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As the end of the season beckons across Europe, it is time for us at Outside of the Boot to recognize the accomplishments of tomorrow’s stars under our Talent Radar banner, with the U-22 Team of the Season across each individual top leagues being featured for the fourth consecutive year. This feature looks at the best of the Belgian First Division.
[Eligibility: As of 1st June 2016 – 21 years old and below for outfield players // 22 years old and below for goalkeepers]
Lucas Pirard // 22 // Sint-Truidense // Goalkeeeper: Goalkeepers are always a tough position to fill given that young keepers are rarely given chances to play. Davy Roef’s departure to Deportivo La Coruna means that Lucas Pirard gets the call in this side, though more out of necessity. The Sint-Truidense keeper played 1620 minutes in all competitions this season, conceding 27 goals in 18 games, with just three clean sheets. But that could be attributed to a weak defense too. Pirard has displayed glimpses of potential which he will hopefully take into the next season.
Timothy Castagne // 21 // Genk // Right Back: The Genk academy graduate just edges out Thomas Foket in this side- while both have played at a similar level, Castagne has played more this season. Castagne has been a regular in an underperforming Genk side since October, with his performances in Europe helping Genk to a Europa League quarter-final berth. With two goals and an assist in all competitions from 3569 minutes at the time of writing, Castagne must be close to a national call-up. He will be hoping to take his form into the coming season.
Ahmed El Messaoudi // 21 // Mechelen // Centre Back: On loan from second-tier Lierse, El Messaoudi has demonstrated why he should not be returning from Mechelen this season. Part of a defense that conceded 36 goals, his side were unlucky to not finish in the top six. Playing 1831 minutes in all competitions, the Moroccan has a goal and two assists this season. His steady performances show his promise as a defender, something which should gain him a permanent move to a top tier club that should allow him to continue his development in the coming season.
Stefan Simic // 22 // Royal Excel Mouscron // Centre Back: Mouscron finished second from bottom in the league, conceding 53 goals in the regular season, but Stefan Simic progressed as a defender with 2504 minutes of action at the time of writing. After a disappointing 2015/16 season due to injury, the Milan loanee established himself in a weak side, gaining crucial gametime. While he is unlikely to have a future at Milan, his performance this season may convince better teams to sign him. Next season will be crucial in determining how his career pans out.
Dion Cools // 20 // Club Brugge // Left Back: Given Belgium’s troubles in finding a natural left-back, Dion Cools could provide a long-term solution. Though not indispensable to the Club Brugge side, he’s played 2245 minutes in all competitions so far, scoring three goals in the league. He’s been utilised at both full-back positions, with his versatility coming in handy. With time on his side, he’ll be hoping to establish himself in the side in the coming season. With Cools eligible for a call-up from Malaysia, Roberto Martinez may have to move quickly to cap him.
Edmilson Junior // 22 // Standard Liege // Right Wing: While Standard Liege finished ninth in the regular season, missing out on the Championship play-offs, Edmilson Junior was a driving force in the midfield, providing five goals and six assists in 1824 minutes. Despite his side’s struggles, the Brazilian displayed his flair, showing why he’s a prospect to look out for in the seasons to come. Given he’s also Belgian, he will no doubt be monitored by Roberto Martinez in coming months. He’s made the step-up from Sint-Truidense with aplomb.
Leander Dendoncker // 22 // Anderlecht // Central Midfield: Dendoncker has proven himself to be indispensable to his side this season, not missing a single minute in the league and in Europe. He makes this side as a central midfielder, but he is a defensive midfielder who can also play in defense. Dendoncker is slightly under-rated, but his presence was crucial in his side’s Europa League run that was eventually halted by Manchester United. One of the many Anderlecht starlets that will find themselves highly-coveted by bigger clubs.
Youri Tielemans // 20 // Anderlecht // Central Midfield: Tielemans turns 20 in May, but this season is his fourth as a regular for Anderlecht- a mark of how far ahead he is in his development as a midfielder relative to his age. A starlet of considerable upside, he has catapulted into the limelight with a number of stunning long-range goals this season. A mainstay of Anderlecht, Tielemans has 18 goals and 11 assists in all competitions. Top clubs will be after his signature in the coming summer and for good reason- this may be the time Tielemans makes the step-up towards becoming world-class.
Henry Onyekuru // 19 // Eupen // Left Wing: Like with Lazare Amani, Henry Onyekuru is a product of the ASPIRE academy, and Eupen’s main starlet this season. After a promising 2015-16 season in the second tier (six goals, two assists in 857 minutes), he’s taken his performances to the next level this season. 17 goals and seven assists in all competitions as of now is superb output for a player of his age. The Nigerian may be the best young player of the season alongside Tielemans in Belgium and looks set to move on from a youthful and subpar Eupen side. Expect clubs to run after his signature in the summer.
Silvere Ganvoula // 20 // Westerlo // Striker: Westerlo endured a tough season, culminating in relegation to the second tier. But that was no fault of Silvere Ganvoula, the Congo centre-forward who scored nine goals and chalked up two assists in 2201 minutes of game-action. A journeyman whose career has taken him from Congo to Morocco and to Turkey before he arrived at Westerlo, his goalscoring exploits at the weakest team of the division prompted Anderlecht to sign him up in the winter window. Ganvoula looks set for a promising season ahead at the Belgian giants.
Landry Dimata // 19 // Oostende // Striker: Dimata has proven to be dynamite in the Oostende attack after moving from Standard Liege in the summer. His side qualified for the play-offs in part to the youngster’s brilliance- 13 goals and four assists from 2243 minutes in all competitions at the time of writing is testament to his efficiency in front of goal, a statistic that stands out more given his age. There have been plenty of young prolific forwards in Belgium, but none have scored as much as Dimata. A talent for the future.