Top ten Belgians who could be on the move

By | December 29, 2011

Last season saw several high profile Belgian players move out of the Jupiler League (including Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Steven Defour and Axel Witsel) and some earn transfers between clubs outside of Belgium (e.g. Dries Mertens from Utrecht to PSV). There could be similar transactions this season; here’s my view of Belgians who could change clubs … but where and when? It’s not easy predicting this kind of thing; for eample, no one expected Defour and Witsel to be playing this season in Portugal!

Eden Hazard (20, Lille)

One of the most talked about players in world football, Hazard has been linked to almost all of the big clubs with recent stories (subsequently denied) saying the player himself would prefer to go to Real Madrid. Hazard has everything – except height – and that bag of tricks includes explosiveness, intelligence, speed, an eye for goal and skill in abundance. He’s had a few spats with Belgian coach Georges Leekens but that seems to be behind him now. Hazard is unlikely to move in January but he looks certain to be on the road in the summer. The latest show of interest came from Manchester City who were said to be ready to bid £25 million; Lille would want far more than that.

Chance of move in January: 3/10; summer window: 9/10.

Dries Mertens (24, PSV)

Mertens joined PSV from Utrecht in the summer and started the season with 11 goals in seven games. Some observers see Mertens as a ‘dead ringer’ for Eden Hazard: they are both tricky, fast and both can make a decisive pass. Hazard though would seem to have the edge in terms of his ability to read the game and, perhaps, in the future, be a director of operations in the manner of Zinedine Zidane. ‘Voetball International’ analysed Mertens’ record and deduced he was less effective against the ‘big’ teams: zero goals and five assists in 18 games. Marca selected him as one of the revelations of the season but he does need to start making his mark in high profile games.

Chance of move in January: 2/10; summer window: 2/10.

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, but that seemed to go to his head and he faded. This season he’s matured, perhaps due to Gent’s new coach Trond Sollied – well know for treating players like grown-ups. Like Dries Mertens, El Ghanassy needs to show he can be decisive in the big matches. Still only 21, this season he’s been linked to Lille – apparently recommended by Eden Hazard.

Chance of move in January: 4/10; summer window: 7/10.

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. It looks very likely he’ll move in the summer. Newcastle United have recently shown interest but that does not look like the kind of move he would make. Arsenal have often been linked to the player and Spurs are said to fancy him at centre back; Barcelona have been following his progress for years.

Chance of move in January: 5/10; summer window: 8/10.

Kevin De Bruyne (20, Racing Genk)

At the beginning of last season, De Bruyne’s creativity saw him hailed as the top teenage talent in the Jupiler League. Chelsea wanted him last summer but his club refused to sanction the move, having already lost Thibaut Courtois to the same club. Since then, injuries and illness – and a decline in Genk’s fortunes – have led to a drop in his perceived value. Nevertheless, De Bruyne has talent and that was evident in Genk’s 5-4 victory over Club Brugge – a match that featured a brilliant De Bruyne hat-trick. Chelsea could still decide to come back for him in January, although he’s yet to return to the team after recently breaking a toe. If the London club did sign him, he’d almost certainly go out on loan to avoid a ‘Lukaku situation’. De Bruyne seems to be level-headed and if he keeps clear of injury, he could be one for the future in a top team.

Chance of move in January: 5/10; summer window: 7/10.

Jelle Vossen (22, Racing Genk)

Like De Bruyne, Vossen came to prominence at the start of last season when the ‘Fox’ just could not stop scoring. Since then he’s somewhat gone off the boil – although he’s scored nine goals so far this term – partly due to the lack of success of Genk, post-Vercauteren. Vossen tends to fall between two stools; while he’s not a natural finisher, he lacks the ability to play a more creative central role. Despite that, Vossen is often the subject of transfer rumours. Italian clubs said to be on his trail include Fiorentina and Juventus, while Everton and Fenerbahçe have also been mentioned.

Chance of move in January: 7/10; summer window: 8/10.

Omar El Kaddouri (21, Brescia)

El Kaddouri is an attacking midfield player currently earning good reviews for Brescia in Italy’s Serie B. In October, he was a match-winning substitute (goal and assist) when Belgium U21s beat England U21s in Mons. El Kaddouri was a youth player with Anderlecht but never played in the Belgian 1st division. There have been reports in the Italian media that Juventus and Roma are both interested and earlier it seemed that Arsenal fancied the Belgo-Moroccan. El Kaddouri has not yet decided whether he will represent Belgium or Morocco when the international call-ups arrive – which they surely will.

Chance of move in January: 7/10; summer window: 8/10.

Radja Nainggolan (23, Cagliari)

Another Belgian (almost) unknown in Belgium is Radja Nainggolan, a player with Belgo-Indonesian ancestry. If he had a nickname, it would surely be ‘the warrior’, for that’s the way Nainggolan plays. He’s been earning rave reports for Cagliari and the big Italian clubs are also on his trail. Nainggolan could be the combative midfield player who eventually replaces Timmy Simons in the Belgian national team; he came on as substitute in a recent friendly against Romania. But Nainggolan is not just a fighter; he can also play football and loves to come forward. A player who will always gives 100%, he would be an asset to many teams.

Chance of move in January: 5/10; summer window: 7/10.

Sebastien Pocognoli (24, Standard Liege)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Belgium have not solved their full back problem in the national team. Part of the answer could be close to home, however, in the form of Standard Liege left-back Sebastien Pocognoli. Starting his career at Standard, Pocognoli moved to Genk (1st team at 16) and then to AZ Alkmaar before returning home to Liege. He’s now a key player for Standard and could become a regular member of the national squad after first playing for Belgium in 2008. Pocognoli is excellent going forward but needs to tighten up his defensive work before Georges Leekens gives him the nod. Fiorentina are the club mostly linked to Pocognoli these days but Standard would be reluctant to lose him in January.

Chance of move in January: 3/10; summer window: 6/10.

Moussa Dembélé (24, Fulham)

Another player starting his career at Beerschot, Dembélé 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 and he’s yet another young player competing for a place in the Belgian national team. On the negative side, Dembélé should be scoring more goals as his record for AZ and Fulham shows. He’s unlikely to move in January but the possibility of joining another Premier League club in the next couple of years cannot be ruled out. Fulham coach Martin Jol is on record as saying that Dembélé could become the best ‘number 10’ in the Premier League.

Chance of move in January: 2/10; summer window: 3/10.

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