Many have wondered who the successors to two of Belgians best ever defenders will be. Both Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will undoubtedly be playing in their final major tournament for the Red Devils in Qatar. For much of the Golden Generations period at the top, it was these two, alongside either Thomas Vermaelen or Jason Denayer, who made up a strong Belgian defence.
However, in Qatar, neither of these two aforementioned players will be there. Instead, Roberto Martinez has called up three young internationally inexperienced defenders who could become the successors to both Vertonghen and Alderweireld. With the oldest of these three being 24, there is a chance that they could be the future of the Belgian defence for a number of tournaments to come.
Two of these players, Wout Faes and Arthur Theate, were playing their football with unfancied KV Oostende just a few seasons ago. Faes, a former Anderlecht youth prospect, departed Belgium and Oostende in 2020 for Stade Reims in France. Since then, the player has continued to develop, earning a big move to Leicester City in the Premier League in the summer of 2022. While Leicester initially struggled, many have been impressed with the ability of Faes and the upturn in the sides form since he was entered into the starting XI. He is far more consistent than he was at a struggling Oostende side and has certainly earned his World Cup call up.
Theate left Oostende the season after Faes. In the summer of 2021 he went on loan to Bologna, before the side made the move permanent the following season. Theate was part of an Oostende side that massively overachieved, with him being one of the top performers in their back three. After an impressive time in Italy, Bologna sold Theate for over double what they paid Oostende for the Belgian to Stade Rennais in France. The former Genk and Standard Liege youth player has been ever present in Ligue 1. He is an athlete who loves to defend, and has shown during his time at Oostende that he can be a leader.
The final successor is in the early stages of what appears to be a promising career. Zeno Debast beat the likes of Denayer and Dedrick Boyata to the 26 man squad, and based on his performances for Anderlecht this season it is easy to see why. The 19 year-old has become a firm favourite of the Anderlecht faithful, who have seen plenty of quality players churned out by the academy over the years. Debast looks certain to be a future star and his performances for the Mauves so far this season have fast tracked him into the World Cup squad. Prior to this season, Debast had only played four games for the Belgian U19 squad. His debut with the Red Devils only came at the end of September 2022.
In Faes, Theate and Debast, Belgium have the making of their future three man defence, with Theate and Debast able to play at full-back when required. Being left-footed, Theate brings the balance to the three and can take up the role that Vertonghen will relinquish. It is unlikely that, barring injury, we will see all three together during this tournament, but following Qatar it feels that there is clarity on the direction Martinez should take with the Belgian defence.
In Qatar, without Denayer and Dedryck Boyata, there is a vacancy in the back three. While Leander Dendoncker is an option for this tournament, it would be prudent of Martinez to go with one of Faes, Debast or Theate. It is likely to be Faes or Debast, given that Vertonghen will take the left-footed spot in the defence alongside Aldeweireld. However, he has shown with Anderlecht that he is of an age where injuries can occur at any moment. Recently, in a match against Aldeweireld’s Antwerp side, Vertonghen had to pull out during the warm up due to a minor injury.
There is plenty of attacking talent in this Belgian squad that will certainly catch the eye during the tournament, yet the emerging defensive players such as Faes, Theate and Debast should not be ignored.
Belgium’s first game of the tournament is against debutants Canada on the 23rd of November, before they face Morocco on the 27th and then Croatia on the 1st of December.