The rise and times of the Belgian brigade – Part 1

FBL-BEL-RED DEVILS

The individuality of the English Premier League has often been questioned with foreign players continuing to progressively flood team sheets as the seasons go by. No matter how much you would like to sugarcoat this, there is no denying that the Premier League has been over infiltrated. Around 75 different countries have had at least one representative starting a minimum of one match in the Premier League; France taking the number one spot with Ireland not far behind.

Among the many teams that have intruded the Premier League, Belgium is one nation that seems to have hit the league pretty hard, in recent times. Even though Belgium is only the 8th most represented nation in the League, the quality of the players the nation has provided and the impact that these players have had on the teams they have played for is thoroughly colossal.

Belgian football enjoyed much of its success in the 1970′s and 1980′s; Anderlecht winning the 1975-76 European Cup Winners’ Cup, reaching the 1976-77 Cup Winners’ Cup final, winning it for the second time in 1977-78, winning the 1982-83 UEFA Cup and reaching the finals of the next one. Club Brugge reached the 1975-76 UEFA Cup final and Standard Liege reaching the 1981-82 European Cup Winners’ Cup while KV Mechelen won the 1987-88 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Over the next two decades, the standards of the Pro League diminished. Constraints such as player wages, infrastructure, medical facilities, youth academies and the economy of the country reduced quality of players coming in to the league and this resulted in the Belgian natives parting the country in pursuit of better football elsewhere.

England found its first Belgian representative in the Premier League in the form of Philippe Albert who played for Newcastle United for a period of 5 years from 1994 to 1999. Since then, many more have crossed boundaries to reach England and none have had a greater impact on the Premier League than the current imported lot.

In goal, Belgium’s representative in the Premier League is Simon Mignolet. Aged 25, Mignolet has created a name for himself in the Premier League as one of the League’s top goalkeepers. Having spent 5 years at Sint-Truiden, Mignolet joined Sunderland in 2010 on a 5 year contract, reportedly worth 2 million pounds.

Mignolet has been a part of the national set up since 2001, as a part of the U16. Mignolet has featured in 38 league games last season and has a total of 90 games in the Premier League. Mignolet has had stiff competition in his first few years at England from Scottish international, Craig Gordon. Having now established himself fully, Mignolet had a number of Premier League clubs after him with the likes of Arsenal and more chiefly, Liverpool wanting his signature and as of 25th June 2013, the Merseyside club got what they wanted. Mignolet has a good 12 years, if not more, left in him and with talent and age on his side, he has a good career ahead of him.

Dedryck Boyata has been in England for seven years now and is one of the younger imports from Belgium. Aged 22, Boyata was brought to the Manchester City youth team from Brussels. Capable of playing at both center back and right back, Boyata’s physique, standing at 6 feet 2 inches, proves to be one of his attributes he constantly takes advantage of.

Presently, Manchester City seem to lack the time for this young player to develop within their main squad and has hence been loaned out to Bolton Wanderers and FC Twente in successive seasons. Boyata was Manchester City’s Young Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season, his first with the senior team. Although Boyata hasn’t been seen much at both club level and country, it’s only a matter of time before he makes a name for himself.

Friendly - Bayern Munich v Manchester City

Next in the list is none other than Vincent Kompany. A product of the Anderlecht youth academy, Kompany made his way to Hamburg where he was brought in to replace the outgoing Daniel van Buyten, who left for Bayern Munich. Kompany was then brought to Manchester City by Mark Hughes, the manager of the club at the time. Vincent Kompany, since then, has developed into one of Europe’s finest defenders. Attaining captaincy at both club and international level, Kompany’s mentality, attitude and leadership qualities have earned laurels from many.

Although a recurring knee injury has haunted him from time to time, throughout his career, Kompany has always come back strong and has made himself a massive figure, both mentally and physically in the team. Kompany has won the Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year in 2004 and 2005, Premier League Player of the Season in 2011-12 and has earned himself a spot in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for the seasons 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Spurs’ latest center back, Jan Vertonghen made himself known in the 6 years he spent at Ajax. Aged 26, and standing in at 6 feet 2 inches, Vertonghen is yet another Ajax youth academy product. Having picked up a bit of the Dutch flair after spending almost 9 years in Netherlands, Vertonghen is one of those centerbacks that have a bit of attacking intent in him. Vertonghen has proved to have the ability to calmly take the ball out of defense, has the eye for a good interception and is able to hold on to the ball really well.

As for that attacking intent earlier spoken about, Vertonghen has a much praised left foot and is a threat from indirect free kicks as well as long range shots. He is capable of long passes, much like the orthodox style of English football. Vertonghen was named Ajax’s club captain following Stekelenburg’s departure to Roma and already has 49 senior caps for his national team.

Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen is the second Belgian to be currently captaining a Premier League club along with Kompany. A path similar to that of Vertonghen, Vermaelen too, was a product of the Ajax youth academy. Vermaelen spent almost 6 years at Ajax and managed to field 99 appearances for the club before finding his way to the English capital where he joined Arsenal. He was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in his debut season in England.

Vermaelen has become an inspiring figure at the Emirates and has become a fan favorite at the London club. He has grown to adapt to the Arsenal style of play and is often an aerial threat from set pieces. Although Vermaelen does lack strength in concentration, his leadership qualities have impressed Wenger enough to name him the club captain, following Robin van Persie’s departure from the club.

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