The English clubs should be careful. Belgian players are the flavour of the month – there’s no doubt about that – with Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku hogging the headlines in the past couple of weeks. However, the majority of Belgian players in the Premier League did not go there directly from the Belgian first division. Gone are the days when a player such as Philippe Albert could move from Anderlecht to Newcastle United and become a cult figure in a matter of weeks.
The gap between the two leagues is now immense, primarily due to the sale of TV rights in the UK that brings wealth to the English clubs and exposure that was unheard of in previous decades. Back in Belgium, clubs like Anderlecht used to win European trophies, now they dream of qualifying for the Champions’ League group stage.
Looking at the Belgian players who have succeeded in the Premier League, all have arrived with solid experience. Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen both captained Ajax before moving to London, Moussa Dembele had some good years at AZ, Eden Hazard was the King of France before conquering Stamford Bridge and Vincent Kompany learnt a lot of lessons at Hamburg before his highly successful move to Manchester City.
Lukaku proved that a transfer directly to the Premier League is not easy and is now trying again with the Baggies. Simon Mignolet did make a good switch from Sint Truiden to Sunderland but he went more or less under the radar as he was signed as a reserve keeper. He then fought his way into the first team once he had settled. The only player so far to go directly to the Premier League and succeed is Fellaini. He was a success at Standard Liege and moved to Everton for a big fee – €20 million – too big many said at the time.
In comparison to Fellaini, Benteke has achieved little in Belgium. He’s a raw talent and he’s in his second spell at Genk. He’s also appeared for Standard Liege, Kortrijk and KV Mechelen and he’s only 21. He has been impressive at Genk recently but his main asset is his strength. That won’t be enough in the goldfish bowl Premier League. He’s one for the future but Aston Villa fans are probably expecting a Messiah.