Yari Verschaeren: 'The new Hazard' leading Belgium's next generation

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Belgium head into Euro 2020 as many observers’ favourites to lift the trophy. The Red Devils’ golden generation has been lauded for the best part of a decade, but time is running out for them to win a major tournament.

With the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois all in their prime years, Roberto Martinez has been tasked with delivering silverware to a nation not renowned for producing generational talents.

And while the majority of the squad will be made up of household names, one player who may make the final 23 is not yet on the radar of many fans outside of his homeland.

Despite being just 18, Yari Verschaeren is already a full international having put in a series of impressive displays for Anderlecht over the past year.

“It will be interesting to see an 18-year-old among those men who already have more than 100 caps," Martinez said ahead of Verschaeren's debut in September. “The whole of Belgian football must be happy to have such a talent again. And also as a person he is fantastic. He is a future ambassador of Belgian football.

"I have been following Yari very closely for over a year. We are talking about a very, very talented player here. If you look at his past years, you can see that he has always adjusted very quickly to any level.”

Verschaeren has long been tipped for the top, having joined Anderlecht’s academy at the age of nine. He worked his way through the various age-group sides before signing his first professional contract as a 16-year-old.

Having regularly impressed for Anderlecht’s reserve side, he was handed his senior debut as a 17-year-old against Sint-Truiden in November 2018, playing 78 minutes of a 4-2 defeat in a No.10 role.

Yari Verschaeren Anderlecht 2019-20

Though predominantly right-footed and having spent much of his time growing up playing on the right-hand side, Verschaeren is equally comfortable centrally, with his low centre of gravity allowing him to turn quickly and elude opposition defenders.

He has also improved with his left foot, as showcased on the final day of the 2018-19 campaign as a deep cross with his weaker foot enabled on-loan Everton winger Yannick Bolasie to head home against KV Oostende.

“I immediately noticed Yari,” Bolasie told Voetbal 24 during his six-month spell with Anderlecht. When I saw how young he was, I was shocked.

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“In the first few days I thought he was a younger brother of Eden Hazard. Then I started calling him Eden."

He is not the only one to make such a connection.

“He has a lot of potential. He makes me think a little bit of Eden Hazard. He is very handy and he can turn quickly and play very quickly,” Anderlecht president Michael Verschuren told DH Net in 2019.

Yari Verschaeren GFX

Verschaeren has maintained his place in the Anderlecht team since the arrival of Vincent Kompany as player-manager in the summer of 2019, starting 17 of the club’s first 19 Jupiler Pro-League games before suffering an ankle ligament injury in December.

Initial footage of the incident where the injury occurred showed Verschaeren’s foot turn at an almost 90-degree angle from his leg, but it is understood that the issue is not as serious as first feared, and it is hoped he will return before the end of the campaign.

Should he do so, then he will have the opportunity to again show Martinez what he can do ahead of the Euros.

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He already has a goal for his country after netting a penalty against San Marino in October, and despite strong competition in attacking areas, a place for the ‘new Hazard’ in the squad is far from out of the question.

From there, a move away from Anderlecht surely beckons. Southampton have previously been linked with Verschaeren, and there is likely to be further interest from both the Premier League and other top European leagues.

If he can reach anywhere near the level of Hazard, then Belgian football will have another special talent on its hands.