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Zeno Debast: Have Belgium found their new Kompany in time for the World Cup?

14:00 SAST 2022/11/08
Zeno Debast NXGN GFX
The 19-year-old is set to be named in Roberto Martinez's squad for Qatar 2022 amid reports that Liverpool are interested in signing him.

Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and maybe even Eden Hazard are set to be in Belgium's line-up at the 2022 World Cup, and yet it feels like the country's 'golden generation' has already missed its chance at winning a major tournament.

Despite sitting second in the world rankings ahead of their flight to Qatar, Roberto Martinez's side are not considered as being amongst the favourites, with many instead believing this to the first step on the national team's transition away from some of the country's greatest ever footballers.

Those who have thrilled the world over the past decade either already have faded away or are about to, leaving space for a new generation of players to take over.

One such player is Zeno Debast, but he might not have to wait until after the World Cup to begin proving himself at the highest level of the international game.

Regarded as a potential heir to Vincent Kompany's throne, the Anderlecht teenager is expected to be named in Belgium's squad in the coming days and perhaps even make it onto the pitch in the weeks that follow.

But what makes him so special? Let NXGN explain...

  • Where it all began

    Born in Halle to a football-mad family, with both his parents playing to a decent level, Debast joined the Anderlecht academy at the age of six.

    A boyhood fan of the Purple and White, Debast was often initially deployed as an attacking midfielder, not least because of his diminutive stature.

    It was not until 2019, when Debast, in the midst of a growth spurt, was moved back into defence, and he has thrived there ever since.

    He made his first-team debut for Anderlecht in May 2021, and followed that up with six further appearances over the next 12 months as Vincent Kompany slowly introduced him into the senior ranks.

  • Zeno Debast Belgium 2022

    The big break

    Ironically, it was not until Kompany left in the summer of 2022 that Debast became a mainstay in the Anderlecht side, as new manager Felice Mazzu switched to a back three and asked the teenager to play on the right-hand side of his defence.

    Debast immediately impressed, so much so that he was called-up to the Belgium squad for their Nations League clashes against Wales and the Netherlands in what was also their final tune-up before Martinez selects his squad for the World Cup.

    With that in mind, it was surprising but also instructive to see Debast start both matches, and though he came in for some criticism for the role he played in Virgil van Dijk scoring the Dutch winner in his second game, his manager could not have been more impressed by his impact.

    "This was one of the most impressive debuts in recent years for Belgium," Martinez said. "I enjoyed it. I saw a young guy with a lot of self-confidence, but also a lot of desire to learn."

  • Zeno Debast Anderlecht 2022-23

    How it's going

    Despite Mazzu being sacked by Anderlecht in October after a disappointing start to the season, Debast has kept his place in the team, and has started all 16 of the club's league games so far in 2022-23.

    Though his commitment to the cause has never been questioned, he further endeared himself to the club's fans following a recent defeat to Zulte Waregem, when he could be seen in floods of tears at full-time, so disappointed was he with the team's form.

    Debast has not been to blame, however. He was hailed for his role in Anderlecht keeping their first clean sheet in the league since August during November's goalless draw with Royal Antwerp.

  • Biggest strengths

    Perhaps unsurprisingly given his past life as a creative midfielder, the main strengths that Debast possesses lie in his ability on the ball.

    He has a superb range of passing, and can regularly be seen pinging balls across the pitch in a bid to launch Anderlecht attacks.

    He is also a confident dribbler, and more often than not finds himself carrying the ball over the halfway line and even into the final third when given space to drive forward by the opposition.

    He's not afraid of showing off his skills, either...

    At 6'2 (189cm), meanwhile, he is adept in the air and has shown enough in his short career to suggest that he is not shy of a tackle either.

  • Room for improvement

    "Gaining muscle mass, daring to go win headers and building character," Debast told HUMO when asked what he wanted to improve the most about his game, given he's still relatively slight for his age.

    However, it was also enlightening to hear him speak about how he has strengthened himself mentally during his late-teens.

    “When I used to play one bad pass, the 10 balls after that were risk-free taps left and right," he admitted. "I kept it simple, for fear of making a mistake again.

    "I started working on this fear of failure with a few psychologists, since I was 15. I am now reaping the benefits."

  • Vincent Kompany Manchester City

    The next... Vincent Kompany?

    Having learned under Kompany at Anderlecht, it is perhaps fitting that Debast has been tipped to become the next great Belgian defender, and they are alike in some ways.

    Like Kompany, Debast began his career playing further forward, so he has that same comfort in possession as his former coach, while he also shares a similar level of aggression when faced with an aerial duel, even if he needs to fill out to match Kompany's physicality.

    In terms of who Debast himself counts as his footballing idol, he cites Cristiano Ronaldo as a source of inspiration, particularly the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's drive to be the very best at everything he does on the football field.

  • Zeno Debast Anderlecht 2022-23

    What comes next?

    Short-term, Debast will hope to have done enough to earn a place in Belgium's World Cup squad when it is named in the coming days, and there is even a chance he is chosen to start in Qatar.

    Longer-term, he has a contract that runs until the summer of 2025, but reports suggest that some of Europe's elite clubs are already queuing up to test Anderlecht's resolve to hold on to their most prized possession in the coming months.

    Liverpool are said to have sent scouts to watch him in action, while Borussia Dortmund and Inter have also been cited as potentially having interest.

    What is for sure is that if he does perform well at the World Cup, his price tag is sure to skyrocket in the months that follow.

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