Belgians are the flavour of the month; not a day goes by without clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City or Real Madrid being linked to a likely Belgian lad. Eden Hazard is a top favourite, but Jan Vertonghen and Axel Witsel are not far behind when it comes to rumours. So, a bit early maybe, here are my views on Belgians who could change clubs in the summer window.
Eden Hazard (20, Lille)
One of the most talked about players in world football. Eden Hazard has been linked to almost all of the ‘big’ clubs with even Sir Alex reportedly watching him at Lille a few weeks ago. He’s won everything possible in his adopted country, with the exception of the Tour de France. Hazard has a bag of tricks that includes explosiveness, intelligence, speed, an eye for goal and skill in abundance. Apart from Sir Alex, Harry Redknapp fancies the boy, as do Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and – reportedly – Real Madrid.
Cost: €30-35 million; chance of move in the summer window: 9/10.
Jan Vertonghen (24, Ajax)
Vertonghen is from the Beerschot-Ajax production line, following in the footsteps of friend and international colleague Thomas Vermaelen. Vertonghen is the more flexible of the two: he’s played midfield and full back for Belgium, while cementing his position as centre back and captain for Ajax. Ex-Belgium boss Dick Advocaat reckons that left midfield is Vertonghen’s best position. Newcastle United did show an interest, and Redknapp is also said to like the look of the elegant centre back. Arsenal have often been linked to the player and they do seem to be in pole position. It seems Barcelona have also been following his progress but the player himself says he’s heading for the Premier League.
Cost €15-20 million; chance of move in the summer window: 9/10.
Moussa Dembélé (24, Fulham)
Like Vertonghen, Dembélé started his career at Beerschot. He came to prominence at AZ Alkmaar before moving to Fulham in the summer of 2010. He can play as a striker or in an advanced midfield position. Dembélé should be scoring more goals as his record for AZ and Fulham shows. Martin Jol is on record as saying that Dembélé could become the best ‘number 10’ in the Premier League. He’s been linked occasionally to Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs.
Cost: €15 million; chance of move in the summer window: 5/10.
Axel Witsel (23, Benfica)
Witsel moved to Benfica in the summer for a knock-dowm price of €7 million. He now has a liberation clause in his contract of €35 million. Elected Belgium’s Player of the Year in 2008, he’s a top-class all-round midfield performer. Witsel was often in Steven Defour’s shadow at Standard Liege but he’s now emerged in his own right. Although known in the UK for his horrific tackle on Marcin Wasilewski, Witsel is not that type of player and his game suffered – as did Wasilewski’s – after the incident. Real Madrid have recently been linked with Witsel, along with the usual suspects: PSG, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. His move from Standard was engineered by Luciano D’Onofrio, who is set to be the recipient of a percentage from any further deal.
Cost: €30-35 million; chance of move in the summer window: 4/10.
Jelle Vossen (22, Racing Genk)
Like Kevin De Bruyne, Vossen came to prominence at the start of last season when the ‘Fox’ just could not stop scoring. Since then he’s not shown the same form, perhaps due to Genk’s numerous problems and transfer talk. Despite that, Vossen is second in the Jupiler League goal scoring charts: 13 in 26 matches. He tends to fall between two stools; while he’s not a natural finisher, he lacks the ability to play a more creative central role. Italian clubs said to be on Vossen’s trail include Fiorentina and Juventus, while Everton and Fenerbahçe have also been mentioned in the past.
Cost: €4-5 million; chance of move in the summer window: 7/10.
Yassine El Ghanassy (21, Gent)
El Ghanassy is a quick and tricky winger, one of several players of that ilk eligible for Belgium. He was linked with a move to Manchester City last season and then with a move to Russia in the winter. The talk seemed to go to his head and he was dropped by Gent for being insufficiently focused. Still only 21, he has also been linked to Lille – apparently recommended by Eden Hazard. Gent are well-stocked with wide players, and they may well decide that El Ghanassy is better off elsewhere.
Cost: €6 million; chance of move in the summer window: 6/10.
Radja Nainggolan (23, Cagliari)
Little known in Belgium, Radja Nainggolan is a player with Belgo-Indonesian ancestry. If he had a nickname, it would surely be ‘the warrior’. He has had rave reports for Cagliari and the big Italian clubs are said to be on his trail. Nainggolan could be the combative midfield player who eventually replaces Timmy Simons in the Belgian national team. He loves to come forward and will always give 100%; he would be an asset to many teams.
Cost: €6 million; chance of move in the summer window: 5/10.
Thibaut Courtois (19, Chelsea/Atletico Madrid)
Courtois got into the Racing Genk side at the beginning of last season as he was the only fit keeper. He was ever-present and instrumental in Genk winning the title. Courtois joined Chelsea in the summer and went on loan to Atletico Madrid where he quickly became their number one keeper. Spanish journalists now say he’s the number three in La Liga after Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes. Courtois stands 6’ 4 ½” tall and he’s a commanding presence in the area. Belgium has a rich history of keepers – Michel Preud’homme and Jean-Marie Pfaff to name but two – and Courtois could one day be a bigger name than both. Real Madrid are said to be ready to bid €30 million for the young keeper but that’s unlikely to happen.
Cost: €25 million; chance of move in the summer window: 2/10.
Kevin De Bruyne / Romelu Lukaku (20 and 18, Chelsea)
Both De Bruyne (currently at Genk) and Lukaku are set to go out on loan next season; that is if the senior players at Chelsea agree. Both have been linked to Hamburg but the signs are that the club will want to give both players experience of English conditions.
Cost: both on loan; chance of loan deal in the summer window: 9.5/10 (both).