Ten years of Belgian Influence in the Premier League: Part Two – 2013-2018

This is Part Two of a two part article. Part One covers 2008-2012 and includes the Kompany transfer, Lukaku’s original spell with Chelsea, De Bruyne’s original spell with Chelsea and Courtois’ original spell with Chelsea. Both articles work individually so you can read this one without having read Part One, but if you do want to read it, it can be found here.


Key Moves:

Marouane Fellaini – Everton to Manchester United – £27.5m

Nacer Chadli – FC Twente to Tottenham Hotspur – £7m

Kevin De Bruyne – Chelsea to Wolfsburg – £18m

Romelu Lukaku – Chelsea to Everton – Loan

What they achieved:

2013 was a developmental year for the Belgian prospects. Lukaku continues to play at a high level for bottom side teams but is starting to generate some buzz. Both him and De Bruyne work on the fundamentals and start to take their game to the next level whilst Fellaini starts to try and find his niche.

Marouane Fellaini didn’t have a fantastic first season at Old Trafford, being voted one of the 10 Worst Summer Signings and only making 15 starts in the Premier League. Since then however, Fellaini has become a mainstay of the Manchester United and Belgian National Team squads, Mourinho using him as a super sub who can win aerial duels and bully the opposing strikers, while Martinez tends to use Fellaini’s physical presence to play him as a shutdown man, off whom the fast paced Belgian attack can get going without being stifled in midfield. £27.5m looks like a steal nowadays for someone who’s made 162 appearances with 20 goals for your club in six seasons.

Nacer Chadli was solid for Tottenham and despite being hampered by injury, performed well when healthy. In his time at White Hart Lane he made 119 appearances and scored 25 goals. He’s had a rather uneventful career on the whole but that is in part due to bad luck with injuries and an understandable dip in form following the death of his father. He remains a feature of the Belgian squad, normally on the bench, and was one of the most important parts of Belgium’s comeback win vs Japan, scoring the stoppage time winner.

Kevin De Bruyne, unsuccessful at Chelsea, was sold to Wolfsburg in January and steadily started to make a name for himself in the Bundesliga before his 2015 return to England, this time with Man City. Throughout this period he remained a fixture of the Belgian National Team and won both Belgian Sportsman of the Year and Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2015.

Romelu Lukaku followed his great loan spell at West Brom with another loan spell, this time at Goodison Park. This would prove to be a match that stuck as this was his last ever loan move. He played fantastically, scoring 15 to tie him with Jay Rodriguez as ninth top scorer despite playing two fewer games. This performance helped Everton secure Europa League qualification and helped him get signed the following season.


Key Moves:

Romelu Lukaku – Chelsea to Everton – £28m

Thibaut Courtois – Atletico Madrid to Chelsea – End of Loan

Toby Alderweireld – Atletico Madrid to Southampton – Loan

What they achieved:

Premier League clubs have really started taking notice of the Belgian team. After a good performance in the World Cup that still left some fans disappointed, it was clear that Belgian football had become a force to be reckoned with. As the international star began to rise, the fortunes in the league followed suit. Players start to flock to the Premier League, and teams are more than happy to sign them. Courtois returns, having made a name for himself in Spain, Lukaku finds a home where he can really play his game and Alderweireld realises where his fortunes lie, although that’s not necessarily with Southampton.

Romelu Lukaku had a relative lull in form in the league for the Toffees, no doubt due to the addition of Europa League football where he was a standout player and tournament top scorer with eight goals in nine games. As a result, his overall numbers went up from the previous season (15 more games played, four more goals) but his league numbers dipped slightly, going from 15 in 31 in the 2013/14 season to 10 in 36 in 2014/15.

Lukaku played four seasons in total with Everton (including the loan), playing 166 games and scoring 87 goals, gaining worldwide attention for his excellent finishing and physically dominant style. Throughout this he continued to be a standout player on the national stage as well, including scoring twice for Belgium in an ultimately disappointing 2016 European Championship and making 38 appearances and scoring 19 goals in all National Team games over the course of his time at Goodison Park.

Thibaut Courtois returned to Stamford Bridge following a La Liga winning campaign and a second-placed finish in the UEFA Champions League. Despite questions over whether Petr Cech would start over him, Courtois made his Chelsea debut in the season opener (despite having signed for them three years earlier) and only missed six league games (including two games he missed due to suspension). It was a Premier League winning season for Chelsea and Courtois also made all eight starts in the UEFA Champions League as Chelsea won their group but got knocked out in the Round of 16 by PSG on away goals. Despite the Champions League disappointment, Courtois had cemented himself as the main man at Chelsea, and the perfect replacement for the ageing Cech.

Toby Alderweireld made 26 appearances for Southampton, turning a few heads with his more attacking style and ability in the air. At the end of his loan, Southampton tried to trigger the buy-out clause in his contract (for £6.8m) but Atletico paid the required £1.5m to instead sell him to the highest bidder.


Key Moves:

Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg to Manchester City – £55m

Toby Alderweireld – Atletico Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur – £11.5m

What they achieved:

All the big clubs want a Belgian. Man City bring in KDB and Tottenham’s back two is the same as that of the National Team. With more Belgian players sharing a team as opposed to just a league (KDB-Kompany at City, Vertonghen-Alderweireld at Spurs and Courtois-Hazard at Chelsea) the compatriots start to gel in a more significant way than before. Chemistry in the National Squad increases as many of the players train with each other daily in England already.

Kevin De Bruyne tore the league up after his return to England. Despite no official honours in his first season back, he had nine assists and was named Manchester City Player of the Year and was placed in the World XI third team. Since then, KDB has continued to evolve into one of the best midfielders in the league and has flourished under Pep Guardiola, with one Premier League title, most assists in 2016/17 (18) and 2017/18 (16), an inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year in 2018 and being voted Premier League playmaker of the season in 2017.

Interestingly, despite all these achievements and the many more I didn’t list, De Bruyne has never been named Premier League Player of the Month. Internationally, he’s played 30 games for Belgium since the start of 2016, scoring three and establishing himself as one of the most important cogs in Martinez’s machine.

Toby Alderweireld made the move to White Hart Lane and was instantly placed in the starting XI, playing all 38 games of the Premier League season and scoring four goals in an impressive defensive display, being regarded as one of the best centre backs in the league and helping Tottenham to the best defensive record in the league. He was named in the PFA team of the year in his first season with Spurs.

Alderweireld plays whenever he’s available, although in the 2017/18 campaign, a hamstring injury kept him out of action for three months and a subsequent aggravation of the injury following his return meant that he only played 14 games that season. In October 2009, when the Belgium team looked very different, he made his debut in a 2-0 loss to Estonia. In total, he’s made 84 National Team appearances, scoring three goals.


Key Moves:

Michy Batshuayi – Marseille to Chelsea – £33.2m

Steven Defour – Anderlecht to Burnley – £8m

Nacer Chadli – Tottenham Hotspur to West Brom – £13m

What they achieved:

The influx has slowed. It’s important to note that all the deals we see as significant now were less important then. Only Hazard, KDB and Kompany were truly seen as stars when they were signed; the other players were considered prospects or depth players before they flourished in their new environments. At this point the transfers are mostly for experience or untapped potential. None of the transfers in this window really pan out how the clubs may have hoped.

Michy Batshuayi made 20 league appearances for Chelsea and scored five goals, the presence and excellent form of Diego Costa and Belgium teammate Eden Hazard keeping him out of the squad for most of the season (almost all the 20 games he played were as a substitute). The next season saw him play even less, with 12 games and two goals in the Premier League, again mostly as a substitute. In total, Batsman has made 32 appearances in two Premier League seasons and has scored seven goals. For more than £30m.

Since then Batshuayi has been on loan twice, both times with success. Despite clear ability, Michy is yet to find a club where he can stay and realise his full potential. Lukaku had the same troubles with Chelsea until the Everton loan turned into a transfer so maybe Batshuayi can secure a transfer and finally become the main striker at a club where he feels more comfortable. He’s only 24 years old so he definitely has the time he needs.

Steven Defour made the move to the Premier League after feeling like the Anderlecht fans didn’t respect him enough. The Anderlecht fans responded reasonably by cheering him in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to stay, as opposed to his old club Liege, who made the famous Red or Dead banner which showed a man in a hockey mask holding Defour’s decapitated head. In the Premier League, Defour hasn’t played much, making 46 starts over two seasons, scoring twice. He remains a reliable performer coming off the bench, although it’s clear he has issues with the fast-paced, more physical style of English football, a real issue for an ageing CDM.

Nacer Chadli had a solid enough first season with West Brom, nothing special but an acceptable five goals and 31 games. The following season he only played five games, being kept out for most of the season with a thigh injury as West Brom were relegated in 20th place with only six wins, one of which was against Manchester United. He was sold to Monaco in August on a three year deal, but at 29 years old this may be his last chance at a career renaissance.


Key Moves:

Romelu Lukaku – Everton to Manchester United – £75m (£90m including add ons)

What they achieved:

The stars start to reach their prime, all the good players are at suitably big clubs and the Lukaku transfer reflects that perfectly. He was the last of the National Team star players to not play for a top tier side until Mourinho drove to Goodison Park in his truck filled with cash. The Belgian stars now have the best facilities, the best teammates and the best pay checks. Belgium is a staple of the Premier League, here to stay.

Romelu Lukaku had his choice of clubs once he’d made his mind up about leaving Merseyside. He was already regarded as one of the best target men in the world, his height and physical presence giving him the edge over many players in the same position. In the end, Manchester United signed the big Belgian and Lukaku immediately went about justifying the £90m price tag, scoring 16 in 34 in the Premier League and 27 in 51 in all competitions (five in eight in the Champions League). This total included his 100th Premier League goal, scored before his 25th birthday.

Despite a very strong start to the season, critics commented that Lukaku’s numbers did fall later on in the season and also noted his apparent failure to deliver against high level opposition. The main standout moment for Lukaku’s 2017/18 season was his World Cup performance this summer, scoring four goals, although all four goals came in the group stage against what could be considered lower quality opponents (Panama and Tunisia). It’s insane to think that Big Rom is still only 25 years old and is already Belgium’s all time top scorer, a World Cup second highest scorer and one of the highest paid players in the world. He could retire now and leave the sport as one of the best Belgian footballers of the modern era, with the stats to back it up.


Key Moves:

Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea to Real Madrid – £35m (plus Kovacic on loan, according to certain sources)

Leander Dendoncker – Anderlecht to Wolverhampton Wanderers – Loan with obligation to buy

What they achieved:

Despite rumours of him wanting to move, I don’t think many people thought Courtois would leave Chelsea. It was surprising but not something that will become a regularity. With all the stars now being at top clubs and being viewed as world class, especially after the World Cup success, it is unlikely that any of their clubs would let them leave for anything other than a yacht full of gold.

Apart from Courtois, all the players seem happy where they are. Eden Hazard was also rumoured to go but wants to stick around to play under Maurizio Sarri. Him and Alderweireld and the only two players I can see moving clubs any time soon. The Belgian National Side has reached its prime, the Euros await, then the World Cup, but the window of opportunity may start to close after that.

Thibaut Courtois was not a popular man with the Chelsea fans following his departure from Stamford Bridge. His tactic of forcing through a move by refusing to show up for training wasn’t exactly a fan favourite by any measure. In fairness, he did leave to be closer to his kids who live in Madrid with Courtois’ ex-girlfriend. Whilst by many accounts Courtois isn’t the nicest guy off the pitch (and occasionally on it), there’s no denying his ability.

Courtois is without a doubt one of the best ‘keepers of this current generation and Chelsea were always going to miss him, no matter who they signed as a replacement. His departure from the Premier League also shows that despite the recent increase in money and quality, many players still see Real Madrid and Barcelona as the ideal destinations, even without any domestic competition from anyone except Atletico.

Leander Dendoncker was a fan favourite during his time with Anderlecht and as someone who has seen him play live multiple times, he was often the standout player for Les Mauves. He was never a goalscorer, his defensive play giving managers the option to play him at centre back, but his ability to control the speed of the game and his great distribution make him one of the most promising young Belgian players along with Youri Tielemans – another Anderlecht alumnus.

Whilst Dendoncker has stayed on the bench for most of his time at Molineux so far, he definitely has the ability to contribute, although he is at a slight disadvantage of not being able to speak Portuguese. In many respects, he bookends the era of Belgian talent going to the English top tier, whilst talented and full of promise, he isn’t yet at the level of players such as Toby Alderweireld or Jan Vertonghen and as such he reflects the potential beginning of a decline in Belgian talent coming to the Premier League.

Courtois went to Real, Tielemans went to Monaco, Carrasco went to China and Witsel went to Dortmund. All these players who would’ve come straight to the Premier League five or 10 years ago now realise that they have options elsewhere. As the Belgian talent pool globally starts to dry up, the players who remain and the players who will take their place seem unsure about the Premier League. The next wave of young Belgian talent might not be interested by England, potentially choosing to ply their trade in the more familiar France or in Germany, both leagues being closer to home and less high pressure. The era of Belgian dominance may seem to have just hit its stride, but don’t think it’ll be around forever – you know what they say about the stars that shine brightest.

This article was written and researched by Tom Zacharzewski. Follow him on Twitter @accountofsports or read his previous article on the evolution of Brighton’s managers here

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.