciting news that Ayrshire’s finest will take on Belgian Pro League side Cercle Brugge next month. So, what better time than to get a scout report on what we should expect from our Europa League foes?

A huge thanks to former Partick Thistle and Dundee United player Freddy Frans for taking the time to speak to me about Cercle, their definitive style of play, where they can be got at, and his experiences of Scotland. He had some nice things to say about Killie – even if he did score a late equaliser against us in early 2015!

What are your experiences of Cercle Brugge?

For a few years now, they’ve been owned by Monaco – or the same man [Dmitry Rybolovlev] who is involved with them. Since this connection started, they’ve been playing with a high-intensity, pressing style of football. Around 18 months ago when the head coach [Miron Muslic] came in, he managed to transform them in a crazy way. They’ve got good players and they’re a nice team, but what he’s done, to get them into the play-offs or the top six in Belgium – which is not so easy because you’ve got a lot of big teams in Belgium – is incredible. In those play-offs he did quite alright as well. He beat quite a few teams and pulled off some big results.

What are their strengths?

The thing is with them, they’re so, so hard to play against. They have more Scottish and English traits in their team than Belgian. They’ve got a lot of high-intensity pressing from the front. They play really direct football. I’m not saying they only kick long balls, because they don’t, but it has to go forward. It’s always like 100mph. Very, very fast-paced. In Belgium, as a centre-back for example, you could usually expect a decent amount of time on the ball. You can pass it around from the back, you can play. With their team, you can’t breathe. The coach has instructed them all to do the same job relentlessly. It’s 90 minutes of running and pressing. They just never stop. It’s 100 percent their main strength. They don’t give you time on the ball, they press you, they get it forward. They’ll chase you all of the time.

What are their weaknesses?

If you manage to get out of their press or at least skip the first line of that press, then obviously because they press so intensely with a lot of players, it leaves space at the back. A lot of the time they leave it one-on-one at the back. If you can skip that, then yes, you’d have a decent chance to create some good opportunities.

Who are their best players?

They have some very good players. [Kevin] Denkey is really good. He’s one of the best strikers in Belgium. He totally fits their game as well because he’s strong and fast, he presses well and he scores. He’s a modern-day striker. If they can keep him, that would be crazy… I’m not sure they can. They have some midfielders too. [Hannes] Van Der Bruggen is a Belgian who has been around the top league for quite some time. He plays well regularly, their goalkeeper [Warleson] is also a consistent performer. [Jesper] Daland in defence is another nice player. In general, they’ve got a really decent team, but you must understand that every year they lose a few players because that’s the price of success.

What is it like to play at their stadium?

I’ve played there lots of times. This is probably up there with their biggest negative. They play in the same stadium as Club Brugge, so the capacity is 30,000. The difference is with them is that it’s not filled with 30,000, it’s more like 8,000 on a good day maybe? It’s pretty strange in a big stadium to only have this kind of crowd. If it was a smaller stadium, more compact, let’s say like the Kilmarnock stadium, with the type of football Cercle play, it would help them even more. Whereas just now, it’s not empty, but it looks very empty. It lacks atmosphere and they should have their own stadium, I think.

What is Bruges like to visit?

Oh, it’s really nice – it’s one of the best cities in Belgium. They say it’s like the Venice of Belgium! It’s a beautiful place with lots of history. It’s close to the sea as well, so if anyone has time they can go to the coast. If you’re a player and you end up in Bruges, then yeah, you’ve made a good move.  

What are you up to now you’ve retired?

I’ve got a new job. We start on July 1. To be honest, the league this year was finished quite early, so it’s been a long holiday actually. I live in Antwerp. I’m now the head coach of a third-division team in Belgium – so like League One. You know ‘Welcome to Wrexham,’ in Wales? So, we’ve got the same in Belgium at Sporting Hasselt. It’s owned by an actor as well as a famous guy who owns all of the TV companies. They bought the club last year and I’ve recently become the head coach. Last season I was the head coach of Beerschot’s Under-23s after I retired from playing. The way it works over here, they play in the fifth league of Belgium, so they’re playing senior football. It’s a bit strange that they play adult football, but good experience. I was an assistant to the first team too.

What are your favourite memories from playing in Scotland?

I’ve got a few. Of course, my time at Partick Thistle was amazing. I had some really nice years with them and some good seasons. We always performed pretty well for a small club I think. I loved playing against the big clubs – the only one I missed out on was Rangers, as they weren’t in the league. I remember scoring a good goal at Ross County. Then at Dundee United, I had a really nice time. Maybe not in the same sort of sporting way, but I was captain for a few games, I loved living in the city with my wife and son – we really enjoyed both Dundee and Glasgow. In general, I’ve only got good memories.

Do you remember playing (and scoring) against Kilmarnock?

Yeah, it was my first goal in Scottish football. How should I put it? It was a bit of a lazy goal, I suppose. The ball was cleared after a free kick or a corner and I didn’t bother to track back, I just stayed in the box. One of our players then shoots right towards me and I deviated the ball into the net. They all count! I remember it was in front of all the Partick Thistle fans – they were behind that goal at Kilmarnock. For a small club, we always travelled with a very decent amount of people. I always liked playing Kilmarnock. There was the synthetic pitch, which was a bit strange, but on the other hand I liked it. They have a good stadium, the dressing rooms, the atmosphere there… you can tell there’s history, so I like it.