The next Belgian big thing: Who is Charles de Ketelaere?

Sagarneel Chakraborty
By Sagarneel Chakraborty
12 Min Read
Charles-de-Ketelaere-Club-Brugge

Belgium has given the footballing world a lot of wonderful talents over the past decade or so. The next big thing in Belgian football following the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne is a 20-year-old talented footballer who has made his name playing in Belgium and in Europe. In this player profile, we will look into who is Charles de Ketelaere and what is his claim to fame.

Introduction:

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De Ketelaere is a young midfielder who plays for Belgian outfit Club Brugge. After joining the club as a ball boy in 2008, De Ketelaere came up through the academy ranks into the first team picture in 2019 when he featured for the senior team for the first time in a Belgian Cup game. The very next month, he made his UEFA Champions League debut against Paris Saint-Germain. Even though the match ended in a 5-0 loss, de Ketelaere’s talent was out there for the world to see.

Charles De Ketelaere got his share of the European spotlight as a precocious 18-year-old, and it was in the following season when he scored a last-minute winner to inspire Club Brugge against Zenit St Petersburg in a Champions League group stage match. His exploits for the Belgian outfit earned him a call up to the Belgian national team for the first time in 2020, and since then, de Ketelaere has made four senior appearances for the Red Devils: scoring once in the time period.

The Eye Test:

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Moving onto his style of play, De Ketelaere is a left-footed attacker who can play on either side of midfield and also as a forward. The young Belgian is a good progressor of the ball and also possesses good vision to create chances from midfield. De Ketalaere is a good creator both from open play and from set-pieces, and his goal-scoring numbers in the Jupiler Pro League show his precocious efficiency in front of goal: the Belgian has already scored nine goals and made six assists in the Belgian top flight this season, averaging 115 minutes per direct goal involvement.

Charles De Ketelaere’s passing ability has drawn comparisons to his compatriot and Belgian superstar Kevin de Bruyne, as he is adept at passing into the final third and has established himself as one of the top young progressors of the ball in European football. When compared to positional peers in the top five European leagues over the past year, de Ketelaere ranks in the 91st percentile for key passes with 1.69 per 90 minutes: while also ranking in the 88th, 95th and 90th percentiles for passes into the final third, passes into the penalty area and progressive passes respectively.

Standing at 1.92 meters (6 feet 3 inches), De Ketelaere is also an aerial threat from set-pieces when he is not the one taking them: but his frame does not mean that he prefers being a target man upfront. His positional versatility across midfield and in the final third makes him the ideal Swiss Army Knife player for both Philippe Clement and Roberto Martínez. One of de Ketelaere’s strongest attributes is his off-the-ball movement and positioning, as despite being only 20 years old, the young Belgian finds space between the lines like a seasoned professional.

His best strengths:

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Charles De Ketelaere shows an understanding of the game beyond his tender years, as he often finds a run behind the opposition defense that other players can not see. De Ketelaere’s ability to link up play makes him an ideal player in the #10 position, even though he has played in midfield, on the flanks, upfront and even at full-back for Club Brugge whenever required. When playing upfront, de Ketelaere prefers to drop deeper and play in between the lines to exploit defenses: as a quiet but effective interpreter of space similar to the likes of Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller.

Quick and agile, de Ketalaere is quite the physical player as well, as defending from the front is something be excels at. He is not one to shy away from pressing when out of possession, and his understanding of the game allows him to win the ball high up the pitch: something he has been known to show a particular knack for. De Ketelaere ranks in the 95th percentile for tackles with an average of 1.38 tackles per 90 minutes, out of which 0.46 tackles per 90 have come in the final third of the pitch. De Ketelaere ranks in the 95th percentile for pressures averaging 20.73 per 90 minutes, while also ranking in the 96th percentile for ball recoveries with 5.84 per game.

Still only 20 years old, de Ketelaere is likely to find a more specialized niche for himself in the years to come. It is likely that the young forward carves a niche for himself as a second striker, someone that can play in behind the number nine: creating as well as finishing his fair share of chances. Charles’ ability as a fox in the box is also something that is not consistent enough at this point in time, but there have been occasional flashes of it in his game: the young Belgian often recognizes where a loose ball is falling in the box, and then strikes it home with expertise.

Heat Map:

De Ketelaere’s heat map from the 2021/22 season so far shows a player who likes to spend time all over the pitch – but prefers to spend the majority of his time in the final third, on both flanks of the pitch. Even though he might usually be recognised as a forward, de Ketelaere drifts in between the lines often as can be seen from his heat map. De Ketelaere quite visibly likes to drift in from the flanks more often than from central areas and often attacks opposition fullbacks in transition.

Weaknesses:

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However, something that still has a lot of room for improvement in his well-rounded game is his inability to play an effective final pass. De Ketelaere struggles to thread an effective ball through when faced with options, but his erratic decision-making, as well as ineffective finishing in front of goal at times, can be attributed to a lack of experience at his tender age. While it can be viewed as a positive trait for many, his extreme versatility has been criticised by others: who have gone on to describe him as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Though his immense versatility can result in his Club Brugge coach playing him only as a utility player whenever needed to make up the numbers, his national team’s head coach has disagreed with the aforementioned notion. On the topic of De Ketelaere’s versatility, Martinez was quoted to have been saying in 2020, “Good players can play anywhere. With his left foot, he is able to make the final ball, he can take the ball in any position and he has the physicality to defend and cover the entire field. It is pointless to put him in a cage from one position now. I enjoy Charles as a left back, as number ten, as number nine. Playing in different positions allows a player to grow physically. Young players need that. Philippe Clement is the perfect coach for Charles.”

Intangibles:

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Besides his long list of impressive attributes, young de Ketelaere has also racked up priceless experience in the Champions League: providing him with plenty of exposure against some of the biggest names in European football right now. Even though Club Brugge finished bottom of a tough group boasting of names such as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, de Ketelaere held his own more often than not: and even assisted Hans Vanaken in a 2-1 away win at Leipzig. De Ketelaere’s understanding with Vanaken stood out from the others, and helped him draw the attention of some of the big European clubs looking for a similar profile. At 20, de Ketelaere offers more experience at the highest level than many of his much older peers – an intangible that is to be considered when analysing him.

Final thoughts:

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De Ketelaere’s different talents combine to make a well-rounded profile that if utilized to the fullest, can grow into one of the top players in the continent. His prodigious ability coupled with his precocious understanding of the game makes him a world class talent already, but there are areas in his game that he can improve in order to truly cement his potential. After his exploits in the Jupiler Pro League and the Champions League, it would not be a surprise to see top European clubs fighting for de Ketelaere’s signature next year: a move away from Belgium next summer seems likely if not one in the winter. The Belgian Promising Talent of the Year in 2020 is likely to go from strength to strength in his career, and a future move to the Premier League following in the footsteps of Kevin de Bruyne might not be too unlikely. In order to aid his development even further, de Ketelaere can opt for a stepping-stone move first before moving to a top European club: and it would not be an exaggeration to say that whichever club ends up securing his services will sign a young, prodigious talent with sky-high potential.

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