The Golden Generation of Belgian talent may be highlighted by the likes of Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne but the supply of top quality players from the Rode Diuvels or Red Devils seems endless for the foreseeable future. While Everton striker Romelu Lukaku may enjoy quite a bit of the spotlight among their prospects, Sunderland playmaker on loan from Manchester United Adnan Januzaj and Divock Origi of Liverpool are quite capable of forcing themselves into the picture. However, over the last 12 to 18 months, Atlético Madrid forward Yannick Ferreira Carrasco has presented his case as a headline act with a series of high quality performances.
The young Belgian announced himself to the world with his goal in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, highlighting his astronomical development since moving to Spain. Even though there is still room for improvement, the 23-year-old has shown repeatedly that he has all the necessary tools to become one of the very best in his position. His physique, technique, temperament, pace and power make him ideal for the modern game and an absolute nightmare for defenders.
Born in Brussels to a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother, the versatile forward started his career at Diegem Sport before moving to a much more recognized KRC Genk in 2005. The 5’11” attacker spent five years with the three-time Belgian champions ahead of a move to then Ligue 2 outfits, Monaco in 2010. Carrasco then made his professional debut for Monaco in June 2012 and helped his club secure promotion to Ligue 1 that season as he bagged six goals in 27 appearances.
The following season, Carrasco continued to impress, helping Monaco to a second place finish behind PSG in their first season back in the top flight. That said, an impressive display against Arsenal in the 2014/2015 Champions League season saw the forward in his ultimate element.
On the night, the former Genk prodigy proved too much for Arsène Wenger’s men as he ran rings around them. His direct running at defenders with his pace, power and exquisite technique was sublime and even though he lacked a telling end-product on many occasions, there was enough quality on show to convince Atlético Madrid to splash the cash on this exciting Belgian youngster.
Under Diego Simeone, Carrasco has had to adjust his game to add more responsibility especially from a defensive perspective. He has had to be patient and does drift out of games on several occasions, but the past year has been one of great progress for the 23-year-old. His decision-making has improved significantly and this has made him more of a consistent threat. Carrasco’s now more unpredictable because he doesn’t dwell on the ball quite as much and has worked on his game to be effective coming inside from a wide position or going on the outside to get the ball into the penalty area.
Despite all his physical and technical traits, Carrasco still struggles with his end-product and, as such, doesn’t get the number of goals his talent and ability deserve. However, in 2016, he added more goals to his game due to his patience as well as improved anticipation and decision-making in the final third. His tactical awareness has reached higher levels and as such, his movement is more purposeful along with the appreciation of what happens around him. His willingness to get inside the penalty area has reaped dividends and as such, his goal-scoring record makes for better reading.
Over the past year the versatile Belgian hit the back of the net on 13 occasions for Los Rojiblancos in all competitions while grabbing four assists. His scoring touch was not exclusive to Atlético either as he bagged four goals in 11 appearances for Belgium over the same period. Despite competition from the likes of Dries Mertens, Kevin Mirallas and Thorgan Hazard, Carrasco now holds down a spot in the first eleven for Belgium. His progress and consistency over the past year or so is perhaps the reason he has placed himself as one to be called upon by former boss Marc Wilmots and his current manager, Roberto Martinez.
It was a relatively productive year for the 23-year-old, though the record doesn’t tell the entire story of the progress and development made by the former Monaco attacker. Had his decision-making been better, his stats would have been a lot more appealing. However, that is all a part of his development. Should he remain healthy, it is expected that Carrasco will continue on the upward trajectory which has seen him being linked to a move to Manchester United. At the age of 23 years, there is still so much to learn but based on his attributes, he has definitely got tremendous potential with the world now seemingly at his feet.