At 34-years-old, Ritchie De Laet is entering the twilight of his career. The former Manchester United defender has played all over England during his career, but only now is he set to finally play at the top level of European football. Last season the veteran played 32 league games for boyhood club Antwerp as they won the league for the first time since 1957. After beating AEK Athens over two legs, the side also qualified for the prestigious Champions League for the first time in their history.
For De Laet, he has had to wait over a decade and a half for this opportunity. After making his debut as a teenager for Antwerp in 2006, the defender moved to Stoke in 2008. However, by January he was on the books of Manchester United. The majority of his time with the Red Devils was spent out on loan, joining the likes of Sheffield United, Preston North End, Portsmouth and Norwich City. In 2012, after just six appearances for Manchester United, he moved to Leicester City permanently.
Between 2021 and 2016 the defender made 129 appearances for the Foxes and was part of the squad that made a return to the Premier League in 2014. However, De Laet was never quite able to cut it at the top level of English football, even though he did pick up a winners medal in 2016 when the Foxes shocked English football. During his career he only made 47 Premier League appearances, with the majority of his time spent in the Championship. Aston Villa signed him in 2016 after they were relegated from the Premier League, but De Laet struggled to hold down a first team place. He made just a handful of appearances for the side, going back to Antwerp for the latter half of the 2017/2018 season.
Following this, he spent the 2018/2019 season in Australia with Melbourne City. For many, this felt like his career was winding down and that he would spend the rest of his career outside of European football. Yet in 2019 he returned to boyhood club Antwerp and revitalised his career. Like a fine wine, De Laet has become a fan favourite, with Antwerp fans chanting ‘Ritchie, Ritchie, Ritchie’ whenever he does something they love.
Having played a handful of times at Old Trafford, De Laet will get to make his Champions League bow at one of footballs most iconic stadiums, the Camp Nou. His journeyman career has led him back to where it all began, and it is fitting that in Antwerp he has had his most success. De Laet, like the fans of the Great Old, have waited patiently for this moment. Hopefully, they will embrace it and enjoy every moment.