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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

Analysis: West Ham target Debast shines for Anderlecht after tough start to the game v Charleroi

By Alessandro Schiavone at Lotto Park, Brussels

Anderlecht 2-1 Charleroi

West Ham target Zeno Debast endured a shaky start to the game before ending on a positive note on Sunday as Jupiler Pro League table toppers Anderlecht scraped a 2-1 win over Charleroi in Brussels.


The youngster, 19, has the world at his feet and is tipped to follow in the footsteps of Belgium greats Philippe Albert, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Aldereweireld following last term’s breakthrough campaign.

But despite serious interest from PSV Eindhoven earlier this month, he's understood to stay at Lotto Park for at least 12 more months to keep maturing alongside ex-Tottenham star Vertonghen.


Invariably if he goes on to repeat his impressive debut campaign, he’ll have his pick of destinations across different leagues at the end of the season as Anderlecht eye their first championship title in seven years.


Despite ending the game on a personal high against Charleroi, he looked like a bag of nerves in the opening stages as he twice failed to clear the lines with his head. First, he failed to properly connect with the ball, setting the visitors up for a dangerous counter-attack. Then he inadvertently flicked the ball backwards to give an unnecessary corner away.

More worryingly, he was uncharacteristically beaten to a far-post cross by Daan Heymans. But Debast fortuitously got away with it as the former Venezia midfielder guided a weak header into the side-netting. Off the pace and static, the first 20 minutes should serve as a lesson and wake-up call for the remainder of the season as better players would have efficiently pounced on his diabolical defending.

Yet unrattled by his rollercoaster start to the game, he showed strength of character and a good amount of confidence in the 23rd minute when pouncing on a loose ball on the edge of the box to fire a volley just over with the scores level. How many players aged 19 would have had the courage to leave their zone at such a critical moment to try and score at the other end?


Shortly afterwards it was clear to everyone in the stadium that he had awaken from his slumber when showing an expertise to play out from the back under pressure before sending the ball forward.


He never looked back from then on, demonstrating an admirable psychological resilience and resolve to leave his early insecurities behind him and get his act together.


Hence he recovered from a slow start, winning more aerial battles and standing out for his game awareness, passing accuracy and anticipation bravura. His positional intelligence and timing of both his runs, anticipations and jumps also caught the eye.


But if teenage star Debast is the big hope of Belgian football, it’s because he’s two defenders rolled into one. Yet to turn 20, he has the personality and maturity of a veteran already.


A modern centre-back with refined feet and good build-up play, he's a confident ball carrier who helps his team advance up the field thanks to his intricate passing range, both long and short. But along with his ball-playing qualities there’s a young leadership that has helped him assert his authority in one-on-ones against big, bustling strikers and technical centre-forwards with a low centre of gravity.


Good footwork is required by defenders in this day and age. Popping up in the opposition box to try and score from set-pieces is a bonus. But the job of a defender is to…defend.


Minimizing the risk of conceding goals is what they do for a living and Debast superbly interprets the art of defending like a proper old-school centre-back.


And if man marking is a dying art due to the emergence of zonal marking, the youngster has so far shown that he can do both to an equal extent. He is brave, tenacious and unafraid to boot his boot in and go into the duel. Whether that is high up the pitch with the risk of leaving space in behind for the opposition to exploit or closer to his goal, he fancies his chances.

He is blessed with the defensive acumen, robustness and quick decision-making his famous predecessors are certainly proud of. And despite being right-foote. his passing and crossing accuracy with his supposedly weaker left foot are outstanding too.

It is only a matter of time before he’ll be categorised as an ambidextrous footballer.


His in crescendo performance was backed up by two superb pieces of defending. In the 66th minute he committed himself to Charlerois' half to exert pressure on Youssouph Badji with his back to goal, preventing him from turning around and forcing him into a mistake as Anderlecht regained possession. And only two minutes later he proved once and for all that his wobbly start was just a temporary blip as he perfectly dealt with a high cross in, heading it away to safety this time.


After being the subject of transfer speculation for pretty much of the summer, with the Hammers (who opted for Mavropanos after the Maguire deal collapsed but had been looking at him), Inter Milan, Villarreal and PSV Eindhoven looking to secure his services, the piece of advice anyone can give him is to make the most of the opportunity life has presented him with, in the name of Super Jan Vertonghen. The "best possible school" as one Belgian journalist put it.

Because under the former Spurs man's watchful eye and guidance he can turn into a world beater and define the next era of centre-backs in the game.

Besides. As he is one of their own, the fans adore him and he'll pretty much get away with every mistake, inconsequential like the ones he made today or costly ones. Would that be the case elsewhere, not least after he joined with a big transfer fee and huge pressure on his shoulders?


By all accounts Anderlecht have a real chance of succeeding Royal Antwerp by becoming Belgian champions next year. And for born and bred academy graduate Debast there would be no better feeling than doing so for the club he’s supported all his life. And will keep doing so long after he left one day.


That said, it would be interesting to see how he copes without Vertonghen and if he was able to lead the backline on his own should Belgium’s record appearance holder miss a couple of weeks again as happened last season, when a virus forced him to sit out the Europa Conference League double header with West Ham.


If Debast can do just that, it's a sign he will be ready for our Premier League clubs and beyond.


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