Player Profile – Jonathan Legear

He’s constantly linked to a move away from Anderlecht, so the time seems right for an in-depth analysis on Les Mauves tricky winger. Chris Mayer looks at the career of Jonathan Legear

Since actively following the Belgian Pro League this season, I’ve noticed a few things. Firstly, a lot of people are built like Panzer tanks, complete with the manoeuvrability. It’s mainly about muscles in Brussels. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, you get fairly robust games, full of reckless tackles, certainly entertaining in its own way.  Secondly, anyone who is less than 6ft tall and provides such flair stands out straight away. Jonathan Legear is certainly the latter.

Operating on the right wing normally for Anderlecht, he offers something completely different to the rest of the team. Whilst Romelu Lukaku and Kanu tend to provide the hold-up play, Legear is seen marauding down the flank normally tormenting the opposing left-back, who has the unenviable task of trying to stop him.

This season Anderlecht haven’t looked exactly like a dominant force. Several times the side haven’t clicked at all, with the 5-1 defeat away to Standard Liege still irking the faithful despite a decent response since then. One thing is clear, Jonathan Legear is a rare product of the Belgium system. As seen in those Belgians who’ve made it in the Premier League, they all share a similar attribute, height and strength. Kompany, Vermaelen, Fellaini are such examples of this and it’s uncommon to see someone so flashy being linked to the Premier League, especially to Newcastle and Everton.

Legear spent the majority of his youth career at fierce rivals Standard Liege although he could never break into the side. Standard Liege had a superb crop of players in the academy such as Logan Bailly, Sebastian Pocognoli and Kevin Mirallas. All of them current international players, yet none of them could force their way into the side.

By 2003, sick of waiting for his debut and fearing he could stagnate as a player, Legear moved to Anderlecht despite an supposed agreement that barred the big three clubs selling to each other. After spending another season in development, he finally received his debut in 2004 against his former club Standard Liege. Talk about being thrown in the deep end. Hugo Broos, now Zulte coach, also gave Vincent Kompany and Antony Vanden Borre their debuts in that title winning season, all at 16. Kompany and Vanden Borre grasped the chance, Legear wasn’t yet ready and was clearly unprepared for the hostile reception he faced at the Stade Dufrasne and faded badly.

Doppelganger

05/06 wasn’t that fruitful either for Legear as he attempted to solidify his position in the first team. Unfortunately for him he was hampered by several injuries and the fact that Christan Wilhemsson was the star winger at Anderlecht at the time. Legear was considered a small clone of him, and much more fragile. The similarities in appearance are unnerving.

Wilhelmsson departed for a European tour and it seemed Legear was ready to take his place. Well no, Kompany and Vanden Borre had both been sold for considerable fees and Anderlecht brought in Egyptian Ahmed Hassan (one of the best players at the previous African Cup of Nations) and Mbark Boussofa, still going strong in the Anderlecht line up.

It took the appointment of Ariel Jacobs as coach before Legear was considered the viable option down the right, giving the side some much needed speed. Legear went quietly about his business, breaking free on the counter and leaving many a defender for dead. Dinamo Moscow noticed the nippy Belgian and put in a bid to prise him away from Brussels.

But his real breakthrough on the European stage was in last season’s Europa League, in fact the first time I’d really sat up and taken notice of him. He utterly rampaged through full-backs, providing 6 goals and 4 assists, easily the most valuable player in that competition. Here’s two of his best against Bilbao and HSV; foot like a traction engine:

Anderlecht ended the dominance of Liege last season, picking up the title with Legear being the creator to his team’s 62 goals, aiding Romelu Lukaku’s astronomic rise. He’s a gifted free-kick specialist, adept at cutting inside and coolly slotting a shot into the net.

National coach, George Leekens gave him his international debut against Kazakhstan in October, and excelled in a vital 2-0 away win. He grabbed an assist in that crazy 4-4 draw against Austria too.

The main problem for Legear is being surrounded by many other prodigies, most notably Eden Hazard, who was magnificent in yesterday’s win in Russia. Legear will once again have to wait for regular international football but in time, he will be ever present.

Combining with Boussofa really does give Anderlecht a nitrous injection, creating so much for that solid spine of the side, and it seems to be the main reason for the English interest.

Educated feet, he’s got more or less all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League for certain. He’s just clocked up a century for Anderlecht and still only 23. The question is not if Jonathan Legear will move to a top league, it’s when.

 

 

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Player Profiles – Andy Najar

With the MLS season almost over, DC United will be looking to forget this year in a hurry. Fortunately for them, they have uncovered one of the brightest prospects in recent seasons, maybe since the inception of the MLS. Freddie Shires looks at Andy Najar:

One could be forgiven for stating that the MLS, in its short history, has hardly set the world alight with the amount and overall quality of emerging players it’s exported overseas to more established leagues in recent years.
Examples of such resounding failures like Clint Mathis, Joe-Max Moore and Josh Wolff who have failed to translate their dominance in the US into success across the pond. Their legacies have been put to bed by the likes of Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, all who’ll be familiar names to even the least informed of football fans.

The latest player who could be about to join this list of star exports is none other than D.C. United’s 17-year-old forward, Andy Najar, one of the few bright points of what has been a fairly dismal 2010 campaign for the side that dominated the early years of the league.

Najar, along with his parents and younger brother, moved to the U.S. from his native Honduras 5 years ago, settling in Alexandria, Virginia, where relatives at the time were living. A far cry from his hometown of Santa Cruz, a small rural village in the south of Honduras, boasting a population of just 6,000, Najar immediately set the local high school soccer scene alight, quickly catching the eye of D.C. United academy scouts, who signed him up to their programme after a successful trial for the under-16 team in 2007.

Initially starting out as a right back, Najar rapidly moved up through the club’s developments system, his impressive play earing a promotion to the under-18s, where his skill and attacking nature prompted coaches to move him upfront, a position he has since flourished in. Outstanding goal scoring form on various club youth tours and tournaments, including 5 in 4 games at the U.S. Developmental Academy Finals in Los Angeles, during the summer of 2009, saw Najar earn the opportunity to train with the senior side later on the year.

Najar signs lucrative deal at DC United

By this time, the Honduran teenager’s impressive play had clearly caught the eye of the club’s first team coaching staff and, after distinguishing himself as one of the stand out performers during early pre-season training for the 2010 season, Najar signed a guaranteed contract with the side, worth $40,000, and cemented a place as one of 2 home-grown academy players allowed on the 26 man roster for the forthcoming season.

While D.C. United’s 2010 season has been a terrible, with the club sitting bottom of the Eastern conference, Najar’s play has been a revelation and one of few bright spots for the club’s supporters. Head Coach Curt Onalfo was given his marching orders in early August, having only been handed the job in January, though despite the turmoil surrounding him, Najar still sits as the prime candidate to win the end of season Rookie of the Year award, establishing himself as one of the first names on the D.C. United team sheet and scoring 5 goals in 24 games. General consensus amongst coaches, players, and fans alike, is that Najar is now one of the hottest young properties the league has to offer and the most exciting prospect coming out of MLS in years.

A benefactor of the newly introduced “Home-grown” rule, allowing clubs to sign 2 players per season from their academy side to the senior roster, Najar thus bypassed the normal process of being selected by any one of the league’s 16 sides in the MLS draft, and the chance to continue to develop, both as a player and person, close to his family home has clearly been of huge benefit to him.

At just 17, Najar is considerably younger than the majority of players coming into the league out of college and it has to be stressed that he still has a huge amount of untapped potential that could yet be unearthed in the next few years.
Some will inevitably compare him to another of MLS’s past starlets, none other than the enigma that is Freddy Adu, but these comparisons could not be further from the truth.

For a start, the emergence of Adu was met with a vast amount of media hype, which transcended football and overflowed into mainstream media. Adu was labelled by many as the new Pelé, earning various endorsement deals, trials with top European clubs, and a multi-million dollar contract with D.C. United as the 1st pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, making him at the time the highest paid player in the league, all before he had even kicked a ball as a professional.

Much Adu about nothing: Najar different to last DC wonderkid

Najar’s emergence on the other hand has been remarkably low key. There was no fanfare when he made his debut, no media coverage of his promising play at the start of the season, and certainly no big money endorsement deals from the likes of Nike and Gatorade. Instead, if one had put his name to a group of supporters, it most likely would have been met by a collective “Who?”

Furthermore, Adu never produced on the pitch during his 4 seasons in MLS, his time at D.C. United and one season at Real Salt Lake wasn’t great either, a mixture of inconsistent play only met by the odd flash of brilliance. Adu was simply unable to develop technically or physically as a player during his early career, never able to play to his one clear strength that was his undisputed technical prowess, as the diminutive attacking midfielder was often overpowered by his opponents and constantly knocked off the ball.

His transfer to Benfica in 2007 was arguably down to reputation more than anything else, and Adu’s career since his move to Europe has ultimately been an unqualified disaster, met with lack of playing time, poor play, and questions surrounding his work ethic and even his age.

We shall leave the Freddy Adu age dispute for another occasion, but undoubtedly these are not issues that Najar should ever have to worry about. For a start the Honduran has already shown himself to be a genuine quality player during his short time in MLS, displaying clear progress in his game from the start of the season to now, and belying his small 5ft 7in frame with tough physical play when matched up against even the most imposing of defenders. Commitment and work ethic are also not a problem.

As former coach Onalfo was quoted as saying, “The guys really like him (Andy) ’cause they respect him and he’s just a well-grounded kid. He’s also got unbelievable concentration. Usually, young players are focused for a short period of time and then they lose focus and they make errors because of that. Andy very rarely makes errors because of concentration.”

Often deployed on the wing, where his sheer explosiveness and trickery are best put to use, Najar has made a habit of burning defenders throughout MLS with his raw pace and agility, though he has shown enough versatility that he has even been employed as an emergency defensive midfielder on occasions. Strong on the ball with either foot, while possessing acute vision, deft touch, and a wide range of passing, Najar has shown in spells even at his young age that he has the confidence and ability to play the role of a playmaker as an attacking midfielder, impressive in a league where tough physical defensive midfielders dominate and the centre of the field can often become clogged. The rumours of a move however have already started, and reports of a trial at Arsenal once the MLS season ends have been widely reported.

The same clubs that were once interested in Adu, the likes of Inter and AC Milan, Real Madrid etc., allegedly all have their eyes now firmly set on Najar and it will be interesting to see what his future holds in the coming months. A tug of war too could soon be developing between Honduras, the country of his birth, and the United States, whom Najar will soon be eligible to appear for once he inevitably obtains his citizenship. Both have expressed a profound interest in the young starlet, and, though Najar himself remains remarkably coy on the issue, refusing to commit to either nation for now, fans of both countries are crossing their fingers in the hope that theirs will be the national team Najar eventually chooses to represent.

Despite the overseas interest however, many surveying the young career of Najar believe that, for now, a stay in MLS would be most beneficial for the young midfielder, where he can continue to develop with regular first team football. Plenty of American youngsters have voyaged abroad for football in the past, only to discover their chances limited and the football too competitive for their raw playing style (Landon Donovan being a prime example when he moved to Leverkusen.)

Bernabeu bound? Najar the next Galactico?

Unlike his choice of national team however, Najar has made no secret about which club team he’d eventually like to represent in the future. An avid Real Madrid fan, he’s been quoted as dreaming of one day pulling on the shirt of Los Blancos. While that day may seem a long way from now, what may seem like an overly ambitious dream of Najar’s could one day become a reality if he continues to develop and assert himself on the field the way he has been over the past 10 months. Avoiding the Freddy Adu comparisons, most would agree Najar has the ability to at least enjoy a career comparable to that of some of MLS’s most famous alumni, names such as Dempsey and Donovan, though those more aspiring of fans would be inclined to suggest he could easily surpass their achievements.

Najar certainly has the talent level to one day become a world star from what we have seen in his remarkably short professional career so far, but he still has many years of development ahead of him and a mountain of obstacles to hurdle before that day can ever arrive. For now, we must sit back and wait with baited breath, as the career of Andy Najar is only just beginning.

Follow Freddie on Twitter @fshires for more superb analysis of the MLS

Player Profile – Balazs Dzsudzsak

In what will hopefully be a long running series on 6pointer, Player Profiles intends to highlight some of Europe’s most promising talents, right across from the Faroe Islands to Russia. Freddie Shires looks at PSV and Hungary’s best product for several years, Balazs Dzsudzak.

Since the days of Puskas’ Mighty Magyars, who dominated the international football scene during the early 1950s, I doubt many would contest the argument that Hungarian football has undoubtedly failed to live up to the enormously high standards that this legendary “Golden Team “created. 1986 was the last time we were graced with Hungary’s presence at the World Cup finals, and it has largely been a downward spiral ever since.

Dzsudzsak holds the ball from another hot prospect Adam Johnson, could we see him in the Premier League soon?

Consistently poor performances throughout qualifying tournaments and a constant string of managerial changes have done nothing for the stability of the side and even some promising displays during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Denmark, Sweden, and Portugal, could not save Dutchman Erwin Koeman’s job. Premier League fans will be aware of the likes of Zoltan Gera and Gabor Kiraly, but it is fair to say that this once great footballing nation has failed to come even close to producing a single player capable of establishing themselves as a household name amongst fans of the global game in many a year.

This all could be about to change however with the emergence of PSV winger, Balazs Dzsudzsak. His name may be a bit of a mouthful, but one can guarantee it will not be long before everyone is attempting to master its tricky pronunciation, as Dzsudzsak is quickly establishing himself as one of the most exciting players in the Eredivisie and attracting interest from a number bigger clubs across Europe.

Beginning his career at local club side Debrecen, Dzsudzsak made his first team debut in 2005, at the age of 18, after spending the previous season out on loan at lower league side Letavertes, and quickly became a vital part of a team which would go on to win three straight Hungarian league titles from 2005 to 2007. A stellar season in 2006/2007, which saw him score 7 goals in 23 games, did not go unnoticed, as Dzsudzsak was voted the Hungarian League player of the year and made his senior debut for the national team.

Beginning the 2007/2008 season in similar fashion with a further 5 goals in 13 games, convinced then Dutch league champions PSV to snap up the promising Hungarian prodigy for an undisclosed fee in October 2007, and, after a slow start, Dzsudzsak soon repaid the faith shown in him by the club’s hierarchy. 2008 saw Dzsudzsak burst onto the scene, becoming a regular in the PSV side out on the left wing, exciting crowds with his raw pace, precise dribbling, tenacious attitude, and consistently accurate free kicks and long range shots, which continue to embarrass goalkeepers throughout the league.

Over the calendar year of 2009, Dzsudzsak finished behind only Luis Suarez in league goals, with an impressive 17 from midfield, and created the most assists in the entire Eredivisie, with 15 in 32 games, winning numerous league and club awards and becoming arguably the most indispensible player in a somewhat underachieving PSV side, fuelling speculation that a move to another top European side could soon be on the cards.

Observing him on the ball, one can immediately see Dzsudzsak plays with a perfect blend of supreme technique and pace, reminiscent of a player in the mould of David Ginola or younger Ryan Giggs, terrorizing fullbacks with his ability to glide past them with ease or deliver a killer ball into the box from out on either wing. He too has shown the talent to play the role of a genuine playmaker, capable of shifting inside to a more central role, effectively as a no. 10, where his accurate passing game can cut through the tightest of defences and create numerous goal scoring opportunities for his side’s strikers.

Comfortable using both feet, the Hungarian’s greatest assets however remain his ability from set pieces and powerful shooting from outside the area, both strengths which have hugely contributed to his goal tally and make him a genuine danger to opposition defenders whenever he receives the ball near the box.

 

Dzsudzsak recieves a red card from Mike Dean in last season's Europa League for a push on the official. (Getty Images)

 

Possessing a resolute attitude to the game, his gritty determination to win the ball and dogged playing style is comparable to another player who once stared in the Dutch top flight, Liverpool’s high energy striker-cum-winger Dirk Kuyt, though it too has unsurprisingly landed him in trouble with officials on more than one occasion. He has been well known during his two and a half seasons in Holland to become overly frustrated and loose his cool at times when the rub of the green is going against him and will need to learn to curb his aggression should he wish to progress and grow as a player in the near future.

Ultimately though, there is no questioning Dzsudzsak’s commitment and love for the game, which has endeared him to PSV fans and make them dread the inevitable day when he does eventually move on to pastures new. The likes of Arsenal, Juventus, and even Real Madrid were all reportedly interested in his services this summer and it will surely not be long before we see the 23 year old Hungarian winger plying his trade for a major club in England, Italy, or Spain.

As the old saying goes, one player certainly does not make a team, and as such Dzsudzsak’s emergence has not yet translated into a turnaround in fortunes for the national team, though if the country continues to produce players of his calibre, the return of Hungary to the World stage may not be too far around the corner.

Follow Freddie on Twitter @fshires for informative views on football, cycling and American football.