Robert Critchley examines the next wave of Belgian talents who will hope to follow Christian Benteke's instant success in the Premier League.
The quality of football player coming out of Belgium at the moment is probably as good as any other nation can boast, and for a country of their size, it is even more impressive.
The national team is at present virtual certainties to get at least a play off spot for the 2014 World Cup, the away game in October against Croatia looking like it will decide top spot in group A.
The Belgian players certainly are benefitting from plying their trade in the Premier League with English based players running through the heart of the Diables Rouges squad. It will be inevitable therefore that during this close season, sides will be looking to unearth another Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku or Simon Mignolet.
The next goalkeeper to emerge to challenge Mignolet and Atletico Madrid’s on loan Chelsea star Thibaut Courtois is 20 year old Anderlecht stopper Thomas Kaminski.
Although his game time this past season has been limited due to the form of Silvio Proto, big things are expected of Kaminski and while it is still doubtful that he would go straight into goal for a Premier League side, a loan deal could be arranged if a side sees him as a prospect for the future. Norwich and Newcastle have both been linked.
The Belgian defence is already well represented in the Premier League with Kompany, Vertonghen and Vermaelen already established successes, and if rumour is to be believed they will be joined by Toby Alderweireld, Vertonghen’s former defensive partner at Ajax.
Liverpool have been strongly linked but that rumour seems to have been put on the back burner for the while. Alderweireld would do a job for any club, so it is doubtful he will still be at the Amsterdam ArenA next season, with Roma another side linked.
Zenit Saint Petersburg have two big money Belgium international signings, and these may be looking to come to the Premier League especially with the World Cup at the end of the next season. They will not come cheap however, with Zenit not having to sell players to survive.
Defender Nicholas Lombaerts has spent the last 6 years in Russia and it has been rumoured he is looking to follow many of his compatriots to England. With just one year left on his contract, he would fit into any Europe chasing side, and before David Moyes move, appeared to be interesting Everton, who already have their own pair of Belgian internationals.
Zenit’s second Belgian is Axel Witsel who signed from Benfica at the start of the last season, for serious money after the Russians activated his buy out clause after just one year in Lisbon. He is on the wish list of most top European sides, but such is Zenit’s financial clout, it will take more than £40 milion to take him back, which is out of all but Chelsea and Manchester City’s range.
Witsel won’t be moving, but more realistic midfield options could be Steven Defour of Porto, or Nacer Chadli of Twente.
Defour is rated, and has been on the radar of other European giants since he signed for Porto form Standard Liege two seasons ago. However, with the Dragon’s midfield seriously weakened with Monaco’s double swoop of James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho, Porto will be reluctant to see another integral part of an already depleted midfield leave.
Chadli on the other hand fits the bill. He is 23 years old, but has played in Europe for his club, and at international level. He will command what most will consider a reasonable fee, but a return of a goal in every three and a half games will have suitors queuing up. Tottenham, West Ham and Newcastle have all been linked, but a player of his quality should be aiming for Champions League football, which will obviously reduce his Premier League options.
Benteke was undoubtedly the find of the season last year, and clubs will be looking to unearth a gem or two this time round as well. Maxime Lestienne has followed Benteke through the age ranges and into the National Squad. The 20-year-old has already made over 100 Belgian league appearances, and is another who has been linked to Everton in the past.
The quality of the Belgian players coming through at this time is unquestionable, and with the knowledge clubs are gleaning, there will be more imports coming this way.
Clubs are seeing that there is a special group of players who want to be in Brazil for the world cup, and for them to achieve that need to perform on the biggest stages.
The influx will continue as long as the quality is there, and soon the lowland countries will have a serious rival to the Dutch dominance of the area.
image: © mikehamm