The impact of the Irish and Welsh on the English football is well known since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, with the notable record of most appearances being held by Manchester United and Wales international Ryan Giggs. As per regulations of the Premier League, a player is considered to be ‘foreign’ if he doesn’t belong to United Kingdom (which includes England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Over the last two decades, we have seen many such foreign internationals successfully ply their trade in the UK and it goes without saying that this has been a major contributing factor to the quality and popularity of the Premier League. Thiery Henry and Eric Cantona (France), Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dennis Bergkamp (Holland), Gianfranco Zola(Italy) are few of the players who made an impact of such magnitude that fans all over the world still remember them as Premier League greats.
Before 2008, there was a lone Belgian footballer who survived in England’s top tier for more than two seasons. Philippe Albert, a central defender who played for Newcastle United F.C. from 1994 to 1999, is this longest serving Belgian international. Quite recently, we have witnessed the emergence of the Belgians and they have certainly formed part of the core of many teams in the League. Currently, the EPL has 12 Belgian players out of which 10 are full internationals.
|Ritchie De Laet
How important are these players to their teams? Their contribution in making the league the most watched and entertaining has surely been recognized, with some of them giving stand out performances for their team. Starting with Christian Benteke, the young hitman has been in great form since his arrival from Genk. His 11 goals in his debut season has kept the club’s record signing Darren Bent on the bench in most games, with his performance recently at Anfield winning many hearts at Villa Park. Sheer strength and excellent technique has made it a nightmare for many EPL defenders, this young mad has a long way to go.
Moussa Dembélé has played in a variety of positions during his Premier League career. Initially signed as a striker for Fulham, he found himself in a more creative role under Martin Jol, a position where he bagged many assists as well as the title of the 2011-12 season’s best tackler (source:whoscored.com). Currently at Tottenham, he has been expected to fill the boots of Luka Modric in a more central role, acting as a driving factor for Andre Villas Boas’s team. Breaking up opponent plays and excellent in holding up the ball are some of his attributes which lead to comparison with Sergio Busquets.
Another central midfielder, strong and powerful with both his foot and head, Marouane Fellaini has been a revelation this season. David Moyes’ strategy of operating him behind Nikica Jelavic has proved to be fruitful, with the club record signing boasting of 9 goals. He has been a dynamic force for Everton and a nightmare for other teams with this brutal strength and technique and surely is vital to his team’s chances of qualifying for Europe next season.
Eden Hazard, the player who had Premier League’s three top managers running after him for his signature during the summer. Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini were desperate to have him until he joined the European Champions, Chelsea. A $32m signing for Roberto Di Matteo, he has started his life in the Premier League gloriously with 8 goals and 16 assists already this season. Exceptionally talented, he’s one of the key factors for Chelsea’s fast and attractive game with his clever feet and blistering pace.
We also have two strong solid center halves in Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen who are regular club captains for Manchester City and Arsenal. While the former has been an inspiring captain leading them to their first title in 42 years, the latter has been a consistent performer at the back and a huge fan favorite They may certainly be considered as top grade defenders with sheer strength and amazing tackling abilities.
Jan Vertonghen, another centre half arriving from Ajax in 2012 has been considered as one of the best performers in the League so far. While his ability to play at left back has come in handy for Spurs, his offensive prowess and powerful shooting ability are also some other traits which have caught attention. He was ‘The Dutch Footballer of the Year’ in 2012 and is now a crucial asset in the Tottenham line up.
Kevin Mirallas attracted a number of Premier League clubs including Arsenal before signing for Everton. His versatility- being able to play as an out and out winger, a striker or a player in the hole – has been a key factor.
Romelu Lukaku on loan to West Brom Albion from Chelsea has seen him among goals under Steve Clarke. Often dubbed as the ‘new Didier Drogba’, he has scored 9 goals this season and is likely to be an integral part of Chelsea next year if he continues to improve this way.
Best goalkeeper in the League so far? Many would say Asmir Begovic who has provided 9 clean sheets so far, but Simon Mignolet, a regular club and country first choice, is not far away. He may not have a solid backline like Begovic has at Stoke City, but his individual performances have not gone unnoticed so far. He has made 77 saves so far with save rate of 74.8% (source:whoscored.com), a figure that is quite high for a goalkeeper of a team battling from relegation.
The English Premier League is all about entertainment which makes it the most popular football league across the globe. The Belgians have become indispensible to their teams with their amazing potential and it is a pleasure to watch them play. All these players are yet to reach their peak, with most of them in their mid-twenties and so, would it be a surprise to watch this team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as underdogs?
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