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’.
right now, the belgians are the ‘must have’ for most of BPL clubs..mandatory in the next few years! :)… really like your articles and analysis especially when it comes to Jupiler Pro League because that was so rare..Club Bruges are already defeated by Ariël Jacobs’s side, I really hope that Anderlecht will overcome AEL Limassol for the Champions League group stage..
Good to hear from you. Yes, the Jupiler League needs Anderlecht in the Champions League.
Right now the Belgian international team has never looked stronger, does Marc Wilmotts have the expertise to coach this exciting group of players to greatness, I know he was a top drawer player but as a coach, a motivator, I’m not convinced, you probably know more about him in that respect, your thoughts?
I think he’s a great motivator and the players do seem to respect him. He has no record of success at all, at any level as a coach. But he’s been there as number 2 for a couple of years and continuity is good. He does seem willing to experiment and the players seem to be responding – at least in the Premiership.
I’m looking forward to watching them away to Wales and at home to Croatia, the thing that struck me about the good Belgian International teams of the past was their togetherness as a group, this will stand them in good stead going forward at a time when playing for your country is no longer considered the holy grail, this for me could be a team capable of winning the World Cup in 2014, I think they look a strong bet to top Group A in the qualifiers, would you be singing from the same hymn sheet on this?
Not quite the same hymn sheet. Obviously it’s a great squad but so far they have achieved more as individuals for their clubs than for country. Now is the time for them to get together and make progress. Topping the group not easy, Croatia especially useful, and it’s far too soon to talk about winning the World Cup.
I don’t think Croatia have the same quality at their disposal as Belgium, Belgium are especially strong at the back and in midfield but up front that strength may not be as great, correct me If I’m wrong but Kevin Mirallas looks to me like he will be the main man up top for Belgium, I know you’ve mentioned a few young guns but would you hang your hat on anyone to come really good in the strikers division alongside Mirallas, I wouldn’t be a fan of Lukaku who from what I’ve seen of him lacks the guile for the international stage, he’s a big marauding frontman who will get little change at the international till, I would liken him to Ade Akinbiyi, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him but he was a very limited opeartor, his frame was his trump card but he had no ace up his sleeve, I digress!! Anyway thanks for your comments and I will revisit this page as the qualifiers unfold.
I think they’re strong in midfield and in central defence. Full back position is weak, with Vertonghen (central defender) and Gillet (midfield) playing there. Up front is a major problem. Hopefully Lukaku can gain experience with WBA but I share your concerns. I’ve only seen Mirallas play for Belgium but he’s never impressed me except when on the wing. I see no young gun strikers coming through. Benji De Ceulaer may be worth watching now he’s at Genk. But coming back to midfield, they’re over-stocked: Hazard, Fellaini, Witsel, Defour, Dembele, Mertens, Chadli, De Bruyne … hard to pick the best blend.
I didn’t see the Croatian game but I guess 1-1 is a decent result, I think your point about finding the best mix in the midfield could cause Wilmotts a few headaches, I noticed he left Fellaini on the bench for the start of the Croatian game, he went for Defour in his place, he also went for Benteke over Mirallas so he mustn’t fancy Mirallas too much, looking at the match stats, there wasn’t much between the sides, Belgium did score highly on the corner count but had very few clear cut chances, what are your thoughts as I assume you watched the game, you were probably at it, I think my talk of winning the World Cup might be a tad premature but then again you’d never know how they might develop over the qualifying campaign and better still they might unearth a Nico Claesen or a Jan Ceulemans!!
No Claesen or Ceulemans on the horizon. I was disappointed last night as they did not create many chances and defence was wobbly. There’s work to be done and it looks already as if they may have to settle for second best. Wilmots seemed too pleased as well.