It is common practice for clubs to sign players across the season for the future. They are hard at work in identifying new talent and bolstering their squad continuously as competition increases. Moreover, clubs sign managers in between a season too, which is rare but happens.
However, it is quite unusual to see a club roping in a player who will join two years later.
🗣️ Maarten Vandevoordt:
"I’m very happy about my upcoming transfer to #RBLeipzig. The club have a clear idea of football and have become one of the best names in Europe in recent years, especially for young players."
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) April 12, 2022
Yes, that has happened. RB Leipzig, rejuvenated under Domenico Tedesco, announced the signing of Maarten Vandevoordt from Genk. The 20-year-old goalkeeper is a regular fixture for the Belgian club and the national U21 side. Much like Gabriel Slonina, this is another star in the making from that position.
However, the fact that Leipzig moved in so quickly to secure his signature is telling. It tells how highly Vandevoordt is rated in the footballing world. He can become part of the upcoming golden generation for Belgium. That is not an overstatement.
Playing career so far
Maarten Vandevoordt was born near to where Simon Mignolet grew up in Sint-Truiden. He was playing as an outfield player for much of his early career, joining VV Brustem C. Vandevoordt progressed quickly through the ranks, still not playing in goal. He was signed by Genk in 2011 after a brief stint with Sint-Truiden. The policy in Genk’s academy is that every player is given a chance to play in goal.
— Maarten Vandevoordt (@VandevoordtM) April 26, 2021
Given how much focus is placed on being good with the ball at feet, the innate nature of being high up the pitch is natural. Vandevoordt was excelling in goal, stating “Every now and then I was allowed to play in goal, and that turned out to be a success.” Moreover, the advantage of goalkeepers being good with the ball made them comfortable to play out from the back.
Belgium have been primed for success for so long. Qatar 2022 may be their last chance after failure at Euro 2020.
That shaped Vandevoordt’s career as he developed quickly through the ranks and started training with the first team when he was 15. It was not long before Vandevoordt made his senior debut in 2019.
👏 17-year-old Maarten Vandevoordt is the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history
😓 3 minutes into his CL debut he attempted a cruyff turn in his own box which led to Napoli's first goal
He's had an absolute nightmare 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/mPxyurqUiP
— ODDSbible (@ODDSbible) December 10, 2019
The highlight of his career came till then came on December 10, 2019. Vandevoordt made his Champions League debut against Napoli, becoming the youngest ever goalkeeper at 17 years and 287 days. The match in itself was not great as he made two mistakes with Genk losing 4-0. However, his talent was undeniable as Vandevoordt appeared 22 times across all competitions in 2020-21.
🇧🇪 Maarten Vandevoordt is on his way to RB Leipzig…in 2024! ✍️
Having just turned 20 years old, the young keeper has already worked 71 matches for @KRCGenkofficial. 🤩
16 clean sheets, 1 Beker van Belgie trophy with this season being his first FULL one.
A great next step. 📈 pic.twitter.com/YFwiWFlQMP
— Football Wonderkids (@fbwonderkids) April 12, 2022
Moreover, he also won the Belgian Cup and is now the undisputed starter for the club. On the national front, Vandevoordt has appeared for every age group from U15 upwards and is now first-choice for the U21s.
Maarten Vandevoordt has played over 70 matches for Genk across all competitions. He has kept 11 clean sheets in the league so far. Vandevoordt is an upcoming goalkeeper and it shows in his game. Against Napoli, he attempted a Cruyff turn inside the penalty box which led to the opening goal.
🇧🇪 Maarten Vandevoordt (17) continues to post solid results for KRC Genk in the Belgian First Division… 🔥
…even after a tough UEFA Champions League debut…
✅ 3 wins out of his last 4
🥅 5 goals conceded
Just 17 years old. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/siTY9d1D2o
— Football Wonderkids (@fbwonderkids) December 26, 2019
Vandevoordt averages 70% saving accuracy, with 90 shots saved out of 133 faced. It is no surprise that given his coaching, Vandevoordt loves to have the ball at his feet. He regularly comes out of the penalty box to pick up the ball and start attacks. Therefore, Vandevoordt has had 1.33 defensive actions outside the penalty area per 90, at an average of around 18.3 per 90 from the goal.
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That kind of number put him in the top 94th and 98th percentile for goalkeepers across Europe over the past year. Vandeoort can improve his saving instincts a bit more, with 47 goals conceded from an xGA of 44.8. There is a lot of time to improve over the coming years and that is why Leipzig are betting so big.
What the stats do not tell
The ability with his feet and supreme confidence in himself. Maarten Vandevoordt is not shy about talking about how good he feels from saving a shot or penalty kick. At such a young age, he is already one of the most reassuring faces in the lineup. The defenders know that Vandervoordt will stand as a human shield to stop the goals.
He showed admirable quality in bouncing back from the horror show against Napoli by concluding,
“I quickly got over that mistake. I think I came out of this whole story stronger mentally.”
That has been one of the hallmarks throughout his career. Vandevoordt never backs down from a challenge and continues to improve his game across all areas. This kind of elite mentality is necessary for taking the bigger steps in the future.
What makes him special
Maarten Vandevoordt is just starting in his career but his numbers already look impressive. In the 2021-22 season, he ranks within the top-10 for clean sheets (6th), clean sheet percentage (8th), and saves (7th). Though he is not too adept in stopping crosses or charging out, Vandevoordt is no slouch in knowing his posts.
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That enables him to correctly ascertain the trajectory of shots. Genk have a history of producing excellent goalkeepers which is evident in Vandevoordt.
Their most famous alumni in this position are of course, Thibaut Courtois, but the others are also regulars for clubs. Koen Casteels, Sinan Bolat, and Matt Ryan have all played for Genk. During their cup run in 2021, Vandervoordt was the first choice as Genk defeated Standard Liege in the final.
Moreover, he has also shown an affinity for saving penalties throughout his career. That comes in handy as the years go on and the opponents get tougher.
In short, Vandervoordt’s long-term future is sorted because Leipzig have signed him for five years as the replacement for Peter Gulacsi. The Hungarian has been one of the stalwarts and Vandervoordt will be ready for the task. There had been heavy interest from several European sides but Leipzig won the race.
— Maarten Vandevoordt (@VandevoordtM) March 29, 2022
In the short-term, Vandevoordt will have to help Genk navigate the Europa Conference League playoff group. There can be no bigger stage than the continental one for the young goalkeeper to shine. Therefore, it will be a big two years for the custodian with the U21 Euro also happening in 2023.
Leipzig will have a much more polished player in 2024 who can become one of the best in the league quickly.