The Young Pretender
Youri Tielemans is just a boy with respect to the others I’ve written about in this series. Born on 7th May 1997 (Happy belated Birthday Youri) in a small suburb of the Belgian Capital, Youri has, much like his compatriot Lukaku, Congolese heritage. Unlike his compatriot, he does not have a football playing family to speak of.
Not much else is known about his upbringing and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that goes into great detail online. Living in a small provincial town kept Youri off the radar of the many clubs that would have signed him in an instant, much to Anderlecht’s benefit they were the ones who discovered him. Once again, their scouts triumphed in finding the diamond in the rough, hidden away in the deepest darkest part of Belgium.
Youri would be discovered playing grassroots football for one of the very few clubs that were in town. It would be clear that even at the age of five he’d be a class above the rest, his light-footedness and ability to shift his body weight were skills that peers twice his age were yet to master.
It would transpire that in the summer of 2002, just a few short weeks after his discovery, Youri parents would sign forms allowing him to join the youth teams of RSC Anderlecht a team he would remain at for close to 15 Years.
Tielemans would make his senior squad debut aged 16 years and 74 days, making him the fourth youngest player to debut in The Belgian Pro-League, a little less than 70 days later he became the youngest Belgian to play in a Champions League game, against Greek Super Leagues Olympiakos. Anderlecht’s European adventures would be a far cry from their domestic success, winning just a single point from six group matches.
Youri first senior year would start off well enough, he assisted and scored in a 3-0 win over Club Brugge, a solitary contribution in a year that saw him feature a further 28 times, he would help secure The Belgian Pro-League Title, however, and walk away with Belgian Young Player of the Year Award for his efforts.
What stood out in that year was Tielemans games craft, much like the boy that was spotted aged five, he played a game more mature than his own years suggested. Youri proved he had the emotional intelligence of a seasoned veteran, as well as the technical skill of a world-class player.
Tielemans remained grounded enough to continue with his education also, training twice a week instead of the five days required by his peers and then playing in front of thousands in arenas and millions watching on TV, before returning to the classroom Monday morning.
Youri second year at Anderlecht ended much like the first, only now he was a staple of the first team, appearing 52 times in all competitions, scoring six times and registering four assists. I can hear you already, these are not the statistics of a Ballon d’Or winner, that much is true.
The reason Tielemans is being highlighted though is for his potential to win it at some point in the future. He’s a representative of the Belgium National teams present as well as it’s future, they may well be experiencing a golden era with the likes of Courtois, Kompany, Alderweireld, De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard amongst a team laden with superstars, but if Tielemans is an indicator, then this Golden era will have a second generation.
His second year wouldn’t result in a League Title, losing out in the playoff rounds but Anderlecht would secure the Belgian Super Cup and he himself would again win Belgian Young Player of The Year. Youri third and fourth seasons couldn’t have been two different campaigns.
The 2015/16 season was by all accounts a quiet affair for Tielemans, though he would bag himself seven goals and four assists, there was no cup run and again no league title. Tielemans failed in his bid too for a third successive Young Player Award and trying to find a record of any of his 45 appearances that year proved difficult.
The 2016/17 season thankfully gives us more talking points, his last year in Belgium before a big money move to Monaco of French Ligue One. If any of the seasons was to truly highlight Youri Tielemans as a World Class prospect and future Ballon d’Or winner, it’s his final one for Anderlecht.
Boyz II Tielemans
The season would begin early for Youri, playing out a 4-2 loss to Rostov in a Champions League Qualifier, Tielemans even bagged a vital away goal in a first-leg draw. In truth it left little to do at home, score once and shut up shop, unfortunately, they couldn’t get the job done and Rostov walked away with a 0-2 reverse.
This would mean Anderlecht would play Europa League Football for another year. Another qualifier, another goal for Youri and this time a comprehensive 6-0 aggregate beating of Slavia Prague.
The competition would be kind to Anderlecht and Youri alike, losing just one of their six group games, incidentally a game Tielemans would not play a part in. The knockout stages beckoned and a big day for Youri as he was given the armband for the crucial double-header versus Zenit St Petersburg, 3-3 on aggregate but a crucial away goal in Russia sees them through. Youri is now amongst a fabled set of young captain fantastics, leading his team another eight times throughout the 2016/17 campaign.
This only further enforces what we’ve already established, he may only be 19 at this point, but if you were to ask anyone who didn’t know, they’d assume he was a player in his 20’s with the benefit of a ten-year career.
Anderlecht would make it through to the Quarter Finals, after dispatching APOEL in the next round and face eventual Europa League Winners Manchester United. The two legs were hotly contested, in which, Tielemans was again named the captain for the first leg. Anderlecht would come unstuck in the second, although taking the game into extra time they would eventually lose 3-2 on aggregate. Youri would be named in the UEFA Europa League Team of The Year for his efforts.
Domestic success would soon follow, with Anderlecht wrapping up their 34th Belgian Pro-League Title and Tielemans would be named Belgian Ebony Shoe Winner, an award given to “The Best Player in The League of African descent” and The Belgian Pro Footballer of The Year. Youri would finish the year with 18 Goals and 15 Assists in all competitions, including this wonder of a brace.
On May 24th just 3 weeks after Youri 20th Birthday his Anderlecht career came to an end, transferring to AS Monaco of The French Ligue One. All told Youri Tielemans would leave having made 185 Appearances, scoring 35 times and registering 31 Assists across all competitions, quite the feat for a player still so young.
The Prince of The Principality
Tielemans life on The Riviera has gotten off to a tough start, injury along with competing against Joao Moutinho and Fabinho for game time has limited Youri to an average of just 55 minutes per game. With the former now into his 30’s and the latter at the centre of much transfer speculation, expect the 2018/19 Season to be a big one for Tielemans and Monaco alike.
Youri will surely benefit from more minutes in Fabinho’ absence and Monaco’s Mbappe windfall will help strengthen the squad and put them in a good position to challenge for the league title and maybe even reach the later rounds of The Champions League. One thing is for sure, Monaco is certainly a suitable home for a player of Tielemans ilk, with a history of developing and nurturing talent that plays way beyond its years, Youri could well martial in the next line of Monaco based youth, set to make a big impression on the world stage.
The Luxury of Time
Youri Tielemans is just 21, something that is easily forgotten and a theme of this article. There will, of course, be doubts surrounding his credentials at this early stage of his life and rightly so, because after all, he hasn’t achieved anymore or less than some other young stars that have exploded on to the scene only to fizzle out a few short years later.
I don’t see that happening with this kid though, I think Tielemans is every bit a Premier League and Champions League Winning Midfielder, even if the rest of the world doesn’t know it just yet. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if come the Summer of 2019 he’s on a plane to John Lennon Airport ready to pen to paper on a contract, having his photo taken next to an ecstatic Jurgen Klopp.
Next season will tell us a lot more about Tielemans capabilities and if that move to The Premier League was to come off, more eyes will be opened to his qualities and the prospect of the young Belgian pipping a number of his own compatriots to being named World Player of The Year.
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