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  • EXCLUSIVE: By Alessandro Schiavone

Why QPR should turn their attentions to this ex-Stoke City star in a repeat of the Ilias-Lierse affair in 2017

By Alessandro Schiavone at Olympisch Stadion

ANTWERP- Anyone watching Beerschot's resounding 3-0 win over Club Bruges's Reserves NXT Club must surely have been blown away by Thibaud Verlinden's scintillating day at the office.

The diminutive ex-Stoke City attacking midfielder shone throughout, making his mark with a gorgeous goal, a low drive from the edge of the box. A strike that would have left his ex-Stoke supporters flabbergasted.

The young Belgian's (in-footballing-terms) tragic existence narrates the story of a player with the world at his feet before a succession of horrific injuries derailed his career just as he was making his way into the elite footballing world.

Hence after six troubled years on their books, Stoke decided that he was no longer worth the hassle and let him go in 2021. Yet what a mistake that could still prove to be.

Still only aged 24, Verlinden's resurrection is gathering pace in the second tier of Belgian football at Antwerp-based side Beerschot. A division he has now surely outgrown.

At the Olympisch Stadion on Sunday lunchtime, he showed that the Potters were not wrong when they decided to take a punt on him when he was a youngster back in 2015.

Refined between the lines and excellent in tight spaces, Verlinden was a cut above the other 19 starting outfield players, making some of them look like Belgian National Division 1 and not Challenger League footballers thanks to his array of talent.

And when afforded time and space by the visitors' defenders, who suicidally backed off, he made them pay.

If he stays fit and clear of recurring ACL injuries, this is a player who could light up a division like our Championship on his own.

And if the Hoops haven't dropped down to League One by the time next season kicks off, he's a player they are advised to look at. Being used to the physicality of British football, he doesn't need to acclimatise to England and has a point to prove.

The city Antwerp and Belgian football in general are a conveyor belt of talent with many top players earning their stripes there before entering our orbit and becoming household names.

As Belgian-inbound players go, former Lierse (now defunct) ace Ilias Chair is the perfect example of calculated risks that paid off. What a masterstroke that turned out to be.

But contrary to Verlinden, the Moroccan whizard was an unknown quantity when Chris Ramsey took him to Loftus Road seven years ago before he established himself as arguably the west Londoners' standout star over the last four campaigns.

There would certainly be a culture of disbelief at the bet365 Stadium should he return to English football and finally stamp his name on proceedings elsewhere.

And whether it's to replace Chair or play alongside him, Verlinden's ingenuity, quality on the ball and footballing intelligence is what QPR need to become a Championship force again.

His current manager Dirk Kuyt, a legend on our shores with Liverpool, is getting the best out of him.

The omens could not be any better....


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