Scout report: Jason Denayer - The next big Belgian defender?
Have Belgium found their next big star in defence?
As I piece together this article, the Belgian contingent, labelled as a dark horse at this summer’s Euros, are anxiously anticipating their games in the group. While eyes will be firmly fixed on the clinical Romelu Lukaku and often innovative Eden Hazard, there is one man at the back who could make a surprise impact during the championships; Manchester City centre-back Jason Denayer has the makings of one of the finest defenders in world football.
Born in Jette, Brussels to parents of Congolese descent, Denayer plied his trade for a trio of top youth academies in Belgium, starting at FC Ganshoren followed by the JMG academy and ending up at Anderlecht.
A swift switch to City’s youth system in 2013 bolstered the Belgian’s chances of top-level football and he quickly made an impact in the UEFA Youth League, before being loaned out to Celtic and to Galatasaray in the last campaign in order to secure first-team football.
For many, the fact he is yet to make an appearance for the Premier League outfit comes as a great surprise, especially as City’s defence has been crumbling week-after-week. Vincent Kompany has spent more time on the recovery table than on the pitch recently, while Martin Demichelis continues to lack the speed and awareness to cut it in England’s top flight.
Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala have frankly been a pair of clowns at the heart of the City defence, unable to concentrate for a full 90 minutes and far too attuned to the slower pace of La Liga and Liga Portuguesa respectively.
Pep Guardiola is eyeing up moves for Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte as well as Everton’s John Stones this summer, but the solution to the current dilemma could lay a lot closer to home.
The Spanish gaffer has a habit of making players technically sharper and more versatile and, given that Denayer himself has played at full-back on occasion, he could prove to be idyllic in Pep’s mission to remould the 2011/12 Premier League champions.
Combines strength and style
For Guardiola to make such a decision, Denayer may have to impress with Belgium in France. His playing style is somewhat atypical of a player of his great frame (6’ 1/2”) but it is one which would undoubtedly compliment the likes of Mangala and Kompany.
Pacey and agile, the 20-year-old has learned from his time in Turkey at right-back how to move forwards with the ball and retain possession during nervy periods of the game. His game is focused around keeping the ball down and playing out from the back, while he isn’t a stranger to flooring opponents with his unprecedented core strength and ability to assertively shrug forwards off the ball.
With more Premier League sides ditching the approach of launching in crosses to a giant striker, Denayer could suit England’s elite group very well given that he has the speed to keep up with the pace of the game, but is also able to initiate attacks and out-muscle the opposition.
If Manchester City do wish to see the back of Denayer, then they better conclude business sooner rather than later, or else he could walk away for nothing at the close of next season when his contract expires. There are few reasons why they’d want to sell him, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have the odd vulnerabilities.
As mentioned, Denayer prefers to keep the ball on the floor and so his aerial ability isn’t recognised as being particularly strong, despite his towering build. His style is epitomised by his tenure with Galatasaray last season where he had an average passing accuracy of 89% as well as one of the lower average passing lengths in the side at 17m, but his average percentage of aerial battles won fell below half at 45%.
His vulnerability in the air was not the only problem though, as with many young defenders starting out in the game, Denayer has been prone to some rash challenges and has been guilty of not committing to tackles at times, often preferring to jockey his opponent and pressure them into a blunder with the ball.
While France, Germany and Spain are the three favourites to lift the prestigious trophy in Paris next month, Belgium will fancy themselves as a surprise package in the tournament, even though their group made up of Italy, Sweden and Republic of Ireland isn’t particularly easy.
The emphasis will undoubtedly be placed on a dynamic attack given that they have the likes of Lukaku, Hazard, De Bruyne and Nainngolan in their ranks but a few clean sheets will do wonders for Marc Wilmot’s side in such a tricky group.
Denayer has been tasked with being Vincent Kompany’s successor at the centre of the nation’s backline, potentially alongside Jan Vertonghen, and there will be an interesting series of match-ups for the 20-year-old, not least when he faces up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Shane Long.
Keeping the pair quiet against Sweden and Ireland respectively could do wonders for Denayer’s confidence and would go a long way to stressing his ability to the rest of the football community.