The Belgian Jupiler league might not be much to look at in terms of glamour or prestige, but Belgian football is experiencing a golden age of talent. It’s the upcoming stars of the Belgian national side that are fast becoming the go-to players for clubs in Europe looking to fill a gap. Except they’re so much more than that.
The idea that football works in cycles couldn’t be more appropriate with this current group of players representing Belgium. The Germans, the Dutch and the Spanish have always produced outstanding talent, and although their achievements on the international stage hasn’t always been as consistent as their production line, they have established themselves as some of the front-runners for Europe’s top players. The Belgians, on the other hand, haven’t always boasted an eye watering line up of potential superstars. Their performances in international football might not even do enough to suggest that here are some of the best footballers in Europe, as Eden Hazard will suggest having only scored once in his last 26 games for the national side.
But Europe’s big guns, and those of the Premier League in particular, are taking advantage more than anything of the abundance in quality. There might be an underlying theme here that you haven’t really completed your squad unless you have one of Belgium’s top players representing your club. Maybe an outlandish theme on the face of it, but just let it run.
On one hand, you’ve got to ask why there’s so much dithering around and lack of concrete, convinced movement for any of Belgium’s top players. Vincent Kompany had been scouted a number of times by Europe’s leading clubs before Manchester City snapped him up. And on some level it might have been because they had an endless supply of funds with which to make a gamble. It of course paid of, but other clubs weren’t to know that. Thomas Vermaelen was bought by Arsenal and has proved to be one of their better defensive acquisitions in many years. But again, where were the other teams when an Ajax captain and versatile international was on the market? Romelu Lukaku was followed by a number of clubs before eventually landing at Chelsea and Jan Vertonghen is on a number of clubs’ wish list but where’s the action? Furthermore, you’ve got to think that both Axel Witsel and Steven Defour could have made a positive impression on a league with a higher standing than the Portuguese league.
But what is appealing to those in the Premier League are the alternatives Belgium’s internationals represent. On some levels they are an untouched gold mine with no defined value. Ten years ago how would you look to value a player from Belgium? Certainly not upwards of £30 million. But while the risk is there, many of these players are excellent alternatives to a market reserved for Europe’s royalty. Moussa Dembele was an excellent purchase for Fulham and a player very much in their spending bracket. At the same time, Vermaelen and now Vertonghen seem to be perfect buys for teams like Tottenham or Arsenal who rarely exceed the £10 million mark. But a Brazilian international might be much more desirable to clubs like Barcelona, as they appear to be following David Luiz and Thiago Silva—both of whom would cost upwards of £20 million. A glamour signing, but not always guaranteed to be better.
The truth is, there are now more clubs in the Premier League shopping in the same market, while Manchester City, PSG and the top two in Spain appear now to be part of an exclusive club. Fulham’s Dembele would fit in at any top club in the Premier League, as would Fellaini and Standard Liege’s former midfield duo Steven Defour and Axel Witsel.
While Manchester United were spending big on David De Gea, Chelsea bought wisely for the Spaniards replacement at Atletico Madrid this season. Thibaut Courtois has been excellent for Atletico this term and if Chelsea play their cards smartly with him, he’ll turn out to be an equal to that of De Gea.
Again, the Premier League are taking advantage of a group of Belgian players who have not yet hit their peak, but are absolutely money well spent in terms of value and quality.