Back when I was 14 years old, I went on a school trip to Belgium. It was great being away from home and causing chaos with my friends, and the excitement reached fever-pitch when we realised that it was legal to buy and consume alcohol at 14 in Belgium! At the time I only knew a handful of things about this small country: waffles taste good, Belgium frites are the way forward, they have more sauces than the finest Kebab shop in the UK, Jean-Claude Van Damme can do the splits and Enzo Scifo is an absolute player.
Since then I have learned a little more about Belgium … they can produce many more great players beyond the retired ‘little Pele’ Enzo Scifo. Recently we have all seen the talents of Marounane Fellani plying his trade in the Everton midfield, a player that has attracted a lot of attention from top clubs throughout Europe. Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen looked good at Arsenal and Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany has made even more of an impact being named in the PFA team of the year last season. Not only that but he was named Manchester City Official Supporter’s Player of the Year as well as Manchester City’s Player of the Year. Belgium slowly seem to be producing players again that are at home in Europe’s top leagues and top teams.
It’s not going to stop there either. Somehow a country with a population of only around 10.5 million seem to have started to produce some of the world’s best up-and-coming talent, many of which you may have read about on twitter or in the transfer gossip columns. With young starlets Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne rumoured to be on the way to Chelsea and both Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard top summer targets, Football Rascal is bringing you a round-up of all the top talent that you need to be watching out for next season:
Thibaut Courtois – Goalkeeper
This talented young keeper is currently discussing terms and having a medical in London as he looks to complete his move to Chelsea who will not only have signed some one of huge potential, but a bargain if the reported £7.9m fee is correct. This young keeper is as highly-rated as recent Manchester United recruit David De Gea which is only good news for Chelsea fans as he should be the natural successor to Cech. Courtois was voted Professional Goalkeeper of the Year at the Belgium awards as well as Racing Genk Player of the Year last season.
Courtois is an excellent shot-stopper both high and low with top-draw handling skills as well as lightening reflexes. He gets down surprisingly well for someone of 6ft 6ins tall and is good at recovering his ground as well as having good positioning and a knack for getting in the way wherever possible. He is brave and is happy to be diving at people’s feet and is not afraid to rush out rarely being caught out as he usually occupies a good start position. At only 19-years-old he is definately one to watch and could become one of the world’s very best over the coming years. He should complete his move to Chelsea this week but don’t be surprised to see him go out on loan to continue his development.
Jan Vertonghen – Defender/Defensive Midfielder
Jan Vertonghen may not be a name that is instantly recognisable to most football fans but rest assured he will be. The centre-back is currently plying his trade for Ajax and has established himself as a key figure for the club as well as the Belgian national team. Johan Cruyff has been a keen admirer of the player who he has been tipping for stardom from an early age and he was awarded Ajax Talent of the Year 2007/08. Vertonghen came to prominence playing alongside Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and has only improved since his departure. He has been attracting the interests of Barcelona amongst others.
Vertonghen is a versatile left-footed player who can operate in either defence or midfield. He is a powerful player who is comfortable on the ball, he can tackle well and compete in the air. He has a surprisingly good range of passing with impressive technique but is a typical left-footer with his right foot useless unless in the tackle. He is a young captain figure who is truly a leader amongst men who will no doubt be playing for the very best sooner rather than later.
Toby Alderweireld – Defender
Alderweireld is Vertonghen’s centre-back partner at Ajax and has been as equally as impressive as his counterpart and the two are not actually that dissimilar. Alderweireld has been a prominent member of the Belgian national youth set-up and has worked his way through the ranks.
He is also versatile and can operate at both centre back and right back and is a very mobile defender. He also possesses a cannon shot with his right-foot as well as a wide array of passing both short and long. Alderweireld is good in the air both in attack and defence and his agility and speed allow him to excel at the back. He is almost a right-footed version of Vertonghen and no team would regret signing this talented youngster who is destined to star for Belgium and Ajax for years to come.
Tune in for part 2 when we take you through the exciting midfielders and attacks who look set to rule Europe for years to come.