Zeno Debast – The Belgian wonderboy following the steps of Kompany, Alderweireld and Vertonghen by Tomás Reis

Zeno Debast – The Belgian wonderboy following the steps of Kompany, Alderweireld and Vertonghen by Tomás Reis

In recent years, the Belgian Pro League has been a breeding ground for youthful talent, with many  players produced by the best clubs in the country joining prestigious squads in the top European  leagues. The likes of Charles De Ketelaere, Jonathan David, and Jérémy Doku have gained  attention playing for their respective Belgian sides and subsequently earned them big moves to  AC Milan, LOSC Lille, and Stade Rennais, respectively. One of the clubs which continues to abide  by this policy is Anderlecht. Anderlecht has produced and has been the hub for several future  stars on their way to successful global careers. Looking back at the illustrious youth line of “Les  Mauves et Blancs”, names like Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, and Youri Tielemans come to  mind. Zeno Debast has the talent to join that amazing list and be a crucial player for the Belgian “Red Devils”.  

Debast has slowly emerged in a relatively short period of time as one of the most promising young  talents to come out of Belgian football in recent years. 

Player profile

He is the model of the contemporary defender, while also relishing the classic defensive arts.  Debast balances a defensive vigor with a delicate finesse on the ball. He is a defender who enjoys  defending and is assertive in the air when called upon. On and off the ball, he tends to be very  active down the right side. At 6’2, he is imposing and can easily lead the defensive line. 

Zeno Debast’s heatmap by Wyscout

As seen above in his heatmap, Debast is constantly active down that right-hand side. Under Felice  Mazzù, Anderlecht used a 3-5-2 system and as a right-sided wide center-back in a three-man  defense, he can be an active figure in and out of position. In possession, he can quickly combine  with his wing-back, frequently a one-two followed by an accurate through ball down the opponent’s wings. Without the ball, he is a very strong and aggressive defender when it comes to  duels and anticipating the play.

Range of passing

In the past, a good center-back would be a player solely with great defensive skills and technical  aspects such as passing and dribbling would get looked over. In the modern game, most teams  desire center-backs who can play with the ball at their feet, and Debast is one of them. He is  confident, calm when carrying the ball and possesses a great ability considering short and long  passing. The Belgian talent can easily find his teammates between and behind the opposition’s  defensive lines. One of the games I analyzed was the clash between Belgium and Georgia in the  U21 Euros. The hosts were using a medium-low block, and in these situations, it is useful for the  attacking team to have ballplaying center-backs who can find their teammates in the free space.  Having said so, Debast played a prominent role in most of the game. Figure number 1 shows the  striker Ramazani looking for space deeper between the lines. Debast completes a good pass to  Almeria’s forward who can turn free from pressure. 

Debast acting as a first line breaker

The second game I analyzed was a friendly between Anderlecht and Ajax. When they don’t have  the ball, the Dutch team is known for being extremely aggressive. Ajax applied tremendous  pressure, particularly in the first half, causing discomfort in Anderlecht’s build-up phase. On some  occasions Zeno Debast was forced to play a long ball to the left-back, so that Anderlecht could get  out of pressure. Figure number 2 illustrates what I’ve mentioned with the Moussa N’Diaye  receiving the ball free from pressure.

Debast plays a long ball to his left-back

In the 67th minute, once again, Debast manifests distinguished ability in terms of long passing. In  the build-up phase, the Anderlecht’s coach Brian Riemer employed a double pivot featuring Theo  Leoni and the ex-Roma man Amadou Diawara. The talented midfielder Kristian Arnstad was  looking for space deeper between the lines and the fullbacks were wide open. Ajax’s pressure was  nearly flawless, leaving Debast with no options for a short pass. However, the quality of just two  players was enough to solve this problem. Arnstad was brilliant in positioning himself behind Ajax  player Van den Boomen, and Zeno Debast was able to find him with a fantastic long pass, giving  the Norwegian midfielder plenty of space to receive the ball. Figure number 3 illustrates what I  have mentioned. 

Debast finds Arnstad with a great long pass

Defensive duels

Regarding defensive duels, Zeno Debast is a great defender in both 1v1 defensive situations and  transitional defending. Figure number 4 illustrates one of the reasons Debast excels in defensive  duels: his anticipation. Debast steps out of the back line to apply pressure on the opposing forward,  who has dropped into his own half to become an option to receive the pass from his left-back. This turns out to be a superb anticipation, with the Belgian international wining the ball in promising  area and avoiding a counter-attack.

Debast wins the duel
Debast reading the game exceptionally

This demonstrates Debast’s exceptional ability to anticipate the play once more. Bergwijn attempted a good combination with Kenneth Taylor, but the Belgian center-back read  the game wonderfully and recovered the ball. 

In the game between Georgia and Belgium, because of the Georgian’s team medium-low block,  the Belgian defensive line was playing relatively high up on the pitch. The Georgian players  attempted several long passes behind the Belgium defensive line, therefore this was a good match  to assess Debast’s depth control ability. Anderlecht’s wonderboy, remained focused during the  whole game and was always composed when moving in for the ball. Figure number 6 shows the  Georgian left-midfielder attempting a through ball behind the back line of Belgium, but Debast  handled the situation flawlessly and won the ball.

Debast controls the space between his defensive line and GK


The excitement surrounding Zeno Debast is comprehensible. He has a play style which is very  beneficial to a coach while setting up his defense. As previously stated, he has all the tools that  define a modern-day defender, but he also possesses the mentality of a classic defender. His core  mental attributes are pretty outstanding at such a young age, and it’s clear that his technical and  physical attributes will only improve as his career progresses. He’s a very promising defender, and  many big clubs, including Liverpool, are already keeping an eye on his development. The intriguing  question is whether he can fill the shoes of players such as Kompany, Alderweireld and  Vertonghen. I think so, as I believe he can mark a generation of defenders with names like Josko  Gvardiol, António Silva, and William Saliba.

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