Belgium are in the midst of one of the most polished golden generations international football has ever seen.
With elite names such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku available to manager Roberto Martinez, The Red Devils are brimming with world-class talent and are understandably one of the favourites to go all the way in Russia, though their recent tournament showings have left a lot to be desired.
Blessed with esteemed and established quality in almost every area of the pitch, young Belgian starlets have an uphill challenge to not only feature for Martinez’s side, but to merely be included in the squad. An extremely difficult task, but one Monaco’s Youri Tielemans is up to.
The youngest member of Belgium’s 23-man squad for the footballing extravaganza in Russia, the 21-year-old is a familiar name to many after breaking through with Belgian giants Anderlecht aged 16 and piqued the interest of some of Europe’s top clubs with his performances in the Jupiler League.
Tielemans’ exploits with his boyhood club resulted in a move to Monaco, who reportedly beat Manchester City to the midfielder’s signature last summer.
His first season with Les Monegasques was solid if unspectacular - Leonardo Jardim’s men unsurprisingly failed to hold onto their Ligue 1 title as Paris Saint-Germain steamrollered all before them - but the World Cup offers Tielemans the chance to elevate his reputation from promising youngster to one of the world’s best midfielders.
With Martinez preferring to set Belgium out in a 3-4-2-1, the two central midfielders are crucial to providing cover for the onrushing wing-backs while also ensuring that they remain dominant in the middle of the pitch.
Tielemans may not be Martinez’s first choice for the central midfield berths with Mousa Dembele and Axel Witsel at his disposal, but he certainly has all the attributes necessary to flourish in the system the former Everton boss wishes to use.
Strong in aerial duels, adept at reading the game and economical in possession, Tielemans was able to dictate proceedings regularly for Anderlecht and was even capable of roaming forward and chipping in with a goal, as evidenced by his 35 strikes in 185 games for 34-time Belgian League winners.
He wasn’t able to fully replicate his form for Anderlecht during his first spell with Monaco, but Martinez has seen enough in Tielemans to include him in his squad for Russia over the reputable Radja Nainggolan, who has since retired from international duty (again).
Tielemans may have to hope for a slice of luck or a change of heart of sorts from Martinez if he is to feature against England et al during the group stage, but while his name carries less pedigree than that of his competitors for the positions, namely Witsel and Dembele, he certainly has the necessary qualities needed to help Belgium shed their tag of nearly-men and get to the business end at the World Cup.