You don’t have to look far to find Belgian footballers in England at the moment. With the Premier League’s second weekend underway, it’s Everton and Chelsea fans that have been themost affected by the ‘Wonder of Belgium’ syndrome. Eden Hazard is seen as someone who could rival Messi and Ronaldo, Marouane Fellaini is thought to be the player who could take Everton into the Champions League and even Romelu Lukaku, on loan at WBA from Chelsea, is being tipped – again – as a second Didier Drogba.
There’s an element of hype in this of course – as the Premier League is one of the top franchises in the world – but there’s no denying that Belgium has produced some talented footballers in recent years. Added to those three recent headline makers, it’s not by chance that Manchester City and Arsenal have Belgians, in the shape of Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, in charge of their troops.
The arrival of Kevin Mirallas at Everton is just another example of ‘Buy Belgian’. He’s joining the headline makers; those who are playing in the Premier League and established in the national squad. As well as Hazard, Fellaini, Lukaku, Kompany and Vermaelen, we can add Spurs’ new signing and ex-Ajax captain Jan Vertonghen, Fulham playmaker Moussa Dembele and Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet.
The next group consists of those players based in the Premier League who have not yet reached the national team or have been overlooked. That’s the case for Manchester City defender Dedryk Boyota, whose career seems to have stalled, Southampton’s Steve De Ridder, who played all his football in the Netherlands before moving to the UK, WBA’s on-loan Yassine El Ghanassy who is trying to re-establish himself at the age of 22, and Manchester United’s Marnick Vermijl, 20 – signed from Standard – who had a few minutes in the first team recently.
Then there are the ones below the Premier League, who were there at one stage or who moved directly from Belgium to the lower divisions. That takes in Leicester City’s Ritchie De Laet, who has played at a number of clubs without establishing himself, Florent Cuvelier (19) -on loan at Walsall from Stoke City- who is a big fan favourite in the Midlands, Middlesborough’s Faris Haroun, Birmingham City’s Brice Ntambwe and Geoffrey Mujangia Bia who has gone on loan to Watford from Standard Liege. .
Finally we have the youngsters who have been snapped up with an eye on the future. At Manchester City there are Mathias Bossaerts (known as the white Kompany) and ex-Genk starlet Alessio Alessandro (both 16). Manchester United have Belgo-Brazilian Andreas Pereira (also 16) and Belgo-Albanian Adnan Januzaj (17) while Chelsea have gone for broke with the three Musonda brothers – taken from Anderlecht – (Lamisha, 20, Tika, 18, and 15 year-old Charles Junior) and Thorgan (19), brother of the more famous Eden, Hazard.
The last group shows a trend that’s likely to continue. For many years, young Belgian players tended to gravitate to Anderlecht from other Belgian clubs. Now the big Premier League clubs are swooping on Anderlecht, and other clubs such as Genk and Standard, and picking up their youngsters – and families – at the age of 15; before they can legally sign a contract in Belgium.
Belgian footballers are the flavour of the month and although it’s hard to say why it’s happening now there are some patterns. Over half of the Belgian players in the UK are examples of the multicultural nature of the country these days; although they are all proud to be Belgian, there are also links, for example, to the Congo, Zambia and Morocco. Furthermore, the majority of players mentioned here completed their football education outside of Belgium, primarily in the Netherlands and France. In this regard, Fellaini was one of the few to go directly from the Jupiler League to a Premier League side and succeed.
It’s certain that Kevin Mirallas won’t be the last Belgian to arrive in the Premier League. Chelsea have snapped up Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne from Genk and sent them to Atletico Madrid and Werder Bremen, respectively, to complete their education.
And let’s not forget PSV’s Dries Mertens, Twente’s Nacer Chadli, Porto’s Steven Defour and Benfica’s Axel Witsel. They won’t be available at bargain process though. It won’t last forever, but at the moment it seems to pay to ‘Buy Belgian’.