When it comes to football leagues, many fans will probably struggle to tell you a single player that plays for any of the teams that participate in the Belgian Pro League – unless, of course, you happen to ask a Belgian football fan. It will be a different matter if you ask them to name players from top leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, and the Bundesliga. However, one can argue that the Belgian league has had a huge impact on European football as it has been the launchpad for many top players to dominate world football.
Champions League 2023 Semi-Finals
One need only look at the 2022/2023 Champions League semi-finals to see the type of impact that a number of Belgian footballers have had on the biggest stage in club football. The final four teams left are AC Milan, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and Manchester City. Out of these teams, there are no fewer than eight players who hail from Belgium.
- AC Milan – Alexis Saelemaekers, Charles De Ketelaere, Aster Vranckx, and Divock Origi
- Inter Milan – Romelu Lukaku
- Real Madrid – Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois
- Manchester City – Kevin de Bruyne
Out of the above players, the likes of Saelemaekers, De Ketelaere, and Vranckx are all expected to go on and achieve great things in the sport, while the likes of Lukaku, Courtois, Hazard, and de Bruyne are all household names across Europe with a whole host of trophies between them. All of these players started their career playing for teams in the Belgian Pro League before they were picked up by bigger clubs across Europe who saw the talent that they possess. We are now going to take a look at the success and influence that some of these top players have had on European competitions outside of Belgium.
Kevin de Bruyne
The 31-year-old playmaker is without doubt one of the best footballers in the world at present. He is an absolute freak and magician with the ball at his feet. De Bruyne started his footballing career with Genk, before moving to Chelsea in 2012 where he had a pretty disappointing time of things. In 2015, after stints at Werder Bremen and Vfl Wolfsburg, he moved to Manchester City where he is becoming a club legend.
De Bruyne is well known for his ability to execute accurate raking passes which other players would never have even thought of playing, while he also knows where the back of the net is as can be seen from the fact that he has scored 64 goals in 237 appearances for City. He is currently 5th on the all-time assists list in the EPL with 102 assists to his name, and he plays at City for another three or four seasons, he has every chance of overtaking Ryan Giggs in first spot – he has 162 assists. Those who like to bet on football matches will often bet on de Bruyne to assist or score.
What about his trophy cabinet? Well, in EPL, which for many is the best football league in the world, he has won four titles with a fifth one just on the horizon, one FA Cup, and five League Cups. In 2021/22 he finished second in the UEFA Champions League, and if he plays to the best of his ability against Real Madrid in the two-legged semi-final, there is a very good chance that he will drag City into another final, where they will be huge favourites to go on to win. He has made the Champions League Team of the Season on four occasions, and we would be surprised if he does not make it again this year.
The 30-year-old is not liked by many due to his perceived arrogance, but at least he backs up any arrogance when he is out there between the sticks. He started off his youth career at Bilzen V.V. before moving to Genk, where he would have been a teammate of de Bruyne. While playing for the Genk senior team, he caught the eye of Chelsea and went to Stamford Bridge – he was loaned out to Atletico Madrid for three seasons, before returning to London and showing everyone just how good he is.
In 2018, Courtois announced that he wanted to move on, preferably to Real Madrid, and he forced a move to Spain by not showing up for training. He has been there ever since, and he has made no fewer than 161 appearances for one of the best teams in the world. At Chelsea he won two Premier League titles, while during his time with Real he has won two La Liga titles, and a Champions League. Courtois will now come up against de Bruyne in the Champions League semi-final, and City will know that they will have to be at their very best if they are to get past the Belgian shot stopper. If Real do make it to yet another Champions League final, we are sure that Courtois will have played a big hand – no pun intended.
If you look up goal machine in the dictionary, then there is every chance that you will find a description of Lukaku. The 29-year-old striker has played for some of the top clubs in Europe such as Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Chelsea and he is his country’s leading scorer with 72 goals in 106 matches. He must be a delight for midfielders to play with because they know that if they feed him, he will, more often than not, gobble up the goals.
What about his honours? Well, with Inter he won the Serie A in 2020/21, the Supercoppa Italiana in 2022, and he took them to the 2019/20 Europa League, scoring seven goals in 443 minutes, but they fell at the final hurdle. He was named “Europa League Player of the Season” that year. However, despite scoring plenty of goals for United and Chelsea, he did not win anything of note there. When it comes to individual awards, he has won the “Best Belgian Abroad” trophy on two occasions, which tells you the sort of impact he has been having outside of his native country.