Tielemans and the Premier League are not right for each other…yet

Mats Fredrix

Talent scouts have been following Youri Tielemans from his debut at Anderlecht at 16. Now almost 20 he is a fully flexed, leading, scoring and assisting-midfielder. In February he finally planted his name irrevocably on the A-list of practically every major club. For Anderlecht ‘if’ is out the window, they now focus on the question ‘how much?’. Although the young Belgian has said he is fully focused on an old-fashioned Club Brugge-Anderlecht Classico title brawl and their Europa League campaign, he will, of course, also be engaged in where his future lies. 

If any of the interested clubs were still suspiciously counting their dimes, Tielemans proved them wrong last month showing that his extraordinary striking technique is not a one-off.

In their Pro League match on the last weekend of February, Genk made the mistake of giving Tielemans too much space. Now, you must not blame the Genk defenders too much, ordinary Pro League players do not really pose threat from 30 yards out.

But Tielemans is no ordinary Pro League player and it is not that they were not warned. In Anderlecht’s away game at Oostende a week earlier, Tielemans came off the bench after half-time to score a screamer with his left, only to double his tally two minutes later with an, even more, jaw-dropping rocket with his right.

But what is so different about this year? He missed out on last weekend’s clash at KV Mechelen with an accumulation of yellow cards and his absence proved deadly for the Brussels club. Anderlecht lost 3-2, missing the chance to go three points clear of Brugge who lost away at Genk.

The wunderkind has become a pillar at the club backing up his moments of extraordinary skill with consistent statistics. He assisted eight and scored 12 this season with the playoffs still to come. Recently he also takes up the captain’s armband with an unusual sense of responsibility for a teenager. Besides that, the fear of the ‘one year too many’ makes his move almost as certain as Andrea Pirlo taking the free-kick when he’s in the group of possible takers. Most of the time…

The London Dungeon

So where should he go? The fact is that no Belgian of the golden generation has ever made it direct from the Belgian Pro League into the PL big six successfully.

In fact, Simon Mignolet and Marouane Fellaini are the only ones who made a direct transfer from the Pro League into any Premier League side work. For the majority of his first season at the Stadium of Light Mignolet claimed the spot between the posts and Fellaini had an instant impact on the Toffees’ midfield with his strong physique and aerial presence.

But many relied on Belgium’s neighbours for their football education, which proved a more viable warm-up for English football. Eden Hazard went to Lille in France when he was 14, and Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld, sort of, came into the PL via the Netherlands.

Then there were the ones who did shine in their home country. Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne are considered Premier League giants now. But they enjoyed, very successful, loan spells prior to their claim to the top.

The Januzaj way – how not to

Very few would expect Adnan Januzaj to be the example of a career path gone wrong, at least in 2013. In his PL debut season at Manchester United under David Moyes Januzaj had a real, though anachronic, Rashford vibe going on.

However three seasons years later the Kosovar-Albanian Belgian has undoubtedly let himself down somewhere along the way. His physique and work effort were questioned at his semi-season loan spell at Borussia Dortmund where he completed only 161 Bundesliga minutes. Now again on loan at Sunderland, he gets more playing time but really feels unable to recreate any of the magic from his debut season. The future of a once so promising player seems to be irrevocably crumbling down.

Many blame a premature entry in the oh-so-physical Premier League, resulting in call-backs to the Premier League 2 youth side, and ultimately a fall down the ladder.

The De Bruyne Way – how to

It is exactly that sort of premature entry Tielemans will look to avoid. He needs a perfect mixture of playing time and quality football. It might be incorrect to call De Bruyne’s path ideal, but in the end, no football player would complain taking it.

After a year on loan at Werder Bremen De Bruyne only narrowly escaped out of Mourinho’s suffocating Chelsea side. He was seasoned to the point of perfection for a return to the Premier League at Wolfsburg and has not looked back since.

The Bundesliga and a 20-year-old Tielemans seem to be perfect for each other. There is still lots to learn, he will get experience against some of the top sides in the world, play on a higher level and maybe figure in the Champions League again.

The next generation

But you could argue Tielemans does not belong to the golden generation of Belgians anymore. He is part of the next batch of Belgian talent and there is no saying he cannot make it work. With Everton and Spurs lining up eagerly, they both seem like engaging destinations where playing time is certainly possible if everything goes right.

At Everton he could be part of the club’s surge into the top six and Tottenham have always been eager to take on young, and Belgian, players and give them a shot at the highest level in England.

Nicknamed San Youri and often compared to a young Frank Lampard, who would not like to see his sort of strikes in the Premier League?

There’s an air of inevitability of Youri Tielemans joining Barcelona, and there’s no danger of history forgetting he played for the Catalan giants, unlike this lot!

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