How Belgian Kids Started Wearing Purple Again


A look at Anderlecht’s rediscovery of identity through the financial crisis, a brand-new youth programme, and, Eden Hazard…

Eden Hazard never played for Anderlecht but was somewhat crucial in convincing the club to remember its foundations. Back in 2005, the young Eden was set to leave Tubize for a bigger club and wandered around the region for a new destination. His preference of Lille in northern France over Anderlecht because of better facilities and programme turned out to be a wake-up call for Les Mauves et Blancs.

Rise and Fall of Belgians

In life and in football, good times do not last forever. The golden era of Anderlecht was between mid-1970s and early 80s when they won five continental cups, namely, two Cup Winners’ Cup, one UEFA Cup and two European Super Cups. Thanks to these achievements, they made a solid name and reputation in European football.

The glory was taken to the national level when Belgium came third at World Cup in 1986. After the inconsistent 1990s, however, things began to go downhill for Belgian football as of Euro 2000 which Les Diables Rouges co-hosted with the Netherlands.

This is why Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, included a piece called “How bad is Belgian football?” back in October 2007, lamenting how beautiful game had gone astray in the country. The national team missed out on Euro 2004 and 2008, as well as World Cup 2006 and 2010. In December 2009, the Diables Rouges were sixty-sixth in FIFA Ranking below likes of Honduras, Latvia, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Benin, Hungary and Bahrain.

Things weren’t rosy for Anderlecht either. They were struggling even for qualification to the group stage in the Champions League, let alone repeating past victories against continental giants. Nevertheless, by the time Champions lamented for them, Anderlecht had already gone into action.

Purple Talents Project

Launched in 2007 under the guidance of Youth Technical Director Jean Kindermans, Purple Talents Project (PTP) aimed at consistent production of players with Anderlecht DNA by combining high-level training with high-level school education. The programme, based in Neerpede, Brussels, now includes about 250 youngsters between the ages of 7 and 21 and accounts for around 10 per cent of the overall academy budget of RSC Anderlecht. The kids are enrolled at distinguished schools in Brussels and live either in the RSCA Guest House, the boarding facilities of club, or together with host families.

PTP always puts special emphasis on importance of education. “85 per cent of players will not turn professional so they should be ready for life,” indicates Jan Kayaert from Pedagogical Department. A degree helps in career as well. Kindermans observes that players who are good at school are also better at managing their careers.,

Then, there is the football aspect. Morning and evening trainings are scheduled to provide players with skills recognisable all around the globe. Anderlecht aims to set a framework in order to create a certain kind of player. Training sessions in small groups concentrate on technical skills to mould youngsters in a style similar to that of Ajax and Barcelona, based on the triumvirate of “dribble, score and have fun”.

Offensive approach is both applicable and helpful for a club that always seeks the top in the league. Anderlecht are a disciple of possession football, albeit with varying formations. As Kindermans points out, the team seeks 70 per cent of ball possession in every game. The same attitude is visible in defensive methodology as well: Players have to anticipate or intercept, and are not allowed to tackle until U21, the second team. “I want to create intelligent players, not butchers,” said Kindermans to The Guardian back in 2014.

Identity and Necessity

Anderlecht’s return to basics was based on two grounds: First, the identity. Les Mauves et Blancs have always been a club adept at nurturing talent. And as the best club in Brussels, a city with a population over a million including almost every ethnicity and religion, the bonds with community are crucial.

The second is, for sure, economics. Back in 1970s, you could cope with European elite if you had a good homegrown squad bolstered with a few import talents or those lured from fellow domestic clubs. Those days are long gone.

In today’s growingly monopolised world of football, Premier League giants and a few elite/rich clubs dominate even traditionally bigger leagues and continental tournaments. Particularly Portuguese, Dutch, Belgian or Scottish clubs, which are outside top five leagues but have a rooted tradition of success, find it increasingly hard to dream big in Europe.

Vincent Kompany, a product of Anderlecht academy before PTP and former manager of the club, points out to this fact in the FIFA Documentary Series Academies: “If we don’t raise players and integrate young players to first team, our existence and ambitions are threatened,” says Kompany, underlying that “we are not a club relying on foreign investors.” He doesn’t forget about the non-financial aspect either: “But it’s also identity” he adds, “it is what fans expect from us.”

Anderlecht do not have the luxury of the past when they could buy some of the best players. Times have changed. Now, the best asset to have is coaches like Kompany who promote young players to first team regardless of their age.

Advantages & Setbacks

And they have some advantages in terms of promotion and integration. First of all, they have a long tradition, therefore know-how about it. During a PTP training, coaches can easily and rightly refer to past: “Romelu (Lukaku), Youri (Tielemans) and Leander (Dendoncker) trained in this very hall.” To know the first team is always accessible is a great motivation for starlets. The players raised so far are the best evidence that Anderlecht have adopted the right strategy.

Top home-grown departures since establishment of Purple Talents Project

Jérémy Doku182020/21Stade Rennais€26m
Youri Tielemans202017/18Monaco€25m
Albert Sambi Lokonga212021/22Arsenal€17.5m
Romelu Lukaku182011/12Chelsea€15m
Leander Dendoncker242019/20Wolves€13.8m


Legal regulations are in their favour, too. In Belgium, clubs are allowed to sign professional contracts with players at the age of 15, one year earlier than most European countries. So they can start negotiations earlier and create a career path for hot prospects. After signing their first professional contract, teenagers continue their school education.

Legal regulations are in their favour, too. In Belgium, clubs are allowed to sign professional contracts with players at the age of 15, one year earlier than most European countries. So they can start negotiations earlier and create a career path for hot prospects. After signing their first professional contract, teenagers continue their school education.

PlayerDateAge at the time
Romelu Lukaku24 May 200916 years 11 days
Julien Duranville22 May 202216 years 17 days
Youri Tielemans28 July 201316 years 2 months 21 days
Mario Stroeykens15 Jan 202116 years 3 months 17 days
Jérémy Doku25 Nov 201816 years 5 months 29 days


The ideal business model for the club, as Sporting Director Peter Verbeke indicates, would be to employ a PTP graduate in the first team for two or three seasons and let him leave for a considerable transfer fee after he has won something with Anderlecht. Thus, it will be easier to convince the upcoming talents not to leave too soon. Verbeke says they want to see three, four, or five academy graduates in every starting eleven. Despite some handicaps such as risk of looting from abroad, Les Mauves want to maintain the current model and make it work for the next 10, 20 years.

Back home

However, hope is always around, and investment in youth is the best way to nurture it. As is in recent years, the squad is once again full of actual and upcoming talents. And there may be more familiar faces coming in.

One of the best parts of raising your own players is to create an evergreen family-like environment. PTP graduates are still in close contact with club. For instance, Romelu Lukaku, who joined the project in its inaugural year together with his brother Jordan, visited the academy in the summer of 2019 to ask for advice about his transfer (before eventually moving to Inter where he won Serie A). Youth coaches mean a lot to youngsters and become something like a father figure rather than mere professionals.

Leander Dendoncker, another graduate now at Wolves in EPL, says he wants to come back to Anderlecht someday to play together with Tielemans and Lukaku. It seems inevitable that these names will serve the club in the future either as experienced top-level players or coaches.

Profit and happiness

Then, there is the matter of fans. It is true that Anderlecht makes constant profits and are on the right path to find their way through financial crisis in the post-Covid era. Nevertheless, fans are interested in numbers such as league position and goals scored, rather than transfer fees or budgets.

This is where identity and economics come together again. The current business model can yield trophies and money at the same time. And once you do this with a distinguished attacking style and players whom the fans know since their childhood, it definitely helps. Champions League glory looks a faraway dream except for a few blessed, but UEFA Europa League and Conference League are there to be won. Recent finalists such as Ajax, Feyenoord and Rangers should be encouraging for clubs like Anderlecht.

And they can turn to national team for further inspiration if necessary. Sixty-sixth in FIFA Ranking back in 2009, Belgium are now second just behind Brazil thanks to projects like PTP by several Belgian clubs. The golden generation is yet to win a major tournament, but any success seems within reach. And Anderlecht academy staff want to make sure that some of their pupils are there when that day comes, including brightest stars like Eden…

By Suat Başar Çağlan


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