Next Wednesday journalists, coaches and past winners will decide who will be Belgium’s ‘Golden Boot’ for 2014. As usual, the award will be based on performances over the calendar year rather than a complete football season. It’s crazy but it’s true.Last year, the three favourites – Thorgan Hazard, Michy Batshuayi and Maxime Lestienne – had several things in common, all being talented, young and uncapped by Belgium. Now they have something else in common as all three left the Jupiler Pro League in last summer’s transfer window: to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Olympique de Marseille and Genoa, respectively.
The younger Hazard will have picked up some points for the first six months of 2014 but it won’t be enough to give him a second Soulier d’Or / Gouden Schoen. The award this time around will go to one of five players – two from Anderlecht, two from Club Brugge and one from Lokeren.
The clear favourite is Anderlecht’s Dennis Praet. Praet has long been the ‘next big thing’ but it’s only in the past eight or nine months that he’s been consistently showing the form of which he’s capable. Praet spent seven years in the Racing Genk junior teams before being snapped up by Anderlecht at the age of 16. He was on a salary of 800,000 euros before he’d played for the first team and this seemed to weigh heavily on his young shoulders. With John Van den Brom as coach, Praet often looked lost out on the wing and frequently on the bench, overshadowed first by Massimo Bruno (now at RB Salzburg) and latterly by the 16 year-old prodigy Youri Tielemans – himself now suffering from second season syndrome.
Everything changed for Praet when Van den Brom was sacked and his assistant Besnik Hasi was promoted just before the 2013-14 playoffs. Hasi put his faith in youth and placed Praet in his preferred position at no. 10. As other title contenders faltered, Anderlecht took the championship yet again and went on to perform creditably in the Champions League. Praet was instrumental in those games and finished the year in fine style with goals and assists.
One of his main challengers will be Club Brugge’s Victor Vazquez, a player with an interesting back-story. Playing in the Barcelona youth sides along with Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi, Vazquez was thought by some to be the most talented of his generation. For whatever reason, and he did have a serious injury, his talent never blossomed in Spain. In 2011, aged 24, he joined Club Brugge. An obviously talented midfield general, Vazquez took time to adapt to Belgium, struggling with injuries and from competition with Vadis Odjidja. This season, under Michel Preud’homme’s stewardship, Vazquez has finally begun to look the part and he’s the acknowledged playmaker of a team sitting at the top of the JPL table.Other players in the running include another talented midfield player, Lokeren’s Hans Vanaken, and a couple of keepers: Anderlecht’s Silvio Proto and Club Brugge’s Australian shot-stopper Mat Ryan, arguably the best in Belgium. If Club Brugge win the title, and, with Preud’homme at the helm, it’s highly likely, then Vazquez and Ryan could be in the frame for the 2015 Golden Boot, assuming they stick around. I don’t think that Vanaken – once linked with Club Brugge when Vazquez was not performing – will pick up enough votes, given that he plays for Lokeren. That leaves Praet and Proto.
My gut feeling is that Anderlecht’s title and performances in the Champions League will give their players an advantage. Proto has been Anderlecht’s most consistent player in the past 12 months but as goalkeepers rarely win the Gouden Schoen – the last one was none other than KV Mechelen’s Preud’homme back in 1989 – I’m going for Praet. The midfielder is looking more like a man than a boy these days and he would be a worthy successor to Thorgan Hazard. Like Hazard before him, though, he may not be around after the current season ends.
Finally, here is some food for thought. Looking at the past 10 winners of the Golden Boot, only one – Vincent Kompany – has left Belgium and made a name for himself in one of Europe’s ‘big’ leagues. What can we learn from that? Answers on a postcard please or via twitter – @belgofoot.
Last 10 “Gouden Schoen”/ “Soulier D’Or” winners
2004 Vincent Kompany – Anderlecht
2005 Sergio Conceiçao – Standard Liege
2006 Mbark Boussoufa – Gent/Anderlecht
2007 Steven Defour – Standard Liege
2008 Axel Witsel – Standard Liege
2009 Milan Jovanovic – Standard Liege
2010 Mbark Boussoufa – Anderlecht
2011 Matias Suarez – Anderlecht
2012 Dieumerci Mbokani – Anderlecht
2013 Thorgan Hazard – Zulte Waregem
A few facts about the award
• Most points gained by winner of the ‘Golden Boot’: 509, Michel Preud’homme (KV Mechelen, 1987)
• Youngest ever winner: Paul Van Himst (Anderlecht, 1960) aged 17 years & 3 months.
• Club with the most winners of the award: Anderlecht (16 players – 22 awards), followed by Club Brugge (8, 10) and Standard Liege (8, 9).
• Oldest player to win: Lorenzo Staelens (Anderlecht, 1999) – aged 35 & 8 months.
• Most wins: Paul Van Himst (4), followed by Jan Ceulemans and Wilfried Van Moer (3 each).
• Largest winning margin: Vincent Kompany (by 403 points ahead of Luigi Pieroni in 2004).
• Foreign players to have won twice: Par Zetterberg (1993 and 1997), Mbark Boussoufa (2006 and 2010).
• Last time that a player from Club Brugge won – 2002, Timmy Simons.