World Cup One to Watch: Youri Tielemans – Belgium

The rising star of Belgian football is primed for a super-sub role in Russia.

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

At just 21 years of age, midfielder Youri Tielemans is already a key player for his club -Monaco- and country.

Touted as one of football’s bright stars, the youngster’s career has arced dramatically since his days as a youth player at Anderlecht. He signed his first professional contract aged 16 and was immediately thrust into the senior team, where he made 185 appearances and scored 35 goals.

In October 2013, aged 16 years and 148 days, he became the youngest player to take to the field in a Champions League match and was crowned Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year in 2013/14 and 2014/15.

By the time he left for Monaco in 2017, he had two Belgian Pro League medals and two Belgian Super Cups to his name.

Tielemans first represented Belgium at U15 level and featured in several youth squads before getting his senior call up in 2016. Despite his rapid rise, he is known for his mental maturity, which he attributes to his years spent practising judo.

Past season

Last season was Tielemans’ first at Monaco after arriving on a five-year contract for a €25 million fee.

He claimed at assist on his debut in a 2–1 Trophée des Champions defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, but began his Ligue 1 career on the bench, making his debut in the 87th minute of the 3–2 home win over Toulouse.

Youri Tielemans’ Ligue 1 season by numbers:

  • 24 appearances
  • 12 chances created
  • 80% pass completion
  • 30 interceptions
  • 19 tackles
  • 18 take-ons
  • 1 assist

On September 13, he played the full 90 minutes of the Champions League away match against RB Leipzig, scoring his side’s only goal in a 1-1 draw.

Tielemans, consequently, was handed his first domestic start the following weekend and made a further 18 starts and nine appearances from the bench.

The season ended with Monaco relinquishing their league title to PSG, but the youngster proved he could perform solidly at a higher level.

International experience

Tielemans featured four times in Belgium’s World Cup qualifying run, three times from the bench and once in the starting XI – in the 4-0 win over Cyprus.

REUTERS/Nico Vereecken

However, he has turned out for the national team at various youth levels since the age of 15 and featured heavily in the U21 Euro qualifying campaign, scoring four goals in eight appearances.

Tactical profile

Red Devils coach Roberto Martinez likes to set up the national team in a 3-4-2-1 formation where the wingers are encouraged to get forward at every opportunity.

This system requires great discipline and maturity from the central midfielders, who must plug the gaps while also controlling the play in possession.

Tielemans' main issue will be whether he can displace either Mousa Dembele or Axel Witsel, who are both well-established in those roles. However, he can make an impact from the bench and should get game time in the group stages.

Roberto Martinez has also talked about the youngster's ability to play in different positions, suggesting he might be prepared to use the player he described as "the future of Belgium" elsewhere on the pitch.

What do you think of Youri Tielemans? Let us know in the comments below.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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Neil Morris