For Landry Dimata, breaking the lines of expectations is no biggie, as his debut season at Oostende attests to. With 14 goals and 4 assists, he broke onto the shortlists of scouts all across Europe with quiet aplomb. After all, the season was all about wonderkids like Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé, but peer below them and you’ll find a number of highly promising talents waiting to make their mark on the game. Dimata is one of them, and at Wolfsburg, he has the chance to bring a struggling club back into Europe. It’s a challenge he wouldn’t shy from.
Born on September 1, 1997, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has produced dynamic forwards in Cédric Bakambu and Yannick Bolasie, Dimata moved to Belgium with his parents at a young age. Starting his football career at FC Saint-Michel at the age of eight, he spent time at various junior clubs, including AEC Mons, before joining Standard Liége, one of Belgium’s bigger clubs. Two years of honing his skills there prompted Dimata to take the uncommon step at the age of 18 to move for the prospect of regular gametime. But this decision was based on his lack of opportunities in the first team. Oostende spent just £450k on the youngster, and it may be one of their best value-for-money deals ever.
Making his debut at centre-forward in a 2-1 loss to KRC Genk, Dimata played in the first six games of the season, but failed to play in the next four. Spending time out of the first team did wonders for Dimata, as the Belgian truly took off in his recall to the side. A debut goal against Kortrijk was followed by one each against Lokeren and former side Standard Liége. It was a sign of things to come, as he bagged 11 goals and three assists from 1,779 minutes in the normal season. He was unable to recreate the same magic in the playoffs, but still produced a goal in five appearances. He also produced the goods in the cup final against Zulte-Waregem with a brace that ultimately failed to secure the trophy. His overall season stats stood at 14 goals and four assists in 2,590 minutes, something that was extraordinary considering it was his debut season in the top flight. Manager Yves Vanderhaeghe put his faith in the youngster and he was repaid handsomely. But his club record is not all–he’s also scored at international level for the U17, U18 and U19 sides, scoring 12 goals in 21 appearances in total, while also making his debut for the U21 side last year.
Having escaped relegation last season by the skin of their teeth, it was obvious that Wolfsburg would look to strengthen their attack. In Landry Dimata, they landed a signing that was as much long-term in mindset as it was for the present. At a fee of £9.00m (as per Transfermarkt), it could well evolve into a bargain given the prices that are bandied about in the transfer market these days. For Dimata brings much to the table: he is strong, powerful in the air and has a decent technique, bringing comparisons to Christian Benteke, his fellow Belgian. In the words of Wolfsburg sporting director Olaf Rebbe, “Dimata is a young, flexible forward,” but he also possesses the skill-set to play wide as a winger.
Looking at his stats, it’s clear that he has an eye for goal and is a good finisher. The Benteke comparisons stem from the number of headers he’s scored, prompting suggestions that he could develop into a target-man, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Dimata isn’t solely a target man, although he’d be a highly efficient one. Cross the ball into the penalty area and Dimata will be there ready to leap and head the ball in. As a result, his playing style also draws comparisons to a Romelu Lukaku. The 1.85-meter teenager’s body stature is certainly a factor in those comparisons, but he’s also a good dribbler, with technique and pace that can in theory facilitate him playing in a wider position. In such a scenario, he would be more likely to cut inside. With an acute tactical awareness and a goalscoring presence in the box, Dimata has the required tools for a centre-forward, even if he is raw right now.
Wolfsburg’s signing of another Belgian, Divock Origi, provides manager Martin Schmidt with three forwards with distinct skill-sets. Mario Gomez remains the main man, but the ageing German will not remain that for long. Origi provides pace and a different option, but as a loan signing, will not be a major hindrance to Dimata’s progression. After all, a first season at a major league has its own pressures, and given his inexperience, it makes sense to lessen the pressure on his shoulders. Now devoid of any major expectations, Dimata has the perfect opportunity to develop as a forward and learn from the experienced Gomez. He will hope that the club does not flounder again this year, for a relegation fight could hinder his development.
The winner of the Pro League’s Young Player of the Year, Dimata will be hoping for his rapid development to continue. It may seem all too sudden for the youngster, but he has the assets to become an excellent centre-forward. His time at Wolfsburg should, if not influenced by intangibles, be a step towards a bigger career. It’s a challenge and a big step up, but DiMata, who’s already made his Bundesliga debut, is no stranger to challenges. Roberto Martinez was close to calling him up for the national side; given the depth Belgium possess in attack, this remains a pipe dream, but it could well materialise in the near future if Dimata keeps his head up. Most followers will never have heard of him- but keep your eyes out for the youngster. It’s his time to shine.
By: Rahul Warrier/@rahulw_