Belgium's home-based stars of the future

Posted by Christopher Atkins

Maxime Lestienne of Club Brugge is a stand out talent.GettyImagesMaxime Lestienne of Club Brugge is a stand out talent.

Football fans worldwide are aware of Belgium's current generation of footballing talent as they are the latest group of players to be bestowed the title of "golden generation". Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Jan Vertonghen are among the leading names that roll easily off the tongue, but there is depth aplenty in many positions for Marc Wilmots' side, with squad members scattered across Europe's top leagues.

There is a younger generation, also, that is beginning to gain recognition further afield. Adnan Januzaj illuminated the Stadium of Light upon his full league debut last weekend, Lille's Divock Origi and Monaco's Yannick Ferreira Carrasco are proving to be among the leading young talents in Ligue 1, while PSV's 17-year-old forward Zakaria Bakkali, too, has shown glimpses of his immense potential in the opening weeks of the current Eredivisie season.

But, what of those still in their homeland? They may not always get the publicity of their colleagues in foreign fields, but there is undoubted talent in the Jupiler Pro League that will almost certainly come to the fore in the coming years. Should that occur, the generation of Hazard, Fellaini and Vertonghen will not lack support in their quest for titles.

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Club Brugge winger Maxime Lestienne is perhaps the most talented of all the Belgian League's as yet un-excavated talents. Lestienne joined the club from Excelsior Mouscron in 2009 and has steadily improved ever since, before really exploding last season with 17 goals and 13 assists to his name, according to Transfermarkt.

With pace in abundance and fleet of foot, Lestienne is a major threat from wide positions. Whether it be from the left, or from the right where he excelled last season, he is capable of opening up games and has great quality in his finishing off his left-foot. At times, though, his crossing can still be too erratic for a player aiming for the top level. Lestienne, though, will not be in Belgium for long based on current form.

One player still in the Jupiler Pro League who already has his future direction decided is Zulte Waregem's Junior Malanda. The 19-year-old walked out on the Essevee earlier this summer to join Bundesliga side Wolfsburg on a free transfer. However, in a somewhat surprising development, he then returned to his former side on a one-year loan deal.

It is the second summer in a row that Malanda has been on the move, having left Lille just the year before. In just 12-months back in his homeland, however, he has developed quickly into an accomplished defensive midfielder. Solidly-built, Malanda prowls in front of his back-four, breaking up play and redistributing the ball to those ahead of him. Comfortable in a number of defensive positions, he looks set to be an important player for Belgium in the years ahead.

Worth a mention also, with regards to Zulte Waregem, is Chelsea-owned Thorgan Hazard, who has begun the current campaign with a remarkable seven goals and seven assists in his first 10 league outings. Thorgan, 20, may often find himself overshadowed by elder brother Eden, but it should not be forgotten that he is a talented player in his own right who should go on to achieve much, should he maintain his development of the past 12-months.Brussels-based giants Anderlecht have produced some remarkable talents in recent years, with Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany two leading lights to have sprung from their academy system, and the flow of talent from the club does not look like abating.

Nineteen-year-old attacking midfielder Dennis Praet has long been regarded as a star of the future. He uses his excellent passing range to spread play from the tip of the midfield unit. Senior football has not always been easy for the youngster, who is still to properly fill out into his frame, but there is clear talent in his feet. The under-21 international needs more time to work on handling the physical demands of senior football and to learn to control the tempo of a game against experienced opponents, but he is already more than holding his own. In a few years, given his close control and passing range, he could be a truly exceptional player.

Breaking into the side with Praet early last season was right-winger Massimo Bruno, who was a relatively unknown proposition at the time. He has progressed quickly, though, to become a key member of the club's first-team and a regular provider of goals or assists for his side. Bruno's pace and willingness to run at defenders makes him one of the league's most feared widemen and, if he keeps up his impressive start to the campaign, it won’t be long until the 20-year-old is heavily linked with a move elsewhere.

The club's most exciting young talent, though, has only broken through at first-team level in the early weeks of this season. Youri Tielemans, just 16, is already an under-21 international and recently became the fourth youngest scorer in the club's history, having made his senior debut in July. A versatile midfielder who can play either a defensive role, box-to-box or as an attacking midfielder, he has already made himself a semi-regular starter for the club and, per the Independent, came close to joining Manchester City this summer on the recommendation of Kompany. A dominant figure for someone of his age playing at first-team level, the competition for his signature is only set to increase over the remainder of the season.

Elsewhere, at Standard Liege, 20-year-old striker Michy Batshuayi is taking the Jupiler Pro League by storm this season, with eight goals in his first 10 appearances. Lightening fast off the mark, Batshuayi is excellent at playing off the shoulder of the last defender and utilising his physical attributes to get himself in behind the defensive line.

Batshuayi was linked with a move to Swansea this summer, off the back of two promising campaigns at first-team level. The Swans, though, were not prepared to increase their initial £2.5 million offer. Perhaps it was the striker's reputation for being difficult off the field that dissuaded Michael Laudrup's side from pursuing their interest in his services, but with the manner that he has flown out of the blocks this campaign they may already be regretting their hesitancy. Indeed, there were even calls for Batshuayi's inclusion in the senior national side for this week's qualification fixtures despite the presence of many more experienced options.

Whether all the players named eventually go on to fulfil their potential is difficult to predict, but they are far from alone in representing the future of Belgian football. Indeed, it is almost unfathomable as to how the country is managing to produce top-level footballers in such large quantities at the present time.

Next summer's World Cup will come too early for most of those still in the Jupiler Pro League but, come Euro 2016, expect to see the likes of Bruno, Tielemans, Malanda and Lestienne lining up alongside the country's existing stellar names. If the majority can come good on their talents, Belgium will be real challengers for the title at that competition in three years time.

For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter – @chris_elastico. More of his work profiling rising talents can also be found at TheElastico.com.

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