Pro League Revelations 2: Anderlecht sensation Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans’ rise from a promising youngster in the Anderlecht youth team to an indispensable part of the senior teams midfield has been remarkable. His aura on the pitch is so great that when this vital cog is missing from the Anderlecht midfield, the whole thing can break down.
From the moment he made his debut in the Pro League against Lokeren at the start of this season you could tell there was something special about this player. Keen fans would have known about him earlier, but the rest of the world didn’t take long in waking up to Tielemans’ undoubted talent.
One of Tielemans’ biggest assets seems to be his ability to drift in and out of space at will. Like a trequartista will find space between the opponents defence and midfield, Tielemans seems able to find the space there as well as between the opponents midfield and attack lines. He reads the game well, sees where he is needed and always looks like he wants the ball like any good central midfielder should. He’s also the delivery man between the defensive section of the team spearheaded by Cheikhou Kouyaté and the more attack minded area of the team, he’s a ball courier who links the team together like a fine thread and this is why he’s such an integral part of the Anderlecht eleven.
Before Tielemans it was mostly Sacha Kljestan in that role for Anderlecht. Now the United States midfielder is undoubtedly a talented player and could probably forge a starting role in one of the bigger leagues in Europe albeit with a bottom-half side, but when you have a proposition as exciting as Tielemans in your squad it would be wise to play him. True, the pair have often featured together in the league this season but with Chancel Mbemba, our number five in this top ten countdown, forging a brilliant partnership with Bram Nuytinck and allowing Kouyaté into his former midfield position it has gradually squeezed Kljestan out of the squad. The affable American may now be off to Genk.
As we have often seen in the past, burnout can be a major problem for players given their head at such a young age. Tielemans is a fragile and precocious youngster of the most delicate kind and overplaying him is not the way to make him comfortable within the squad. I think it was a real danger that former coach John van den Brom may have given the player his first minutes of senior football but similarly, like Dennis Praet and Massimo Bruno previously, was on the borderline of possibly giving Tielemans too much, too soon.
As it transpires Besnik Hasi was the man to guide Anderlecht to the title. Tielemans has already played in the Champions League and won a Belgian league title all by the age of 17. A frightening prospect when you compare that to what you or I were probably doing on our 17th birthday. It’s even more frightening to think that he was born after Tony Blair became the UK’s Prime Minister. That Tielemans is the future of Belgian football seems pretty obvious, or as much the future of a sport as you can be when the country is fast producing creative central midfielders of his ilk at a rate of knots.
Is Tielemans the future of Anderlecht, though? Well it’s unlikely. We’ve written here before about Youri Tielemans and how he is walking in the footsteps of Vincent Kompany – and that is true, Tielemans’ parents seem adamant that their son will finish is education in the country before making a move abroad to a bigger club. That means it is likely he will remain with the club for one more season while he finishes his education before Europe’s elite make their undoubted interest concrete even if Borussia Dortmund are already preparing a big-money bid. He could, you think, walk into nearly any team and force his way into the starting eleven relative early. That he is Anderlecht’s greatest talent for a while would probably be understating it, he will undoubtedly be compared to fellow Belgian players such as Charly Musonda Jr., or Thorgan Hazard amongst others but Tielemans really does have it all and his price tag will be a clear reflection of his abilities.
It seems the best Anderlecht can hope for is one more amazing season from their gem before selling him for a massive profit. And Anderlecht will be okay with that. Every team in Belgium, even the biggest, know how the game works – and once Tielemans flies the nest it will be onto the next talented player to shape and mould before selling on for a massive profit again, such is the life of a Belgian football club.So what can you expect from Tielemans? He’s a future leader you feel. I say a future leader but as Besnik Hasi explained on VRT show Extra Time, he is already exhibiting leadership qualities among many others.
“Tielemans will become even better. Players who come from the youth teams often have problems with their positioning when they lose the ball and Youri needs to be more aware of what is behind him. He can only develop though. He is also well protected by his parents and coaches. Compared to (Lucas) Biglia, Youri has a better long-range pass. He is also more talkative in the dressing room. Youri is not shy of opening his mouth.
When the team needs to raise their performance he can nearly always be counted on to find that defence shattering pass after dropping into space that seemingly didn’t exist moments earlier. He won’t pull the rest of the team up by their bootstraps and carry them all on his back, it’s more a case of him helping each man up individually, dusting them down and whispering some encouraging words before sending them on their way with a pat on the back. While his character may not seem as tenacious you can see a sense of influence about the way he plays. How he would stand over set pieces earlier in the season, aged just 16, as if he was born with a ball at his feet and that it was birthright to take set pieces for the most successful club in Belgium.
When Tielemans does hit the ground in Europe you’ll know about it. And it’ll be tempting to cast him as another Belgian player set to show how good they are at creating youth players, but there’s a different feeling about Tielemans. He just feels a little bit special.