A European home game against the might Manchester United - is this Youri Tielemans' moment of truth? Certainly, he has both the talent and temperament to announce himself as the continent's next great midfielder.
Indeed, at just 19, the Anderlecht ace has the pace, technique, vision and energy that lay the foundations for any prodigious talent in modern football. Furthermore, with almost four years of experience to his name, having developed a kind of ruthless efficiency that exceeds any of his contemporaries, he has everything required to reach the top.
In a way, that fee is relatively small considering his quality. It’s tough to believe Tielemans has so much time behind and ahead of him in professional football. He has been one of the most-watched prospects around since emerging in Anderlecht’s first-team at 16.
Now the lynchpin of his club side, he is close to establishing himself in the Belgium national team and seems ready to blossom at a higher level.
Since he burst through, he has gone on to win a league title and two supercups with the Pro League giants, while he has been named the top flight’s Young Professional Player of the Year twice. But it is in this season he has reached a new level.
He has well surpassed his previous season’s stats to become the most potent player in Europe under 20 when combining his 13 goals and nine assists in the league, creating an incredible 87 chances too.
With his close control, quick thinking and excellent turns, Tielemans weaves his way out of trouble when surrounded by opponents. He is at ease on the ball, his passes are quick but considered and accurate and he has a good range. His delivery and threat from set pieces are also useful and he is developing expertise in sending penalties high into the top corner.
He plays mostly as a central midfielder, but as attacks progress he often moves wide or pushes on against defenders. Tielemans’ defensive works is sound too, as he uses his frame well to win the ball and moves to fill in gaps when Anderlecht are thin in numbers at the back. Despite the threat he poses, he does not charge forward with every Anderlecht attack as he often sits back and covers the defence or offers support from deep, picking up loose balls and working it forward or putting his dangerous shot to good use.
Tielemans’ physical capabilities are immense, but his maturity also stands out. Despite the continued adoration, the previous two years saw him go through a phase of indifference a lot of many youngsters experience after making an impression at senior level. After shaking that off, he is shining as a real leader and in good time, too, having just become a father. The birth of his daughter will be no distraction, he insists. Rather, it will help him in his career.
“I have experienced a lot of emotions in football, but nothing will move me more than the birth of my daughter,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “No matter what the future brings. You never forget something like that.
“It was a conscious decision by us to become young parents. In the manic lifestyle, it will be good to pick my moments of rest, but it will also give me more stability to be a better footballer. A bit like Eden and Thorgan Hazard, who became fathers at a young age too."
He has done well to remain focused on football. Speculation only increases with his profile, which is ever-rising. Three days after making his first start for Belgium, he was the star of the show in the first game of the Pro League playoffs with a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win over Zulte Waregem.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has already fallen for him. “He is an extraordinary footballer, we know his qualities and I love his personality,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “He is always ready to do anything for the team.
“Everything can be too easy for a boy of 19 who has the world at his feet. I told him that he has to push more. I want to see that he wants to win games.
“He has more experience than some players at the end of their career. But he has to continue to challenge himself.”
And in that, Martinez nailed the only real obstacle for Tielemans. He is not a flawless player – he lacks a real explosiveness to his game to really stun defenders and at times he fails to really grab hold of games. This will come, though, as he continues to add to his arsenal. He just needs to keep working hard and he seems to be planning his future well.
His current platform is immense, as Martinez admitted after his full debut for the Rode Duivels: “Youri’s performance makes it very hard for me to keep him out of the starting XI next time. He is special.”
Of course, Tielemans will have to be careful with his next move but if he finds a team that suits his style and is patient enough to suit him, nothing will stand in his way from reaching the top.
Make no mistake about it, Youri Tielemans is set for superstardom. Thursday's meeting with United might just be the launch party he has been waiting for.