Ranking Belgium's Top 5 Wonderkids
In the last few years, Belgium seemingly came out of nothing to start producing some of the best young talent in football.
Some of those players have already made their mark on Europe’s biggest leagues. Think, for example, of Thibaut Courtois, whose Atletico Madrid side is on top of La Liga and in the Champions League final.
Others are not quite there yet. Think of Nacer Chadli and Kevin de Bruyne, who either need more time or perhaps aren't as good as was once hoped.
Ahead of the World Cup in Brazil this summer, we take a look at the current status of some of the most rated Belgian wonderkids.
Although he’s 24 years of age and not really a “kid” anymore, Nacer Chadli’s reputation is still largely defined by unfulfilled potential, rather than ability.
After moving from Dutch side FC Twente to Tottenham Hotspur in 2013, Chadli never really stepped up to the plate. Playing in the Premier League simply comes with higher expectations than the Eredivisie, and Chadli has not yet proven he’s up for it.
Chadli is an undeniably gifted player, though, and there is a sense that there is yet more to come. In a few matches for Spurs, the Belgian has shown glimpses of the ability he so fervently displayed at FC Twente.
Perhaps a successful World Cup could spark Chadli’s Spurs career back to life. Until then, however, Chadli will remain in the "promising" category of players.
When Chelsea bought Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht in 2011, fans and pundits alike thought the Londoners were bringing in the next Didier Drogba—the Chelsea legend who needed replacement.
As a strong, tall but skillful player, Lukaku indeed seemed similar to Drogba. However, we now know that Lukaku is his own man, his own type of player and his own type of striker.
His two loan spells, at West Bromwich Albion and Everton, did Lukaku more than good. The 18-year-old who arrived at Chelsea was simply too young and inexperienced.
With Christian Benteke seriously injured and definitively out of the World Cup, it looks like Lukaku will finally get a chance to shine on the big stage.
Judging by the determination the striker has shown during his two loan spells, it looks like he’ll relish the opportunity.
Because they tend to reach their peak in their late 20s at the earliest, you don’t often see goalkeepers being dubbed as “wonderkids.”
Atletico Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois forms an exception.
The 22-year-old, who is destined to replace Chelsea’s 31-year-old veteran Petr Cech either next year or the year after, might just be one of the best young goalkeepers in the world.
As such, Belgium boss Marc Wilmots even picks him ahead of Liverpool first-team goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
With Atletico, Courtois still has every chance of ending the traditional dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga. He’s also in the final of the Champions League.
Full of confidence, he’ll be looking to add a solid World Cup run to his already impressive CV.
Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin de Bruyne never got much playing time at Chelsea, and for that reason, Belgium manager Marc Wilmots reportedly told the attacking midfielder to move on and look for another club in the winter of 2013.
That’s exactly what De Bruyne did.
In December, he was sold to Wolfsburg in Germany, who paid a record transfer fee for the 22-year-old.
De Bruyne now has almost half a season’s worth of Bundesliga experience under his belt, and Wilmots has seemingly even made him part of Belgium's first team.
Together with Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard, De Bruyne forms the core of the Rode Duivels’ team.
A memorable World Cup performance could definitively place the playmaker in the international limelight—and maybe even cause Chelsea to regret ever selling him.
So far this season, Eden Hazard has scored 14 goals in 33 appearances. He has also created 87 chances. Indeed, Hazard has proven to be an all-important player for Chelsea.
With his impressive record, it’s easy to forget that the attacking midfielder and winger is still only 23 years of age. He’s still very young by anyone's standards, and besides his already apparent skills, there’s a good chance there’s loads of potential still to be unlocked.
During the World Cup, we might just see this potential bear fruit, and Hazard could definitively establish himself as one of the world’s best.
He has won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. Now, he's after more.