Leandro Trossard and Youri Tielemans are already eyeing those precarious first few spots…
10) Christian Benteke
There he stands, alongside Eric Cantona and Raheem Sterling on 70 Premier League goals. Christian Benteke might have scored just four times in his last 50 appearances in the competition, but there were few better top-flight marksmen for a solid half-decade.
It will frustrate Crystal Palace fans to remember this lumbering dead weight as the same player who came second only to a Real Madrid-bound Gareth Bale in the vote for PFA Young Player of the Year in his debut season for Aston Villa, or as the forward who registered double figures for goals in each of his first five campaigns in England. That he has scored two Premier League hat-tricks more recently than Manchester United scored their last is equal parts hilarious and harrowing.
Had Benteke spread his wings and departed these shores on the back of 15 goals in his first year at Selhurst Park in 2017, he would have done so as one of the modern Premier League’s most underrated talents. But as much as absence makes the heart grow fonder, familiarity breeds contempt. Or confusion, at the very least.
9) Marouane Fellaini
It seems perverse to think that Marouane Fellaini not only lasted longer at Manchester United than he did with Everton, but also that he became a walking meme renowned for his remarkable chest control, pointy elbows, Louis van Gaal sex masochism and Jamie Carragher disputes at Old Trafford.
The midfielder’s three trophies and almost six years of service at Old Trafford saw him flit between pointlessly expensive recruit, vaguely successful battering ram, prime example of the club’s decline and genuinely useful managerial disciple. But Fellaini’s time at Everton established him as a legitimate star, and earned him more than enough credit for some underwhelming seasons and overwhelming inadequacies. The first Belgian to ever be named Premier League Player of the Month deserves to be seen as much more than just a punchline.
8) Philippe Albert
Talk about blazing a belated trail. Much like Branco, Emerson and Isaias paved the way for Brazilians, Eric Cantona flew the flag for the French and Carl Cort cleared the path for all of Guyana, Philippe Albert excelled as a Belgian in the Premier League long before it was trendy.
It does not require a projectile technologist to figure out what persuaded Kevin Keegan to part with £2.6m for Albert in 1994. The centre-half played thrice for Belgium in that summer’s World Cup, scoring twice as De Rode Duivels conceded four goals. Newcastle’s Entertainers had found their perfect match in a defender who quite simply refused to defend.
So it proved. Albert netted eight times in almost 100 Premier League games for the Magpies, who conceded less than a goal a game just once in his four full seasons. He came, he saw, he thoroughly embarrassed Peter Schmeichel, he conquered. That it took a couple of years for Régis Genaux to join him as Belgium’s second Premier League export spoke volumes of how large his boots were to fill.
7) Mousa Dembele
There is something achingly cruel about Mousa Dembele moving to England immediately after and leaving shortly before his teams competed in major European finals. “It has always been a dream to play in the Premier League and I will make sure that I make the most of this opportunity,” he said after joining Europa League runners-up Fulham in 2010. That “dream” had long been fulfilled by the time he waved goodbye to Tottenham in January, five months before they picked up their Champions League silver medals.
In those eight-and-a-half intervening years, Dembele was perhaps this country’s most unique attraction. Part ballet dancer, part bulldozer, the Belgian would happily glide past opponents before using his large frame to unfathomably shield the ball from them. Mauricio Pochettino named him alongside Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho as one of his five “genius players” for a reason. It’s just a damned shame the body couldn’t always keep up with the mind.
6) Toby Alderweireld
It might not sound particularly impressive, but Toby Alderweireld has never conceded more goals than he has started Premier League matches in any given season. He has succeeded where many of the greatest defenders to grace the top flight – John Terry (2016/17), Rio Ferdinand (2014/15), Nemanja Vidic (2013/14), Jamie Carragher (2011/12), Sol Campbell (2002/03), Tony Adams (1994/95) – have failed.
Such dominance was not established at a title challenger. Alderweireld cut his Premier League teeth at Southampton as part of the second-best defence of the entire 2014/15 season. That sort of form was enough to persuade Tottenham to sign him for a paltry £11.5m, helping them keep the best defensive record of any side in his debut campaign. At his peak he was imperious, perhaps unparalleled. Even now, his powers having waned ever so slightly, his stock having fallen a touch and his age discouraging potential suitors, few are as reliable or rounded.
5) Romelu Lukaku
What a shame that our final memories of Romelu Lukaku will be of him tripping over his own shoelaces, trapping a ball for 60 yards with his first touch and completely misunderstanding the point of being “overweight”. If a 26-year-old athlete still doesn’t understand the concept of muscle weighing more than fat, what hope do any of us have?
We should be remembering the only teenager to ever score a Premier League hat-trick against Manchester United, celebrating the fifth-youngest player to reach 100 Premier League goals, mourning the loss of a genuine revelation who registered double figures for goals in seven top-flight campaigns in England across three teams.
Lukaku was far from perfect. He was raw, rough, often crude. But good lord was he effective. He should be welcomed back with open arms when he returns to join West Ham in 2026.
4) Jan Vertonghen
Alderweireld is not the best Belgian centre-half at his own club. That honour belongs to the older, wiser and even less contracted Jan Vertonghen. Let a ‘furious’ lack of recent minutes not mask a stellar late career.
A 25-year-old signing by Andre Villas-Boas became a 27-year-old injured outcast under Tim Sherwood, before finally finding his feet as he approached his Pochettino prime. Two Premier League PFA Team of the Year appearances and runners-up medals in the League Cup and Champions League seems an unjust return for such consistent excellence.
While Christian Eriksen has shifted seamlessly between incredible and invisible, Harry Kane has been hamstrung by injury and Hugo Lloris has sometimes struggled, Vertonghen has been a statue of stability and dependability during Tottenham’s greatest modern era.
3) Vincent Kompany
Seven players have won at least two Premier League titles as captain. Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Nemanja Vidic decorated their mantelpieces by riding the crest of a Manchester United wave, while Tony Adams and John Terry lived out their boyhood dreams in London. Vincent Kompany became an adopted Mancunian but had no less of an impact at City.
Even at his least useful, the Belgian exerted a greater influence than most. It was his goal in the dying embers of a season decimated by injury three months ago that helped secure that fourth trophy, and his header that kept them on track to seal the first against Manchester United in April 2012. When City have previously needed a hero, Kompany answered the call.
For a £10m Mark Hughes signing, that really isn’t bad going. Kompany accounts for one-third of Belgium’s entire Premier League winner’s medal collection, the first of their modern raft of stars.
2) Eden Hazard
Some would have you believe he is the difference between finishing third and winning the Europa League or scraping, at best, a top-half finish while avoiding Champions League catastrophe. A media obsessed with placating Frank Lampard has overestimated the brilliance of Eden Hazard.
That is an achievement in itself, considering the winger’s talent is so remarkable that it hardly needs exaggerating. A marquee signing by European champions Chelsea in 2012 would go on to win two Premier League titles at Stamford Bridge, but also be held more responsible than perhaps any other player for the demise of so many managers.
At his core, Hazard was and still remains a player on the cusp of generational greatness, an occupier of that mortal plane directly beneath Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Premier League duly enjoyed the best years of his career.
1) Kevin de Bruyne
Even at his lowest Premier League ebb, Kevin de Bruyne retained the essence that makes him special. Having signed for Chelsea in January 2012, he was made to wait until August 2013 to make his competitive debut. It was in the opening game of that season, Jose Mourinho’s first, that he registered his first assist.
The Belgian would start just one more league game – against Manchester United, so it can hardly be said Mourinho did not trust him – before being sold to Wolfsburg in January 2014. For many, that would represent the sum total of their time on these shores: the reputation of a foreign player struggling with the pace and power of the Premier League is a difficult one to shift.
Yet De Bruyne not only acclimatised, he forced teams to adjust to him. His 19 assists in 2016/17 might have counted for nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it provided the platform for a stunning follow-up season. Injury impacted him last year; he already seems back to his imposing best.