We have already looked at the up and coming defensive Belgium players but what about the more attacking players? Well with a lot of names linked all over Europe this summer, here is the low down on some of the most exciting talents to come out of Belgium ever and some of the hottest players throughout Europe at this current time, so expand your knowledge …
Axel Witsel – Midfield
Witsel has been highly regarded in Belgium for some time now, after making his name at Standard Liege where he rose through the youth ranks before establishing himself in the first team in the 2007/08 season. Naturally an attacking centre midfielder, he initially broke in to the Standard side playing on the right–wing but became a permanent fixture in the side, forming good partnerships with Steven Defour and Everton’s Fellaini.
Although a talented player that has been attracting interest from the likes of Arsenal and Real Madrid over the past few seasons, he is not without his faults. He loves a horror challenge and has a reputation for it; he was banned for nearly 3 months for a leg-breaker during a game with RSC Andelecht and heavily fined. Since then, big tackles have not been far away and his reputation has started to proceed him.
Witsel was a player that was attracting Premier League interest this summer but has signed for Benfica on a 5-year deal. Although his liking for violence is a major negative, there are many positives about this guy. He is a highly agile box-to-box midfielder with a great engine on him. His speed and strength allow him to dominate midfield areas and when you combine this with great technique you have one hell of a player. He has added goals to his game so don’t be surprised to see him sticking a few away for Benfica next season.
Kevin De Bruyne – Attacking midfielder
Another player linked with an imminent move to Chelsea this summer is little-known attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne. Again another player that is a bit of a diamond-in-the-rough to those who don’t follow Belgium football, but the domestic fans know all about him. Although he broke into the first team at only 18 and was initially in and out of the side, last season he became a key-player for Racing Genk.
He has been attracting interest throughout last season with many Premier League clubs linked to the player and further speculation this summer, but he looks certain to follow his teammate Courtois to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are signing a player of great potential and if he can continue to develop is definitely one to watch for the future. He had an impressive season for Racing playing 34 games, scoring 6 goals with 13 assists.
De Bruyne is at home on the left-wing even though right-footed, but such is his versatility he can really operate on either flank, through the middle or in a more advanced position as a forward. He is a little slight in his build and will no doubt need time to adjust to football outside of Belgium. But the boy has bags of talent, including all the tricks of the new generation of player homed on watching the Ronaldinho’s of the world. He is happy to go to the bi-line and deliver after taking defenders on with a burst of pace. He has a good delivery, can be devastating from free-kicks and loves cutting in from the left-wing and taking a shot on his right. He has good touch and vision and is comfortable passing both short and long range. He could do very well for Chelsea, although how soon he gets his chance remains to be seen.
Eden Hazard – Attacking Midfielder
Hazard’s name has been one of the most coveted this summer following a great season playing in Ligue 1 for Lille OSC. He has been linked with Arsenal and there is no doubt that Hazard would relish testing himself against the best in the world even though he is willing to continue his education at Lille. Hazard has had a meteoric rise to become one of the world’s best up-and-coming midfielders since bursting on to the scene as a 16-year-old for Lille. He has since been drawing comparisons from many quaters to both Messi and Ronaldo. High praise indeed.
During his first full season he picked up the National Union of Professional Footballer’s (UNFP) Young Player of the Year. Not only was he the first non-French player to win this, he is also the first player to win this twice and his performances were further appreciated when he made the Ligue 1 Team of the Year.
So why is he so good? Well the question should be what is he not good at and the answer is very little. He has been compared to Messi and Ronaldo for very good reason – his low centre of gravity, acceleration and change of direction echo that of Lionel Messi. His technique, flair and imagination are what draw comparisons to Ronaldo. For me this isn’t far off. He changes direction more than a dodgem at the fairground, he goes through gaps that simply are not there, he twists and turns like no other and loves a nutmeg! He understands not only the flight of the ball, but understands the dynamics of others players movement and how he can exploit it. He is a good passer, can finish, is strong despite his small stature and is able to keep the ball away from defenders with ease as well as ride challenges. He is versatile and can play either side of the pitch and use either foot. If anything he does over-play at times, but it is always a joy to watch. He will be one of the world’s best when he moves on and a move is not going to be far away either with his preferred destination said to be Spain. Whoever signs Hazard will be signing a magician and he will no doubt go on to become a legend for club and country.
Romelu Lukaku – Striker/Beast
His father, himself an ex-player in the Belgium leagues, is the man behind that success and also the grounding of the player. He knew what the world of football could do and Romelu had a strict up bringing with his father instilling a work-like and determined mentality whilst he was a young boy. Mourinho has already commented that, “His father is very intelligent and will not let his son go now,” in reference to making a move for the striker at the beginning of last season. It is not only Mourinho’s Real Madrid who are looking at the player – every top club in Europe is looking at him and he will cost a minimum of around 40m EUR.
It is the mental attributes as well as the physical that set Lukaku apart. Mentally he is a winner and determined to reach the top. From a young age all he has known is goals, both in games and in life and he has always strived to be the best he can be. His record as a youngster is quality:
Age 11: 54 goals in 34 games
Age 12: 76 goals in 34 games
Age 13 59 goals in 34 games.
Age 14: 34 goals in 25 games
Age 15: 25 goals in 17 games for the Under-19s and 13 goals in 17 games for the reserves
Age 16: 19 goals in 33 games for the first team
Age 17 (last season): 20 goals in 37 games for the first team
Total: 300 goals in 231 games, a ratio of 1.29 goals per game. Bang.
He has the physical attributes to boss any defence; he is 6ft 3ins, strong, dominant, quick, powerful and physically very hard to stop. He has technique as well with good control and some tricks and flair. For a striker his positioning is exceptionally good, he is not afraid to create his own chances and is very composed and the boy can finish. His only weaknesses are his right-foot, as he is a typical lefty, and he could improve his heading and holdup play. With the other rising stars of the Belgium national team he is set to dominate both international and club football. Although Lukaku is a self-confessed Chelsea fan, where he will end up is yet to be seen but he can speak English, Spanish, Dutch and French so the world is his oyster, but he loves and knows he is suited to the Premier League, so we could all be in for a treat very soon.