The Nets Big Thing
Belgium. A nation famous for enjoying a beer, the odd chocolate and some Belgians not liking another slightly different type of Belgians. I’m sure I’ve offended someone in that intro, but the point is it’s the country so inoffensive that no-one’s even bothered to come up with some decent stereotypes. It’s the jack of many minor national stereotypes, master of none.
One thing the country may become known for in the near future is an unrelenting production line of young footballing talent. Vincent Kompany. Thomas Vermaelen and Marounne Fellani have all made impressive starts to their careers in the Premier League and behind them there’s another generation of players set to grace some of Europe’s top teams in the not too distant future. The highly sought after Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht and Eden Hazard of Lille are amongst the most high profile of the younger generation, but there’s a depth to this wave of talent that has the potential to transform Belgium into one of Europe’s top nations.
Genk are a club producing a lot of this young talent and in the early part of the Belgian season, they were blazing a surprise trail at the top of the Juliper League. Since then they’ve been leapfrogged by defending champions, Anderlecht, but breathing down the neck of the reigning champions isn’t a bad showing considering their oldest player is the 29 year old Thomas Buffel and there are 18 teenagers in the squad, most of which play on a regular basis. One starlet that stands out that stands out in a galaxy of starlets is the goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois. That’s a picture of him at the top of the page and it looks strange because it’s desktop wallpaper taken from the club website – I’m a fan, but not enough to make my own wallpaper of him.
Aside from a very youthful appearance, one thing immediately strikes you about Courtois – his colossal size. It’s not just impressive height, he also seems to fill the goal horizontally in a way you don’t often see in young goalkeepers. Not long after noticing his presence, you’ll surely notice how he moves his frame around with such apparent ease. His speed combined with a huge stride make it look like he’s positively eating up ground when he runs. He does a bit of running and that’s thanks in large part to his good attitude. He really throws himself around the penalty, even in pursuit of an apparently lost cause.
He doesn’t do badly in more general categories either. His reflexes look really sharp and he has the spring to bring a genuine agility to his large frame. His shot-stopping is excellent and his hands look reliable, particularly considering this is a teenager who has played only a handful of senior games. It that wasn’t enough, he is generally assured when dealing with crosses and he’s shown a bravery and a willingness to throw himself at the feet of an attacker when the situation requires. It’s quite an all round package from a young man who won’t turn 19 until next May.
If there is one area of obvious weakness, it’s his general judgement. Since I’ve been tracking him, there have been several occasions when he’s gone for a cross or shot he’d be well advised to leave alone. There have been times when he’s saved shots that were going wide – and not shots that were going narrowly wide and he needed to intervene to be sure – shots that with good positioning and awareness, he should know aren’t a threat to his goal. It is however only a minor complaint and something he will surely improve as he gains more and more experience.
Courtois is an excellent prospect and although they don’t boast any giants of the European game, the Belgian league isn’t a bad place to be learning your trade. Admittedly certain Premier League clubs traditionally used it to get around UK visa laws, but it has developed to become a strong learning ground in it’s own right. A couple of seasons at home mixed with some type of European experience would put him in good stead for a move further up the food chain.
Courtois has the potential to be amongst the next generation who put Belgium on the footballing map.