Dennis Praet would not be overawed by the cavernous Turk Telekom Arena. He made his move, a dart towards the outskirts of the penalty area, even before fellow Anderlecht starlet Andy Najar’s crossfield pass landed at his fresh, nimble feet. The young Belgian teased Veysel Sari, bewildering the Turkish Galatasaray defender, and swiveled neatly beyond the attentions of Selcuk Inan. The coast was clear and Praet instinctively noticed an opening, drilling an accurate and precise strike directly against the inside of the upright and beyond the outstretched figure of Fernando Muslera.
Praet will be hoping to replicate his ingenuity in Istanbul when Arsenal travel to Brussels to face Anderlecht in their UEFA Champions League Group D encounter on Wednesday. It is the Belgian’s genius which keeps Anderlecht afloat in a group of much quality.
Destined for big things
For the highly-rated 20 year-old, perhaps a sense of nostalgia may pass at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. Praet almost joined Arsenal in 2009, later speaking of a guided tour provided by Liam Brady, Arsenal’s former Head of Academy. Interest existed from venerated European powerhouses, the luminous likes of Barcelona, Ajax and Lille included, but Praet chose Anderlecht.
The Belgian wanted a professional contract, not a year or two making a name for himself in a European powerhouse’s academy ranks. It was at Anderlecht’s Belgian rivals Genk where Praet shone as a promising youngster, attracting interest from across Europe and representing Belgium at youth level. Aged just 19, Praet received the prize for the best player during the AEGON Future Cup in Amsterdam, a youth in which teams of the elevated stature of Ajax and Bayern Munich competed in.
It would be naive to rule out the plausibility of Praet departing the Jupiler Pro League to seek greater challenges. After all, Anderlecht are fully aware they will have to reap the financial profits of Praet’s excellence in the near future. The 20 year-old is reportedly being tracked by a plethora of Premier League clubs, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United included.
Praet has represented Belgium immensely at youth level, rising from the Under-15 side to the Under-21s, but harbours a dream of breaking through to Marc Wilmots’s senior team as a plethora of Belgium’s regulars have. In the likes of Eden Hazard and Adnan Januzaj, Praet has a trail to follow. His story thus far mirrors that of Januzaj, the Manchester United prodigy honing his talents at Anderlecht’s academy.
Arsene Wenger has warned against complacency on Wednesday evening and Praet will certainly cause Arsenal a plethora of problems. The Belgian is a player of outstanding individual qualities, his enviable attributes ranging from incredible vision and an accomplished passing range to composure when presented with goal-scoring scenarios and a wicked right foot.
Recognising his talents, Anderlecht manager Besnik Hasi often grants Praet the licence to express his mercurial brilliance, deploying the young Belgian in the vaunted No 10 position vindicating the No 10 embossed onto the back of his jersey.
Praet is accustomed to success and a winning mentality is ingrained in the 20 year-old’s pschye. Three instances of Belgian Pro League success and a trio of Belgian Super Cup medals accumulated, Praet, understandably, wants more. And more than anything, he wants Anderlecht’s progression past the Champions League group stages to the knockout phase, starting with Wednesday’s visit of Arsenal in Brussels.