Dennis Praet 19 Midfielder Anderlecht Belgium
2013 has been…
Dennis Praet has picked up two league winner’s medals in the last two seasons, racked up over 10 appearances for the Belgium under-21 side in the last 15 months and had a host of Europe’s top clubs sending scouts to Anderlecht to watch his progress. In that nutshell, you could be forgiven for assuming that 19 year-old Praet has been the driving force of Anderlecht through 2013.
After a tantilising 2011 and an exciting 2012, Praet’s development has stalled through 2013. His intended meteoric rise has hit a bit of a snag and by Dennis’s own mature admission, he’s not kicked on. He isn’t dictating games like we’d hoped he would. The number 10 shirt that he inherited for the start of the 2013/14 season looks to be weighing heavy on his back, rather than causing him to inspire the players around him.
Praet isn’t grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and blowing teams away with his superb technique and sublime vision. Instead, he’s played a handful of his recent games in a wide position that he isn’t comfortable with as his form hasn’t warranted inclusion in the centre of the park.
It was at the 2011 AEGON Future Cup, a youth tournament that is growing in prestige year-on-year, when Praet first impressed those beyond Belgian borders. His calmness on the ball and deft first touch allowed him to guide Anderlecht through the tournament. His balance, control and competent pace ensured his small size wasn’t a factor and he was rightfully handed the adidas Best player of AEGON Future Cup award at the end of the competition. Interestingly, the award was presented to him by fellow member of The 100 and then Ajax first team player, Christian Eriksen.
Since the AEGON Future Cup, there have been plenty of eyes on Dennis. The recent rise of the Belgian national team has cast even more of a spotlight on the young players coming through the ranks and as a 19 year-old in the under-21 squad, that has led many to investigate what is so special about Praet.
If they have done that research in 2013; they will only have been disappointed. Dennis continues to play regularly for Anderlecht, as even at his worst he is still good enough to be included. However, he has failed to sparkle.
Thankfully, we’re able to argue that this lull is good for him. While he won’t be enjoying his football at the moment, the drop in his form should help Dennis become a stronger player in the future. Young players that don’t experience troubles in their first two or three years as first team regulars can turn out to be one-trick ponies and struggle to get to the very top of the game. Praet can develop more of his all-round game.
He doesn’t tackle very well but is keen to put in the effort at the front of the pitch. Formations and systems in the modern game mean he should always finds himself playing in a midfield three with two more disciplined teammates; but until that work rate improves a little more, he’ll be the one sacrificed when central areas need to be dominated.
That’s seen him relegated to the bench for some of Anderlecht’s biggest domestic games so far in the 2013/14 Jupiler Pro League. Praet’s diminutive size and stuttering form mean he can be risked in physical, tense battles.
A year ago, we expected to be talking about Dennis Praet as the “wildcard” in the Belgium’s 2014 World Cup squad – assuming nations other than England actually elect to bring them along. We assumed that a string of impressive displays and a couple of Champions League goals would see him banging on the door of the senior squad and even earning his first senior caps in the November friendlies just gone.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Instead, he is struggling to hold on to his starting place in the Belgian under-21 side. Recent games have seen Dennis either replaced early in the second half or having to make an impact from the bench.
At club level, he’s been shunted out wide – in a similar fashion to Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United – as his form doesn’t warrant a starting berth in the middle. His confidence is low and you can see that in the way he is striking the ball for even the simplest of passes. Whereas two years ago, we’d have back Praet to thread the smallest of holes with a football; his passes now ricochet into the defender’s leg, skid off the surface and out of the play or are just too high for the onrushing striker to reach.
He is playing like a man out of sorts and in desperate need of a lucky break to spark him into life. When that comes, we know he’ll be able go past his showings of 2011 and 2012. His passes will find their man once again, his shots will tuck into the top corner of the goal and he’ll get back to his usual self. If that happens in the next couple of months, he could even put together that suspected run for a place in the World Cup squad. Once he’s helped Anderlecht to a third league title in a row, that is.
“Despite picking up a league winners' medal this year, Praet hasn't really hit the heights expected of him. By being given the No.10 shirt by the club, many thought he could lead the midfield and that just hasn't happened. By his own admission, too inconsistent at this stage.” – Chris Mayer, The Belgian Waffle
"Dennis Praet has scored just two league goals in 2013; and is yet to hit the target with a shot in the Champions League." - Opta
C- Ignore the expectation. Just go and play