Football

Belgian Pro League youngsters set for the big time

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Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Adnan Januzaj et al have established Belgium amongst the game's elite in recent years with Marc Wilmots' side rising to second place in the most recent world rankings.

This Golden Generation of Belgian players has been making an impact across Europe's top divisions in recent seasons, and they will be among the favourites to succeed at Euro 2016 next summer.

The good news is (if you are Belgian, at least) is there are plenty more young players who have excelled domestically who will be eager to get their opportunities at international level. Manchester United fans, take note.

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Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht)

Tielemans joined Anderlecht at the age of five and cruised through all the youth teams before finding himself with the big boys at the age of 16. Two years later, the wonderkid has already featured in 89 professional games for his current club, 10 of which were Champions League fixtures.

Surprisingly mature for his age, the midfielder has the world at his feet. Gifted with brilliant vision as well as exceptional pass ability, the 18-year-old has also earned himself two Young Player of the Year awards. His performances have, of course, not gone unnoticed. Yet, Tielemans won't come cheaply; he penned a new five year deal on his 18th birthday last May.

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Dennis Praet (Anderlecht)

This top-quality number 10 joined Anderlecht from Genk back in 2010. Since then, he has participated in just over 130 games for Les Mauves, recording 21 goals and 30 assists. The 21-year-old also gained the chance to show off his ability in last year's Champions League during which he inspired his team on several occasions.

The icing on the cake soon followed when the midfielder won last year's Soulier d'or, awarded to the league's best player. This summer, Praet has been heavily linked with a move away from Brussels.

Newspaper reports claim West Brom, Arsenal and Aston Villa are willing to lure the youngster to the Premier League. One thing is for sure, he would, without question, add creativity and style to each of these squads.

Obbi Oulare (Club Brugge)

Son of Souleymane, a former Stoke City player, Obbi played a major role in Club Brugge's success last year. The Flemish side finished second in the league, reached the Europa League's quarter finals in addition to lifting the Belgian Cup.

For his debut season, the 6 ft 5' striker achieved far more than what was expected from him and managed to find the back of the net seven times in just over 1100 minutes. Oulare was also able to display undeniable talent on numerous occasions with Belgium's under 18 and under 19 national teams scoring 10 goals in just 11 games.

The 19-year-old, not yet a regular starter for his club, stands an excellent chance of breaking through into Michel Preud'homme's starting XI this year. Oulare is both a mix of power and pace; a perfect fit for the Premier League. Borussia Dortmund have already been monitoring him although it looks like the youngster will stay in Belgium for at least another year.

Björn Engels (Club Brugge)

One of Belgium's most promising prospects. Less than three years ago, at the age of 18, the defender made a nightmare debut scoring an own goal during a 4-0 defeat to Bordeaux in the Europa League.

Nearly a year later, the youngster turned things around on his league debut against Ostende by getting on the scoreboard just three minutes into the game. Calm, composed, relatively fast, near unbeatable in the air and gifted with decent technique for a centre-back, Engels pretty much gathers all the qualities to become a world-class defender and most certainly has the potential to make it to the top.

Furthermore, the 20-year-old also impressed at the other end of the pitch scoring nine goals in 46 games. Unfortunately, the youngster missed most of last year's season after picking up a nasty knee injury.

Thomas Meunier (Club Brugge)

This highly-rated defender has had a peculiar career so far. At the age of 13, he joined Standard
and spent two years in Liege, before being released due to recurring injuries. Second tier club, Virton, jumped at the opportunity and immediately signed the youngster.

Meunier excelled himself on many occasions and proved to be a remarkable signing. It wasn't long before he caught the eye of several heavyweight clubs. In the winter of 2011, he agreed to join Belgian giants, Club Brugge.

Initially, the 23-year-old was brought in as a striker, however his former managers, Juan Carlos Garrido and Georges Leekens, played him at right-back. Surprisingly, Meunier went on to become one of the best full-backs in the top flight however he was unlucky enough to miss out on a place in Marc Wilmot's squad for Brazil.

Thanks to his drive forward and dangerous crosses, the player has already attracted interest from top teams all over Europe. Unfortunately for Meunier, again owing to injury, he won't be facing his dream club, Manchester United, in the Champions League.

Honorable mentions

Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Dion Cools (Club Brugge), Siebe Schrijvers (Genk), Timothy Castagne (Genk), Thomas Foket (Gent), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Julien de Sart (Standard), Aaron Leya Iseka (Anderlecht), Rob Schoofs (Sint-Truiden) and Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge).

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Topics:
Thibaut Courtois
Football
Eden Hazard
UEFA Champions League
Europa League
Internationals
Manchester United

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