Genk: gateway to the world

Leon Bailey’s move to Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday was further proof of Genk’s ability to nurture and develop raw talent, the Jamaican winger having been transformed into a major prospect during his 18 months in the Belgian club’s first team.

Affording youth a chance is central to Genk’s philosophy. “It is our goal to give the best coaches and facilities to talented young players,” explained Roland Breugelmans, head of the club’s youth department. “When we succeed in bringing our youth players through to the senior squad, that brings huge added value to the club in the long run.”


In 2013, the club’s Jos Vaessen Talent Academy – named after former chairman and current honorary chairman Jos Vaessen – was opened, enabling Genk to maintain their drive. “Since 2000, an average of eight to ten former trainees have made it to our first-team squad,” Breugelmans explained. “That is proof of success of our policy.”

Bailey and defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi both moved to new clubs this January (Leverkusen and Leicester City respectively), but there are plenty more homegrown prospects still in the ranks: Siebe Schrijvers, Timothy Castagne, Sandy Walsh, Leandro Trossard and Bryan Heynen. Expect more big additions to the list of illustrious Genk gradutes soon.

GENK GRADUATES


Leon Bailey (Genk)
Leon Bailey is now at Leverkusen©Getty Images

Leon Bailey (2015–17 – now at Leverkusen)
The winger came to Genk after a spell in the youth team at Slovakian side Trenčín and made his senior debut in August 2015, 12 days after his 18th birthday. One of the stars of this season’s UEFA Europa League group stage.

Yannick Carrasco (200510 – now at Atlético Madrid)
“I will never forget the pleasure he felt playing football – he always wanted to win,” remembered technical director Michel Ribeiro of Carrasco, who joined Genk at 11 and was snapped up by Monaco before he reached the first team.

Thibaut Courtois (19992011 – now at Chelsea)
Coach Franky Vercauteren made the gangly 18-year-old his No1 in 2010, Courtois having blossomed in the club’s youth ranks after switching from left-back to goalkeeper. Chelsea snapped him up the following summer.


Kevin De Bruyne (KRC Genk)
Kevin De Bruyne learning his trade at Genk©Getty Images

Kevin De Bruyne (2005–12 – now at Manchester City)
Chelsea signed Carrasco’s one-time housemate six months after they got Courtois. A false start at Stamford Bridge preceded a spell in Germany, and he is now an undisputed starter at Manchester City.

Kalidou Koulibaly (2012–14 – now at Napoli)
Nicknamed ‘K2’ for his mountainous frame, Koulibaly was acquired by Genk for a modest fee from Metz, in the Senegalese international’s native France. He left two summers later and is now a world-class defender.

Sergej Milinković-Savić (2014–15 – now at Lazio)
A wise buy from Serbian side Vojvodina, the son of a footballing father and a basketball-playing mother proved to be stylish as well as imposing in midfield. Genk made a reported €8m profit as he switched to Lazio.


Wilfred Ndidi (Genk)
Wilfred Ndidi shone in midfield at Genk©AFP/Getty Images

Wilfred Ndidi (2015–17 – now at Leicester)
“He was only 16 but you could see his presence on the pitch,” said Genk scout Roland Janssen, recalling how he snared the Nigerian at a tournament in Lagos. Converted from centre-back to midfielder, he is now in England.

Divock Origi (2001–10 – now at Liverpool)
“From the age of six, he already had talent and was taller and stronger than the other kids,” remembered the striker’s Kenyan father Mike Origi, who played for Genk’s senior team when his son was in the youth ranks.

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