Player Zone: Leander Dendoncker is the quality midfielder West Ham are craving

Anderlecht are known for producing top talent, especially in the last few years when Belgian football has seen something of a renaissance.

Just last year, another came off the conveyor belt as Monaco signed Youri Tielemans as a replacement for some of the big names they lost last summer, and quite directly for Tiemoue Bakayoko who moved to Chelsea.

This year, there could be another name to add to the list, as there’s speculation that 22-year-old midfield player Leander Dendoncker might leave the Belgian club this January.

It might only be a matter of time before the Belgian youngster moves somewhere such is the pedigree of his club and the fact his name is out there already. But this January, it seems as though Anderlecht are playing hardball, perhaps either hoping to play an inflated market, or attempting to keep hold of an asset until the end of the campaign.

This month, it was reported that Manchester United were told that they’d have to pay £27m if they wanted the Belgian’s services. But with Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba already seemingly a starting two in the midfield behind a number 10, it doesn’t seem as though Dendoncker would have too much of a chance at game time, even with the numerous competitions Jose Mourinho’s side will be fighting in for the remainder of the season.

But another interested party is said to be West Ham United. And for the Belgian’s career, that could be the most viable option.

Not only do the Hammers have a squad to overhaul, they also failed to land a midfielder in the summer, and that’s one of the problem positions in an unbalanced squad.

On paper, their attack is a good one, despite the fact that David Moyes doesn’t seem to think it’s as good as Slaven Bilic clearly did in the summer. But with a firing Marko Arnautovic, and the pedigree of Andre Ayew and Javier Hernandez, the Hammers should have a formidable front three. It’s the bit which covers their back four that seems light on quality.

Dendoncker, despite Anderlecht’s supposed demands, is valued at €18m by Transfermarkt.com, and at that price would fit the bill enormously.

The young Belgian showed his ability to both sit deep as needed as well as assist going forward when Anderlecht played Manchester United in the Europa League last season. Although United came out on top in that tie, they were pushed all the way by an impressive Anderlecht side who can legimately feel as though they might have won had the ball bounced their way a little more often.

In the first leg, it was Dendoncker who rescued his side a draw at home with a late equaliser, arriving late in the box and beating Marcos Rojo impressively in the air. In the second game another draw took the tie to extra time, where Marcus Rashford managed to pop up with the winner. In both legs Dendoncker looked classy – perhaps precipitating the links with Jose Mourinho’s side.

The summer before last, Havard Nordtveit was one of the exciting signings to come through the doors at West Ham, and although things didn’t work out for him, it wasn’t just his pedigree – a good performer for a Borussia Monchengladbach side which was becoming a regular fixture in the Champions League – which stood out when the signing was initially greeted with cautious optimism, it was also his versatility.

With the ability to play in midfield or at centre-back Nordtveit was considered a good utility player, especially if the Hammers wanted play with a back three. And whilst Hammers fans would naturally hope that Dendoncker is a few steps up in ability, the fact that he is of the same level of versatility is clearly a bonus.

Nominally, he would be asked to sit in front of a back four at the London Stadium – the Belgian’s natural position. And with the legs of Pedro Obiang or Cheikhou Kouyate alongside him, that would theoretically make the side a lot more rounded than it has been for much of the season.

It looks as though the Hammers – and indeed Manchester United – may be priced out of a move this January for a young player who hasn’t proven himself in any of Europe’s biggest leagues just yet as Anderlecht look to get a few more months out of one of their best players.

But if they could manage it, West Ham would be getting a player of wonderful potential in a position they’ve desperately need to fill since the start of the summer. And one who has announced himself at least a little bit to an English audience already.

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