De Bruyne appears perfect for Villas-Boas’ system
English clubs have often looked to Belgium for developing young talent. Manchester United have a long-term relationship with Royal Antwerp, for example, meaning the likes of Jonny Evans, John O’Shea, Danny Simpson, Darron Gibson and Ryan Shawcross all enjoyed successful loan spells over in Belgium.
Arsenal, meanwhile, linked up with Beveren. That’s where they discovered Emmanuel Eboué, while Yaya Touré once had a trial with Arsenal while at the Belgian club. Gervinho, a more recent addition, was first spotted playing for Beveren in 2006, shortly before the agreement between the two clubs ended, and before the club sadly folded.
But Belgians have never particularly thrived in England. The odd player has done well – Philippe Albert, Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen spring to mind – but no Belgian has ever won a Premier League medal.
Chelsea might change that. Romelu Lukaku, who arrived from Anderlecht in the summer, is widely seen as Didier Drogba’s replacement. Thibaut Courtois joined from Genk, and was immediately loaned out to Atletico Madrid for a year. He’s enjoying life in Spain, and has asked André Villas-Boas if the loan agreement – which expires in the summer – can be extended for a year. He will one day replace Petr Cech.
Now Chelsea look likely to sign another Genk youngster. Kevin de Bruyne seemed likely to sign in the summer, but the move broke down and he remained in Belgium. He was never far away from Chelsea’s thoughts – especially as he played against them in the Champions League group stage. In the second match, which finished 1-1, De Bruyne was desperate to be in the limelight and keep his chance of a transfer alive. He came infield from the flank to influence the game, playing more passes than any of his team-mates and playing a part in Genk’s goal. Chelsea remained interested.
De Bruyne appears perfect for André Villas-Boas’ system. At Porto, Villas-Boas favoured a front three featuring a left-footed striker out on the right, Hulk, where he now has Daniel Sturridge playing a similar role. He used Falcao, a quick, mobile goal poacher as the central striker – in theory, that is Fernando Torres. And on the left, he had Silvestre Varela, a natural winger – powerful but tricky, two-footed but predominantly coming inside onto his right foot.
De Bruyne fits the mould. At the moment he appears rather lightweight for the Premier League – he might take a while to get used to the physicality of England, in the style of Luka Modric or David Silva. But there is no doubting his ability. On the ball, he’s extremely exciting; sometimes he can be too ambitious and try to beat one opponent too many, but his assists figures show he’s far from a selfish player.
It appears De Bruyne will sign for Chelsea yet stay on loan at Genk until the end of the season – as Chelsea found with Lukaku, they are not allowed to sign a player then loan him to another Premier League club in the same transfer window. That’s a shame for Chelsea – a Premier League loan would probably have suited the winger – but then, as Manchester United demonstrated in the past with their Antwerp link, the Belgian league is good grounding for the Premier League anyway.
Of course, the man currently playing on Chelsea’s left is Juan Mata, but when De Bruyne establishes himself as a starter, it will mean Mata moving inside into a central playmaking role, probably in the 4-2-1-3 system Villas-Boas has tried on occasion this year. Brick by brick, Villas-Boas’ side is coming together on paper – it remains to be seen how it will work on the pitch.
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