Growing up with football from a young age, be it from the stands of Anfield, the swards of Anderlecht or the streets of Angola, it is the art of winning, above all, that is learned and understood in order to inspire the next generation of talent. This winning philosophy can be developed and ingrained in any environment, but few can overcome those with the natural knack for success acquired upon years at the spearhead of the footballing hierarchy.
Of course, there continues to be countless examples of players that have defied the odds having gone on to achieve extraordinary things following a rough upbringing or a disastrous start to their career, but when the foundations are there, success comes almost inevitably.
In one instance at Anderlecht, the ‘Purple Talent Programme’ has established itself as one of the most prominent and prospering youth setups in the game over the past decade in particular with a long line of world-class products that includes the likes of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and his brother Jordan. Mind you, with 34 league titles, nine cups and 13 Super Cups under their belt, it doesn’t seem like a bad place to learn the winners’ way.
At the age where you make the leap into your teens and into 11-a-side-football, it is rare that you will discover a player capable of adapting to new surroundings and being able to succeed out of their comfort zone and it is clear at Anderlecht that these external factors are considered crucial to the development of their youngsters.
As academy director Jean Kindermans, a man who has experienced first-hand the player’s journey through their academy, told Cano Football: “From Under-6 to Under-12 we only focus on the ones living in the local area.”
This speaks volumes of their focus on keeping a close-knit group of players that will grow up through the ranks together and gain an understanding of cohesion and trust within a team. It is their extraordinary ability to spot talented players locally and transform them into globally renowned stars that showcases that early hard work to a tee.
It isn’t just the big names of today that have warranted plaudits for the Purple & Whites either, it is their continued faith in their youth system and this season has been no different. Despite their worst start to a league campaign for 21 years following the highly anticipated return of Vincent Kompany with two points from five matches, a silver lining is that they have featured an astonishing 11 academy products from the last five years.
With eight teenagers including four 17-year-olds and two 18-year-olds – all of which have shown promise – there really is no end to the potential within the club’s ranks. A tough start to senior football for a few of their starlets thus far, but a pivotal phase in their progression nonetheless. With the admirable level of opportunity, a club of Anderlecht’s stature presents, especially with Kompany at the helm, the improvements will soon begin to show.
Unfortunately for Anderlecht, many of their homegrown players over the years fail to make a significant impact at the club over numerous seasons before moving on to the more illustrious European leagues. As a result, they rely on the constant flow of youth to pull them through year after year, and with the world’s best clubs seeking out the new breed of proteges at a younger age and on a wider scope than ever, the Belgians have had to follow suit and to look elsewhere.
From the abundance of youngsters that have made the leap into the first team in recent times, they also have a wealth of dual-nationality African players. This is not uncommon for a lot of Belgian clubs, of course, the most famous examples of African descendants from an Anderlecht perspective are the aforementioned Lukaku brothers and Kompany as well as Youri Tielemans, who are all Congolese by origin and it is Anderlecht in particular that have benefited enormously from their African connections.
From the current squad, Emmanuel Sowah Adjei, Francis Amuzu, Mohammed Dauda, and Jeremy Doku are all of Ghanaian descent. Anouar Ait El Hadj and Hotman El Kababri are Moroccan natives accompanied by the trio of Congolese players, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Landry Dimata, and Edo Kayembe.
Looking at the broad range of nationalities currently within Anderlecht’s ranks, especially considering their long-standing healthy relationship with countries like DR Congo and Morocco, it begs the question: why do so many highly regarded youngsters join Anderlecht? But looking across the grand footballing spectrum it’s clear to see what makes them stand out.
The Brussels club falls into the same bracket as the likes of Benfica and Ajax when it comes to the acclaim towards their youth development, and there is definitely a pattern between this category of clubs. Climb a step or two through the tiers to the Manchester City and Real Madrid level. Clubs with countless amounts of money and exposure for their youth due to their success and power but as a result, the money and exposure to use precariously and often unnecessarily.
The type that buys promising youth with the sole intention of preventing rival clubs from getting better use out of them and with that, nullifying opportunity for their own youth.
Climb back down to the level below and you’ve got the success-starved bracket of clubs without the facilities to train the winning mentality from a young age but with plenty of opportunities for game time. Clubs of Anderlecht’s ilk intertwine all of the advantages from the above and below levels to create the ideal foundations for the development of their youth.
Togetherness, teamwork, and opportunities in higher age groups are all born out of success at an accelerated level in the youth game, as players with limited experience and character have a reason to connect and cooperate to reach a shared extrinsic goal. Being in a team with realistic aspirations of a top-half finish, or anything other than the opportunity for trophies and triumph provides little encouragement for young players, so having successful teams right through the ranks supplies the bedrock for successful players to come through the ranks with an innate winning ability.
In the current world of football, players are more likely to become first-team regulars at the elite clubs of Europe having transferred from an Anderlecht-level club than they are coming through the youth system at these top tier clubs and that’s what makes them so special. One extraordinary stat from last year’s World Cup was that 26 teams that competed in the tournament, including Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina scored less than the eight products of Anderlecht’s academy that were in Belgium’s squad.
There is no other description than the “golden generation” that justifies the talent at Belgium’s disposal. A country with a population of just 11 million, boasting one of the world’s greatest national teams and a marginal semi-final defeat to France was what separated the two best teams in Russia and Anderlecht are largely to thank for a historic chapter in Belgian football.
With a network of tried and tested methods and the resources to achieve them now firmly in place, Anderlecht’s pool of talent is only getting better and better in what is an exciting time for all involved at the club and for their ever-strengthening national team who will no doubt benefit enormously from the best that the Purple Training Programme can produce.
Having Vincent Kompany back in the fold will only push their young squad that bit further also. To quote one of his recent tweets about the club: “We don’t believe the hype, we don’t believe the drama. We believe in the process. We continuously produce good football, with a very young but talented squad. However, no results, so no excuses. Now there’s nothing else to do but work even harder. #InYouthWeTrust”.
Seeing just a snippet of the passion such a legendary figure in the modern game has towards Anderlecht and everything they stand for is all you need to see how important he will be for the future of the club and the current squad.
BY BRAD JONES