Wout Faes, Belgium’s natural leader

There are several different ways to describe Belgium’s Wout Faes, from ‘solid as a rock’ and ‘key player’ to ‘natural leader’. But what does this latter term actually mean?

His coach Bob Browaeys described the concept to FIFA.com as follows: “He’s a leader through and through. You can’t learn that; it’s just down to his natural charisma and that’s what makes him so special,” he explained. “He influences his players in a positive way, he’s an extension of me out on the pitch and he never fails to set a good example.” Dante Rigo, who scored the Red Devils’ winning goal in their 2-1 victory over Honduras, was also full of praise for the centre-half. “He’s a fantastic leader both on and off the pitch,” the midfielder said. “Everyone listens when he speaks. We can learn a lot from him.”

The acclaimed youngster even described himself as a natural leader when FIFA.com caught up with him at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 for an interview after Belgium’s win against the Central Americans, a match in which he also excelled at setting up goals. “I love shepherding the other players and directing the play.”

The man they call Wouti is also a physical phenomenon. He was the tallest player on the pitch against the Catrachos at 6'1, masterminding the back four to help Belgium to their first win at this competition. With four points in the bag so far, the door to the next round is still wide open. “It’s amazing,” he said after the game. “We’re in a good position to qualify for the knockout stages, and that’s our first aim. We can achieve a lot here depending on who we meet in any possible Round of 16 match. After that anything can happen.”

He’s a leader through and through. You can’t learn that; it’s just down to his natural charisma.

Apart from his height, another aspect of Faes’ physical appearance that catches the eye is his hair, which lends him an uncanny resemblance to Brazil and Paris St Germain defender David Luiz. “I get that a lot,” the youngster said. “I know it’s because of my hair and the fact that I play in the same position as him,” he added with a smile. The Belgian received a very special gift last year to mark his 16th birthday from none other than the Brazilian himself, then still at Chelsea, who heard about his 'twin' and sent him a signed shirt.

Despite this gesture of goodwill, Faes does not count David Luiz among his role models, instead preferring to cite fellow countryman and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, Spain and Real Madrid stalwart Sergio Ramos or Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain central defender Thiago Silva. But he quickly adds: “I want to make my own reputation in football.”

It appears he has done that, with rumours already swirling that Europe’s top teams are watching him closely. Until now the 17-year-old has been making his way through the youth ranks at Belgian giants Anderlecht, where he has also had the opportunity to study economics and languages. He hopes to make his first-team breakthrough soon and would eventually like to play somewhere in the English Premier League or Germany’s Bundesliga, “as these leagues suit my playing style very well”.

Faes is well aware that scouts are out in force in Chile, “so it’s important that we play well”, he said. “Although I’m happy at Anderlecht right now, this World Cup will be important for our future.” While this tournament in South America promises to be an unforgettable experience for the emerging centre-back, it is something he cannot do alone. “We have to operate and move forward together as a group,” he continued. “If the team plays well then each one of us can shine even brighter.”

One thing is certain: this natural leader will do everything in his power to ensure that the Red Devils shine far beyond their next match in Chile.