Anderlecht youngster Youri Tielemans backed for the big time
D.o.B: March 7, 1997
Position: Central midfield
Height: 176 cm
Weight: 72 kg
Estimated value: 16 million euros
A young Youri Tielemans joined Anderlecht at the age of 5 in 2002, beginning a path to the top of the club that would see him eventually make his first-team debut shortly after his 16th birthday. In the process, he became the fourth-youngest player in the Belgian club's history.
Such feats and records have become standard in his career thus far, becoming the third youngest player in the history of the Champions League just a couple of months later. Remarkably, he has never looked out of place on such a stage in spite of his relative paucity of senior-level experience, and indeed, against Arsenal just a fortnight ago he was one of the game's top performers.
Unsurprisingly given their backgrounds at Anderlecht, both hailing from a similar region of Brussels, and high-profile from a young age, Tielemans is often compared to onetime defensive midfielder Vincent Kompany. Another of Anderlecht's biggest talents of the past decade, Anthony Vanden Borre, fanned such flames further last season when he insisted that Tielemans was better than his former colleague at the same age. It is a comparison, though, that the 17-year-old understandably distances himself from.
"Kompany is my role model, but you really should not compare me to him as we are totally different players," he recently said. "The only similarity is that he also broke through here as a youngster." Others, though, see plenty in common between the two highly intelligent and physically blessed Belgians.
Although well on his way to stardom, the under-21 international has a long way to go before he can be justifiably compared to one of the best centre-backs of the past decade. As role models go, though, there can be few better examples of what is possible if Tielemans remains focused on fulfilling his enormous potential.
Given his range of abilities, Tielemans is not limited to just one midfield role, having been a more attacking player in the early stages of his senior career owing to the presence of current West Ham midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate alongside him. Now frequently partnered with Steven Defour, Tielemans has been forced to occupy a slightly more withdrawn role this campaign.
Tielemans' outstanding quality is his vision, having consistently shown the ability to pick a defence-splitting pass when given space on the ball. Beyond that, he has the technical ability and strength to beat an opponent in the centre of the park and open up space for himself between the lines. While he has played deeper this season, these qualities remain undiminished, as his 1.7 key passes per game in the Champions League attests.
Tielemans is a competent distributor off either foot and, indeed, he showed memorable precision first with his right and then with his left in providing a wonderful assist against Genk in May. Remembering that he doesn't always have to try too much can be an issue, with Tielemans still learning judgement with regards to his decision making. Defensively, meanwhile, he is keen and strong in the tackle, but can sometimes be casual in his marking, although such errors have become less frequent in recent games.
He has the potential to be a terrific all-round central midfielder with just a little more experience, and projecting a path to the top would seem a relatively simple task.
- Goal scoring
- Can overcomplicate play
Tackling: Tielemans is strongly built and uses that strength to his advantage in tackles, challenging firmly and presenting a sizeable obstacle. He is rarely rash in diving in but can attempt challenges when it would be better to jockey. However, he is improving rapidly.
Marking: Not always his best attribute, Tielemans can sometimes be beaten too easily as if losing concentration. Again, it is a highly improved area of his game, but more work must be done.
Heading: Given his position on the pitch, Tielemans is regularly required to compete in the air from opponents' long goal kicks and generally uses his athleticism well to challenge for the ball. He is not exceptionally tall, and thus is not relied upon to defend set pieces, but he jumps well and could be useful in this regard with more experience.
Close control: Few issues in this regard; the Belgian's first touch is strong and he has excellent technical ability in confined spaces. He uses his strength well to shield the ball and also has enough speed and dribbling skill to beat a man. It is one of his defining features.
Passing: Perhaps the outstanding department of his game, Tielemans shows regularly that he has the vision and passing ability to pick out ambitious passes to teammates in attacking areas. It is this determination to be incisive that is particularly impressive.
Positioning: Since the summer departure of Kouyate, Tielemans has shown great dedication to his defensive responsibilities despite his natural inclination to attack. He is seldom caught out of position and, on those odd occasions, generally has the strength and pace to recover.
Crossing: Playing deep and in the centre, it is not an area of his game that is regularly called upon. However, Tielemans is also a regular set piece taker for Anderlecht and delivers well with his stronger right foot. Could potentially play wide if desperately needed given his skill set.
Finishing: While goal scoring is listed as a weakness of Tielemans, he can actually finish well off both feet and displayed as much regularly with Belgium's youth sides. He is also a regular penalty taker for Anderlecht. His off-ball movement and judgement as to when to push forward could improve and goals would soon follow.
What the experts say
He's Anderlecht's most natural talent since Kompany. He's midfield creative (but that's limiting him) RT @marks2625: What's Tielemans like?- John Chapman (@BelgoFoot) May 17, 2014
There are few players who can claim to have been an automatic first-team pick even at the age of 16, which speaks much of Tielemans' talent and physical prowess. He has been tipped for the very top of the game for some time already and, thus far, has shown few signs of wilting under the same pressure that seemed to inhibit colleague Dennis Praet so greatly when he first broke through at first-team level. For some it can be too much too soon, but Tielemans has shown few signs of wilting and could even be said to have thrived on the big occasion.
He has areas of his game to develop, with his goal-scoring record at senior level a notable deficiency thus far if he is to become a truly top-level central midfielder. One goal in 16 outings this campaign -- and that from the penalty spot -- is perhaps understandable given his increased defensive burden, but he must at some point offer more going forward. The issue is not technical -- he has scored plenty at youth level -- but rather a case of striking the right balance in his attacking and defensive play.
Tielemans is a confident young man, taking responsibility for his side from set pieces and demanding the ball in the centre of the park, and that positive attitude will serve him well as his career develops. He will inevitably make the step up to a top European club at some point in the next few seasons and has thus far demonstrated an attitude that will be right at home among the game's biggest stars. For now, however, talk is focused on an impending contract renewal that could keep him in Brussels for the next four seasons.
Belgium has no shortage of talents in midfield, with Tielemans at least set to be given time to slowly introduce himself to international football. Even so, Euro 2016 -- when he will be 19 years old -- seems a very realistic target at present, and it may well be at that tournament when he bursts into wider public consciousness.
Chris Atkins is based in China and writes for ESPN FC about the Chinese Super League. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_.