Who is Youri Tielemans?
At age 17, Youri Tielemans is one of the starting midfielders for Belgian powerhouse R.S.C. Anderlecht. As someone who joined the club in 2002 at the age of five, Tielemans has rapidly risen through the ranks of Anderlecht’s system as well as the Belgian youth ranks. Now, he’s considered to be one of the finest youth products in the world and someone that Europe’s elite are looking to add to their stable.
Tielemans has been a first team fixture since the 2013-2014 season when he was only 16 years old. He received his first team debut just following his 16th birthday which made him the fourth youngest player to do so in club history. Since then, he’s been a regular in the starting 11 as a central midfielder, though he has been deployed in both a more attacking and defensive sense. Much of the world took notice of the youngster this past fall as he featured for the full 90 minutes in Anderlecht’s first five Champions League group stage games and playing a key role in Anderlecht’s thrilling 3-3 comeback versus Arsenal. In 42 club appearances this season, he’s contributed six goals and five assists.
Additionally, he’s been a regular in the youth ranks for his home nation as he has over 20 appearances in three different age groups since 2013. While it may still be a bit early to assume that he’ll be on the Euro 2016 roster, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll make the 2018 World Cup team given his stratospheric rise and the rumors of him leaving for a more prominent club.
Talent Radar Accolades:
- 2016-17 Belgian First Division Young Players’ Team of the Season
- Named in 100 to Watch in 2017 feature
- Named in 100 to Watch in 2016 feature
- Named in 100 to Watch in 2015 feature
- Named in 100 to Watch in 2014 feature
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
A great strength of Tielemans’ is his versatility and ability to play multiple roles on the pitch. He can be deployed as the primary playmaker further up given his fantastic dribbling skills and passing capabilities, or he can be paired with a more defensive-minded midfielder deeper on the pitch to control the midfield through his ball retention and vision.
In case of emergency, he could also fill in as the defensive midfielder himself, though it’s not an ideal use of his skills and he would need much training and game time if this is to be the course of his development. Ideally, he’ll be turned into a box-to-box midfielder, someone capable of chipping in with defensive work through his positioning and awareness but also someone who’ll serve as the transition point between the separate units on the pitch when shifting into attack.
On occasion, his creative flair and ball control have seen him compared to Croatian wizard Luka Modric and though this is quite a lofty comparison, it’s easy to see how some project him to reach those levels. His somewhat slight frame, though muscular, allows him to glide past the opposition and his supreme technical abilities allow him to hold on to the ball until the proper passing lanes open up. Additionally, as a regular set piece taker for Anderlecht, he has proven to be someone who can not only be a danger in open play but from dead ball situations as well. His ability to use both his feet to pass allows him to be deployed on either side of the pitch where his crossing skills could be further utilized.
Mentally, he’s far more mature than his age would indicate and this is to be assumed given how young he was when he was given his chance in Anderlecht’s first team. He’s spoken on numerous occasions about learning from mistakes and having to play with a certain sense of confidence and responsibility so it’s fair to assume that not only could Tielemans be a leader on this pitch through his play but also through his words in the locker room.
One of the areas in which he needs to improve, however, is in the final third and his own goal-scoring contribution. While he’s undoubtedly one of the finest young passers and creative minds in the world, his own decision making and low scoring rate is to be worked on in the years to come. Of course, he’s not a forward or someone expected to contribute many goals himself, but there will be occasions when he’ll need to step up in this regard.
Additionally, his defensive contribution in the tackling sense is to be found lacking as he only completed roughly one fourth of his challenges in the Champions League group stages this season. Of course as he physically develops and learns the finer nuances of defensive play, he’ll become a better defender, but for right now it would be most ideal to pair him someone more naturally inclined to do the dirty work so that his offensive game can thrive.
What the future holds
Tielemans’ future has been a hot topic of discussion since last season and especially as of late. Initially, reports linked him to Borussia Dortmund as many saw Jürgen Klopp as someone who might be able to mold the young player into a midfield general like Ilkay Gundogan and Nuri Sahin became under the German coach. However, those reports eventually faded and now with Klopp’s decision to leave BvB it seems unlikely that the German powers will be Tieleman’s next stop.
In Dortmund’s place came Atletico Madrid, a side which, in some ways, mirrors Dortmund’s profile. An ascending club without the pressures of having to succeed for a giant, alongside a hotshot young manager capable of getting the most out of his players. Atleti has been recently reported to have succeeded in the transfer of the young starlet for an undisclosed fee. Of course, much of this transfer talk happened in one day among the press with no confirmation from either Atletico or Anderlecht, but one can see how it would be an attractive landing spot given how Koke has rapidly blossomed under Diego Simeone’s tutelage.
However, minutes might be at a premium given that Koke and Saúl Ñíguez are already wonderkids on the first team, with Oliver Torres likely to return from his successful loan at FC Porto and starlet Angel Correa set to return from a heart procedure. On paper, it would be an excellent place to learn but in practice he’ll have to certainly raise his game to succeed in Simeone’s demanding system should his next club be Atleti. Additionally, Manchester United and Juventus have also been rumored to be fighting for his signature.
That being said, no matter where young Tielemans goes he’ll be sure to draw many eyes as this is one of the most talented young central midfielders the nation of Belgium has produced in quite some time. This is certainly a player to keep an eye on as many project him to be world class sooner rather than later.
Written by Miran Saric