On April 15, Steven Defour will turn 21. Most footballers his age would just be breaking into the first team. Not Defour.
Despite his slight frame—he’s 5-foot-8—Defour has played professional football since 2004. He broke into Rene Vandereycken’s Genk side as a 16-year-old and made his international debut for Belgium just two years later. Vandereycken is now the head coach of the national team, and Defour has claimed more than 20 caps.
He’s also the captain of Standard Liege. Last season, he took his club to the Jupiler League title and received the Golden Shoe as the most valuable footballer in the country.
It goes without saying that his days in Belgium are numbered. In fact, he’ll probably make a move before the start of next season. Aston Villa are very interested in him, but will have to fight off similar advances from Olympique Marseille. There’s little time to waste. In a matter of months, he’ll be among the hottest commodities in Europe.
Defour plays a central midfielder’s role and prefers to operate slightly on the right side of the park. He’s also gifted with two, lethal feet—allowing him to feed the right-winger with a well-timed pass or cut into the middle for an attempt at goal.
But what really sets scouts drooling is his combination of pace and vision. Defour is lightning-quick off the block and can swivel, change his pace or come to a complete stop on a dime. Think Lionel Messi. And his superb peripheral vision allows him to see the runs his teammates are making throughout the attacking third. He is a master of the one-two, and fits nicely into quick, counter-attacking sides.
That’s where Villa come in. Given that Gareth Barry is as good as gone, Martin O’Neill has an opening for a creative playmaker in the centre of the park. Defour fits the bill quite nicely. And as he won’t be making the move from a European powerhouse, he should be an affordable acquisition as well.
The key here is to get the deal done quickly. The longer he remains available, the more likely his signature will be sought after by the likes of Marseille, Lyon, Werder Bremen and Hamburg. In other words, the price will go up.
O’Neill has uncovered a gem here, and he should get some credit for that. But it will be a crying shame if Steven Defour ends up somewhere other an Villa Park next season.