It’s no strange sight to see scouts from Europe’s biggest clubs plastered about stadiums in Belgium looking to unearth talent for their clubs. Belgium, over the last decade, has grown into one of the world’s best National teams and their players are being sought with regularity. Anderlecht’s 22 year old attacking midfielder Dennis Praet is just the latest Belgian to have attracted the advances of bigger clubs.
In fairness, Praet is not an entirely unknown quantity to most European teams. He’s regularly compared to Christian Eriksen and Andres Iniesta due to his playing style and he’s been on the radar of the likes of Lille, Ajax, and Barcelona before. He also admits to having rejected the chance to sign on with Arsenal following a trail with the club due to his desire to finish his schooling in Belgium. Instead, he chose to sign with Anderlecht where he has progressed significantly.
He’s had a couple opportunities to leave Anderlecht but rejected them because his main concern was playing as much football as possible in an environment that would allow him to make mistakes and grow as a player. His overall development and progression over the last six seasons vindicates his decision. However, there is a growing feeling that the time is now right for Praet to test himself against higher quality opposition.
Praet is what you would call the “purists midfielder”. He isn’t blessed with impressive strength or blistering pace. Praet impacts the game through his technical abilities. His game is centred around moving between the lines to find and exploit space. When the ball is at his feet he is most comfortable due to his ability to manipulate and retain it through his close control, and his ability to retain possession and launch attacks through his impressive vision and passing ability.
Praet’s most impressive attribute is his technical ability. He has consistently displayed he is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is equally capable of retaining possession through his close control, ball manipulation, and passing or starting attacks with a dribble to open space or with a through ball to set his team flying. Praet possesses good spatial and positional awareness. He is constantly on the move to better position himself to receive and distribute the ball to his team-mates thus making him an effective link-up player.
That is not to say he is solely a one way midfielder. In fact, the last two seasons have seen the youngster work studiously on improving his defensive contributions on the field. The improvements are there to be seen but more can still be demanded of him.
At 22 years old he is by no means the finished article. Inconsistency is a concern just like it is with all young players. Physically, he will need to adapt to the step up of a tougher league and while his technical skills are impressive, he could benefit from being a bit more bold with how he expresses himself on the field. He’s sometimes accused of being too conservative in his play. Maybe that is due to a fear of trying something bold and failing but whatever the reason, Praet must step up and use his talents in a dominant fashion. Confidence is key in football and if Praet can add that to his game he should develop into the next top Belgian star.
Praet will definitely be on the move this summer. With him missing out on selection for the Euros he must know that the time is right for him to expand his horizons. Higher level competition is required for him to make the step and anyone who invests the money into securing his signature could be picking up one of the potential bargains of the summer.