The 60-second story
At the age of 16, most kids are preparing to take their GCSEs and starting their A-levels. Even university seems a long way off. Then there are those who are making their Champions League debut.
Meet Youri Tielemans, the RSC Anderlecht player who in 2013 became the youngest Belgian to ever appear in Europe’s premier football competition aged 16 years and 148 days.
Having turned 18 just two weeks ago, he has already made an astonishing 83 first team appearances. For comparison, at that age Cristiano Ronaldo had made fewer than 30.
As a local boy, having been with the club since he was just five, he is a firm favourite amongst the fans of the “Purple and white” and is tipped for huge things. The fans are already resigned to losing him to one of Europe’s powerhouses: it is a matter of when not if.
He has also impressed on the international scene. Although eligible via his mother to represent DR Congo, he has been playing with the hugely talented Belgian U21 side since around the same time as his Champions League debut. As we all know, the competition for places amongst the Diables Rouges senior side is strong, but it is once again a question of sooner rather than later for this hugely talented youngster.
Why you should know him
Date of birth May 7, 1997
Place of birth Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Belgium
Height 5ft 9.5in
Club Anderlecht (86 apps, 10 goals)
International Belgium U21 (7 caps, 3 goals)
Despite all of his evident talent and quality, the fact he decided to finish his studies while making his first steps in the game shows just how down to earth he is - and he's still coming to terms with playing with some of his heroes. "Sometimes the older players like Silvio Proto or Olivier Deschacht say to me, 'Hey, you were only born yesterday', but it's just banter. A few years ago I was watching these boys on TV – now I am one of them. It's amazing!" A talented midfielder (“I see myself somewhere between the No.6 and No.10 positions”), he has shown he has what it takes to perform at the highest level. In 2013/14, his first season as a professional, he featured in 35 games in all competitions, including four Champions League fixtures. In that first campaign he played a deeper role, providing his team-mates with opportunities rather than scoring and taking them himself. However this season, he has been far more influential, and has added goals to his game. He has bagged eight across the season, and his ability to score from distance has drawn comparisons to Frank Lampard. High praise indeed.
His last two goals are testament to this ability. First, again Kortrijk, Tielemans scored from all of 25 yards, curling the ball across his body into the top left-hand corner, before scoring a 35-yard half-volley the following week. The goals were so impressive that his well-hit goal from 20 yards against Standard Liege has almost been overlooked. Such moments of genius have not gone unnoticed. After being named the Belgian league’s best young player last year, he followed that up with the award for Belgium’s best young talent this time round. Belgian footballer of the year in 12 months? You wouldn’t put it past him.
His biggest assets are his technique and speed, as well as his ability to pick out a killer pass. He has been compared to former Anderlecht player and current Zenit star Alex Witsel, but he provides more of an attacking threat. His versatility is also one of the reasons he is highly sought after.
His shooting technique is impressive, as he has shown with some of the outrageous goals he has scored this season. He has also been tipped as a future Anderlecht captain should he remain at the club long enough: even at such a young age, he is showing leaderships skills beyond his years.
There are not too many areas in which this talented youngster does not excel, but tackling is definitely one of them. He has been known to shirk a challenge, and he needs to improve his technique.
He also needs to improve his defensive workrate: he tends to stand around when his team are on the back foot. Whilst most of the time this is not a problem, he will definitely need to work on it if he wants to play for one of Europe’s biggest sides. Strength and stamina are also not his strongest points, but they will come with time as Tielemans learns and finishes growing.
What they said...
Unsurprisingly, there has been no lack of people lining up to praise one of Belgium’s top talents. Club legend Par Zetterberg, who played in a similar position to Tielemans, said of the prodigy, “He is a phenomenon. There are not many players better than him." His Anderlecht youth team coach Mohammed Ouabhi is aware of his talents more than most, and he also gave a glowing review: “We have always known Tielemans was a super talent. Whenever anyone asked me who I thought would go far, I would mention his name first." These are just two of the many who see Tielemans making a big name for himself in the game.
Did you know?
Tielemans has only just finished school, and it seems that finishing his studies has helped him out in the language department: he can speak Flemish, French and, most importantly for those Premier League clubs keeping an eye on him, English. He won’t have too many difficulties fitting in then.
What happens next?
It will come as no surprise that plenty of European clubs are keeping tabs on Tielemans despite him recently having signed a new five-year contract extension at Anderlecht. Rumours are that he has been extremely close to joining Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid over the last couple of seasons. Whether the new contract is just a way for the Belgian side to make sure that they can command a large transfer fee remains to be seen, but it is hard to argue against him staying with the club, where he is almost certain to feature in every game barring injuries and suspensions and where the coaching team can play a bigger part in his continuing development compared to one of Europe’s biggest sides where the battle for attention will be higher. But remember the name, because if he carries on the way he has started, he will be one of the world’s biggest talents. Ballon d’Or, anyone?
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