A name that will need no introduction to fans of the FIFA or Football Manager games, Youri Tielemans is AS Monaco’s 21-year-old Belgian-Congolese midfielder; considered to be one of the brightest starlets in the modern game.
Tielemans is a talisman in the making and has been tipped for greatness since an early age. Born just outside of Brussels, in the Dutch speaking Sint-Pieters-Leeuw region, he began playing for Anderlecht’s youth academy at the age of 5. He spent 11 years in the youth academy at the Belgian club before gaining his first professional contract with them at the age of 16 in 2013.
After four years as a pro with Anderlecht, in which he appeared for the Belgian U15, U16, U21 and first teams, he eventually signed for Monaco in a €25 million deal.
Two-time Belgian young footballer of the year, 2017’s Belgian footballer of the year and the youngest Belgian to ever feature in the Champions League, Tielemans is full of potential and is exponentially improving season-by-season.
What kind of player is Youri Tielemans?
Youri Tielemans is both extremely versatile and a complete midfielder. Typically deployed in a variant of the central-midfield position, defensive, standard or attacking, his wide skill-set make him an important asset for both Monaco and Belgium.
Defensively, Tielemans is consistently switched on. He has the vision, as a playmaker himself, to cut and intercept the passing lanes of the opposition, averaging 1.3 interceptions per game for Monaco in the 17/18 Ligue 1 season. He likes to put pressure on opponents when they run at him; rather than backing off, which can lead to him committing the odd foul – an average of 1.4 each game.
For a midfielder, Tielemans does not play as many passes as you might expect. Instead he focuses for quality over quantity, allowing him to create and fashion chances directly, rather than being an integral part of his teams’ earlier build-up play. He enjoys playing long balls and often occupies space in the middle of the park, before distributing it into the final third of the opposition – to a well placed teammate.
Although not considered to be a typical attacking midfielder, Tielemans can play there and is somewhat effective. He is a threat from long distance and very nearly scored a screamer against England in the final game of Belgium’s group stage at the World Cup. For Monaco, he averaged a shot per game in the 17/18 season yet only managed to score 1 goal in all competitions, coming against Red Bull Leipzig in a 1-1 draw.
How does he fit in at Belgium?
Tielemans has shown that he may be a better fit for Belgium than he is for Monaco. Playing four minutes in Belgium’s win over Tunisia, he picked up an assist; whilst setting up Adnan Januzaj’s winner in their 1-0 victory over England. In just 94 combined minutes at the World Cup, Tielemans has more assists than in over 1800 minutes of club football last season. This is partly down to the fact he has been positioned as a winger in Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3 formation. In a more advanced role, his attacking abilities begin to shine and he poses far more of an attacking threat than he does from the middle of the park.
With the passing ability of players like Kevin De Bruyne and Mousa Dembele in the middle, Tielemans is better positioned further up the pitch. Meanwhile, against England, the width of Thorgan Hazard allowed Tielemans to fill little pockets of space on the border of England’s third.
As Belgium progress to the Round of 16, with a fixture against Japan, Martinez may choose to start Tielemans. Alternatively, Martinez may field a full strength team and in that case, Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard would be given priority over the young man from Monaco. Tielemans can certainly make an impact from the bench however and this could be the Belgian head coach’s best option.
He has proven his ability to perform at the top level and at just 21 years old, will surely be a star at many more World Cups to come; even if he fails to star further in this year’s edition.
By: Sam Wilson