The Belgian New Wave

Posted on June 20, 2011 by

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As the cogs of the summer rumour mill begin to gather momentum any glance at the football gossip pages will reveal a curious pattern…

“Arsenal are looking to land Lille’s Eden Hazard”

 

Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku hopes to finalise a £20m move to Chelsea on Saturday”

 

“Standard Liege’s central midfielder Steven Defour could be a target for Manchester United”

 

“Arsenal and Liverpool are battling it out for the signature of Standard Liege’s £10m-rated midfielder Axel Witsel”

 

“Manchester City are tracking Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen”

 

Some of the hottest properties in world football have one thing in common – they’re all Belgian. Currently ranked 37th in the world by FIFA, Belgium are a team who have constantly punched above their weight in international football, reaching the knockout round of the World Cup five out of six times between 1982 and 2002. The same, however, cannot be said for their European Championship record and their qualification for the 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine hangs in the balance after a 1-1 draw with Guus Hiddink’s Turkey. Axel Witsel missed a penalty that night after the impressive Red Devils had outplayed their Turkish counterparts but failed to make their dominance count. Turkey are now only one point behind them with a game in hand meaning this talented crop of players may have to wait till the World Cup to prove themselves on the world stage.

International failings aside, it seems that top European clubs are plumping for transfer targets akin to their choice in waffles or chocolate. There are a number of Belgians who have already made their mark on the Premier League (Fellaini, Vermaelen, Dembele, Kompany and Mignolet), but it is this new generation of Belgians who have clubs scrambling for their chequebooks.

One player who has been constantly on Manchester United’s radar is Standard Liege’s 23-year-old captain Steven Defour. It has been reported that when Defour broke his leg in 2009, Alex Ferguson wrote him a letter wishing him all the best in his recovery (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/oct/15/ferguson-manchester-united-steven-defour-liege), doing nothing to quell rumours that the Belgian midfielder could be on his way to Old Trafford. Although nothing came of United’s attention, Defour is still on the radar of many top scouts, with his vision, leadership qualities and ability to play both as a defensive and box-to-box midfielder making him an attractive and relatively cheap option for European clubs.

Diminutive in stature but superbly named, another Belgian to warrant many a column inch this summer is Lille’s Eden Hazard. The 20-year-old helped Lille win their first Ligue 1 title since the 1953-54 season, cutting in from either wing to set up and score a freat number of the French outfit’s goals. Here’s why teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal are so taken with the youngster…

The jewel in the crown of this Belgian side however, is a player being dubbed “the next Drogba”, which suggests why Chelsea are currently in talks with Anderlecht to sign the 18-year-old. Romelu Lukaku has a strength and size that belies his tender age and after bursting onto the scene last season (he was the Belgian First Division top scorer at 17) the natural progression would be for him to move to a bigger club. At 6ft 3in, Lukaku cuts an intimidating figure that would suit the hustle and bustle of the Premier League, but to compliment this presence he also has a natural goal scoring ability and pace to burn.

These players suggest it is an exciting time to be a Belgian football fan, excitement that could be shared by a number of fans from the Premier League if the gossip columns are to be believed. Who knows, if they don’t make the Euros next year and have 3 years to gel together what is clearly an outstanding crop of talent, they may well be ones to watch at Brazil 2014.

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Posted in: Europe, Football