Club: RC Sporting Charleroi
Position(s): CM, DM
Preferred Foot: Both
Strengths: physicality, athleticism, technical ability, creativity, ambidexterity
Areas for Development: speed, shot volume, defensive anticipation, duel success rate
In contrast to the relatively stable status of the big five European leagues, the Belgian Pro League, along with other leagues like the Dutch, Portuguese, Austrian, Swiss, and Polish leagues, actively fosters young talent by consistently offering significant playing time to emerging prospects. Statistical data underscores Belgium’s commitment to this approach, making it a standout destination for nurturing up-and-coming stars.
Throughout this year, the Belgian Pro League has witnessed the emergence of several promising young talents, among them Arthur Vermeeren (Royal Antwerp), Antonio Nusa (Club Brugge), Isaac Nuhu (Eupen), Bilal El Khannouss (Genk), and notably, Adem Zorgane who, in this analysis, our focus will be on the development and performance of.
Last season saw a pulsating final day with Union Saint-Gilloise looking set to win the postseason championship, only for the title to change hands in the 89th minute with Genk taking advantage — in the end, Antwerp would prevail with their first league title since 1957 courtesy of a 94th-minute goal from Toby Alderweireld. It looks set to be yet another thrilling campaign as Belgium’s top sides battle for supremacy and reinforce their teams in the transfer market.
Club Brugge signed the promising Norwegian midfielder Hugo Vetlesen from Bodø/Glimt, KRC Genk secured Cristopher Baah, an 18-year-old creative midfielder to replace Mike Tresor following his move to Burnley, and Royal Antwerp signed 16-year-old George Ilenikhena — Ligue 2’s youngest goalscorer this century — from Amiens for £6million. Moreover, there have been changes in the dugouts as well. Union Saint-Gilloise, Club Brugge, RWD Molenbeek, KV Kortrijk, KAS Eupen, Sint-Truiden, and Standard Liege have all begun the campaign with new managers.
Among these alterations, Sporting Charleroi present an interesting outlier. Their goal is not to challenge for the title, nor to qualify for Europe, but simply improve on last season’s ninth-place finish. In order to do so, they have added Senegalese striker Youssouph Badji from Club Brugge and Anderlecht’s French veteran midfielder Adrien Trebel, as well as Norwegian left back Vetle Dragsnes from Norwegian club Lillestrom. Belgian winger Antoine Bernier has joined following RFC Seraing’s relegation, whilst Slovenian winger Zan Rogelj has made the move from Austrian Bundesliga side WSG Tirol.
Ivorian attacking midfielder Parfait Guiagon has joined from Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv for the tune of €1.5 million, whilst Oday Dabbagh — who grabbed seven goals in 14 appearances last season to lead Arouca to fifth place and European qualification — has swapped Portugal for Belgium, opening the scoring early on in their 1-1 draw vs. Leuven to kick off the season, before breaking the deadlock within 80 minutes in their 1-1 draw to Sint-Truiden.
However, perhaps Charleroi’s best piece of business this summer was keeping hold of star player Adem Zorgane, fending off interest from Anderlecht and Lyon and retaining the 23-year-old, who has a contract until 2027. Born in Setif, Algeria, Zorgane made his senior debut for Paradou AC on August 13, 2018, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to play in Algeria’s top-flight.
It wasn’t long before he followed in the footsteps of Ramy Bensebaini, Youcef Atal and Hicham Boudaoui and became the latest player to leave Paradou for Europe, joining Charleroi in 2021 and quickly solidifying a starting spot with 3 goals and 6 assists in 37 appearances across all competitions before following that up with 4 goals and 8 assists in 33 appearances in 2022/23. The archetypal complete midfielder, Zorgane boasts a formidable blend of technical prowess and exceptional physical attributes.
The Algeria international’s standout qualities include his remarkable composure and ability to dictate the pace of the game, as well as an impressive passing accuracy, coupled with an average of 2.0 key passes per game. Functioning as Charleroi’s primary creator, while his primary role is in central midfield, Zorgane’s versatility extends to a deep-lying playmaker position, where he excels in distributing pinpoint long passes from both feet and initiating attacks from deep positions.
Standing at 6’0″, Zorgane presents a physically imposing figure in the midfield. This, combined with his remarkable stamina, enables him to function as a well-equipped, box-to-box midfielder, relentlessly pressing opponents. His strength and defensive acumen are demonstrated by his average of 2.2 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game. It is worth noting that these numbers, while not the highest, are commendable, given that he does not primarily serve as Charleroi’s defensive linchpin.
One of Zorgane’s standout attributes lies in his ball-carrying and dribbling prowess, allowing him to advance the ball and initiate attacks by skillfully bypassing opponents. Even in the opening stages of the 2023/24 season, Zorgane is averaging 2.7 progressive carries per game – putting him in the 95th percentile for the league – despite Charleroi opening the season with four draws and three defeats and sitting in the relegation zone. His ability to receive the ball on the half-turn, coupled with astute spatial awareness through scanning, enhances his acceleration and enables him to elude markers effectively.
Notably, Zorgane’s ambidextrous ability makes him an unpredictable threat to defenders, capable of delivering precise long passes, unleashing powerful long-range shots, and dribbling proficiently with either foot. His ability to affect the game from deeper positions is exhibited in his impressive rate of passes into the penalty area (2.17 per game) which is among the league’s highest. This versatility is a rare and valuable trait, which, when effectively utilized by managers, can yield significant benefits.
While not lacking in defensive capabilities, his ability to act as the primary ball-winner in midfield is limited by occasional lapses in anticipation and positioning. This season, Zorgane is averaging over 10 ball recoveries per game – much higher than the league average of 7.2 – but conversely, he is one of the league’s most frequently dispossessed players this campaign (1.5 per game). Improvements in this area could elevate his duel success rate and defensive contributions, complementing his already impressive physical strength.
Furthermore, Zorgane does have clear room for development in his defensive anticipation. Charleroi have made a dismal start to their campaign, languishing in 14th place, amongst the bottom four positions (the bottom four teams of the regular season play a round-robin relegation playoff at the end of the season, with the bottom two being relegated and the second-best team facing the third-place team in the Challenger Pro League in a promotion/relegation playoff).
With mounting pressure on manager Felice Mazzu, there is growing insistence for the club to change its approach. Perhaps Zorgane is more suited to a team that is capable of dominating possession and feeding clinical attackers with his creative passing from deep positions. Having started in their final AFCON qualifier against Tanzania, the Algerian midfielder will be looking to put these talents on display in next year’s tournament in Ivory Coast.
There are few men who live and breathe Charleroi quite like Mazzu, who grew up in the city, developed in the club’s academy and spent six years in charge of the club, before departing in 2019. After a two-year spell in charge of Union Saint-Gilloise that would see him lead the club from Belgium’s second tier to the Champions League quarterfinals, sandwiched in between two brief spells at Genk and Anderlecht, he returned to the Zebras in December, rescuing them from a relegation dogfight and putting them within inches of the European play-offs.
If he is to guide Charleroi to a 13th consecutive season in Belgium’s top-flight and avoid an early dismissal, he will need Zorgane at his best as he looks to shake off a slow start. Charleroi will host Kortrijk on Saturday before opening October with a trip to Mazzu’s former employers Union Saint-Gilloise, who opened their Europa League campaign with a 1-1 draw vs. Toulouse midweek.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Laurie Dieffembacq / AFP