The Belgian Pro League has been a hotbed of young talent over recent years, with many players produced by top clubs in the country going on to join top sides in the major leagues in Europe. Below we will profile 18 players, one from each side, who readers should keep an eye out for during 2023.
Zeno Debast has arguably already broken out this year, so it would feel wrong to go for the central defender. Instead, Kristian Arnstad could be one of many to watch. Anderlecht are renowed for producing technically strong players, and the 19 year-old Norweigan fits the mould perfectly. He can play as an out and out central midfielder or slightly further forward. He has made 12 league appearances, providing one assist. He has also gained European experience this year with six appearances in the Conference League group stages. If Arnstad can start adding more goals and assists to his game, expect teams to start to be interested. Hopefully these will come with increased playing time.
Arthur Vermeeren has taken advantage of injuries and internal suspensions to central midfielders to get first team minutes at the Great Old. Each time he has impressed immensely, and at just 17 years-old he was an easy choice to start this list off. He has been compared to Andres Iniesta in Belgian media, with reporters saying that he looks like someone who has come through the Barcelona academy. Vermeeren can play either in a holding role or slightly further forward to contribute more going forward. The former Mechelen youth player has made four appearances in the league this season, as well as two apiece in the cup and Conference League qualifiers. If he can continue to start games for Antwerp, expect to hear a lot more about this emerging young talent.
Cercle recently signed Christiaan Ravych to a new long-term deal, and clearly Carlos Avina and the club are big fans of the 20 year-old defender. Ravych, like Vemeeren, came in thanks to injuries but immediately impressed. The Belgian U20 international has made 12 appearances as part of the Cercle back three, scoring a crucial goal against OH Leuven in the process. With Jesper Daland linked to a move to parent club Monaco, Ravych may enjoy more playing time and could be the successor to the talented Norwegian.
Mehdi Boukamir has only made two appearances for Charleroi this season, but one of those was an impressive display against Anderlecht in a narrow 1-0 defeat. At just 18 years-old he clearly has a lot to learn, but he hasn’t looked out of place when called upon by the Zebras. His other appearance came against Cercle Brugge in a 4-1 defeat, however Boukamir was by no means the reason for this. Starting the first game under Felice Mazzu could be a good sign for Boukamir that he will get increased game time in 2023.
With Club NXT playing in the second tier, there has been plenty of opportunities for young Club players to get game time. One who continues to flirt with the first time is Antonio Nusa, with the Norwegian 12 games this season, three of which were in the Champions League where he grabbed an assist. At 17 years of age, Nusa is an exciting attacking prospect that many Club fans are desperate to see more of. Nusa began his career at Stabaek in his native country, where he played 11 times and scored three goals before moving to Belgium in 2021. If players such as Noa Lang and Tajon Buchanan move on in the summer, that could open up more minutes for Nusa next season.
The Pandas have plenty of young talent, especially moving over from PSG. One player who could do with a breakout season though was not from PSG. Isaac Nuhu played 24 times for Eupen last season, and started 12 this season but has struggled to be efficient in converting chances and creating for others. At just 20 years of age, Nuhu already has more experience than most for his age. His first job in 2023 will be to force his way back into the starting 11 under Will Still and then keep himself there. The Ghanaian has shown flashes of what he can do, which has led to a number of clubs keeping their eye on him. This calendar year could be his chance to prove he is worth a side parting with some money during a transfer window.
Many who haven’t seen Genk do not realise how good Bilal El Khannous is. Despite him playing in an advanced role, his output in terms of goals and assists is low. Yet for many goals Genk score, he is inevitably involved in some way. El Khannous is only 18 years, yet was called up to Morocco’s World Cup squad after just half a season playing in the Genk first team consistently. Scouts will certainly be watching the young midfielder, and if he can add more goals and assists to his game then he will start to make noise outside of Belgium.
Ibrahim Salah has broken out during 2022, so 2023 could be the year we see more of Malick Fofana. Gent are very high on the 17 year-old attacker, who has played seven games so far this season. His standout game was against Shamrock Rovers in the Europa Conference League where he grabbed two assists in just 67 minutes. Gent’s financial situation means they may lose some of the more experienced players in the summer, which could open the way to Fofana to be given more minutes.
Malaysian fans would love to see Luqman Hakim on this list, however it doesn’t appear that he is likely to get increased minutes in 2023. Current Chile international Nayel Mehssatou left Anderlecht to join Kortrijk in order to get more game time. The defender can play on the left or the right, and at just 20 years old he already has five caps for his country. Mehssatou put in a strong performance against leaders Genk as Kortrijk kept a rare clean sheet.
Frederic Soelle Soelle has seen a few minutes for Mechelen with their striking woes this season. At just 17 years of age, it is clear that the club management rate the youngster highly. The Belgian youth international has yet to score this season, but with every game he gains more experience of playing at the highest level in Belgium. If Malinwa fail to bring in another striker, Soelle Soelle is likely to see increased chances off the bench. Perhaps he just needs to open his account to give him the confidence to realise that he has what it takes to be successful at this level.
Oostende have some interesting young players, yet given their predicament its unlikely that many will get the chance to play. One that the club seem to like is 19 year-old midfielder Siebe Wylin. The young Belgian played 8 times for Oostende last season, and has already amassed seven appearances this season. In his few appearances Wylin has shown he certainly has the motor for the style of play Dominik Thalhammer wants to play, with the pressing and recuperation of the ball quickly. Wylin has operated mainly in right midfield, where he has shown he is comfortable in doing his defensive duties as well as going forward.
If Mandela Keita can remain injury free, he should garner a lot of interest in the summer of 2023. Keita plays like someone with far more experience than he actually has. The Belgian U21 international has suffered from injuries which has caused him to miss out on plenty of games this season. Now he is back fit, he just needs to force his way into the first team. Plenty of clubs were reportedly scouting Keita last season, but with just six appearances this year they may want to see that he does not have a long term injury problem before looking to complete a transfer.
Seraing have a number of young players that are of interest, yet Steve Mvoue could be one to keep an eye on. The 20 year-old was called up to the initial Cameroon squad for the World Cup but missed out on going to Qatar. The former Toulouse man joined Seraing to get more game time, however he has only managed 8 appearances this season. This hasn’t been helped with him getting sent off against Sint-Truiden at the start of November. However, the Cameroonian international played well in the recent defeat to Eupen, and should hopefully be a key part of the Seraing midfield for the remainder of the season.
The Canaries haven’t given many youngsters a chance this season, relying more on their experienced players to keep them competitive. At the back, however, former Standard Liege defender Ameen Al Dakhil has been a key feature in their strong defence. Al Dakhil is only 20, but even during his time with Standard showed he reads the game well for a defender. The Belgian U21 deserves greater recognition for his role in the strong Sint-Truiden defence. For many he has already ‘broken out’, yet next year expect to hear more clubs linked with the talented defender.
Given the situation at Standard, the club will likely need to use its talented academy going forward. One player who has certainly impressed so far is 17 year-old Cihan Canak. the attacker is strong technically and also has an eye for goal. With Selim Amallah all but gone, Canak should see more game time. Ronny Deila is a big fan, and it is clear to see why. He has only started two games this season, with 11 appearances off the bench. Canak is too good to be playing for the Standard second team in the Challenger Pro League, so hopefully he gets increased game time in 2023.
Union St Gilloise
Union’s starting line-up is pretty set, so it is hard for youngsters to break in. One who might be able to if injuries occur is Arnaud Dony. The former Sint-Truiden player can operate either at left-back or left-midfield, and at just 18 years of age he was a surprise pick up for Union over the summer. Dony has been capped at U19 level by Belgium and has made four appearances for Union. The 2023/2024 season may be the year Dony can break into the first team properly in Brussels.
The aim so far has been to avoid players who are on loan in Belgium, yet for Westerlo this is difficult given that their talented youngster are all borrowed from elsewhere. One of these is Nene Dorgeles, who is on loan from RB Salzburg. The Mali international has scored five goals and provided two assists in 14 games for Westerlo this season. He is strong on the ball and has an eye for goal, making for an exciting prospect. It is unlikely he will be at Westerlo beyond this season, but expect to hear the name linked with a move away from Austria in the summer, or see him pop up for Salzburg in Europe during the 2023/2024 season.
Despite their poor season, Zulte Waregem have a couple of potential breakout players. 19 year-old Senegalese utility player Modou Tambedou has been impressive this season. He has shown the ability to operate as a central defender or a central midfielder, with the latter being his preferred position. This is Tambedou’s first season in Belgium and he clearly has the physical build to deal with the league despite his age. Zulte Waregems struggles means that he will likely go under the radar, but if they do get relegated it would be a surprise if another Belgian Pro League side doesn’t try and pick him up in the summer.