When Dedryck Boyata moved to Celtic from Manchester City, people were quick to say that his career was done, thanks to the lack of impact made in both the City squad and whilst on loan at Bolton Wanderers and FC Twente. The Belgian managed just 22 professional appearances in four years, despite showing promise for the national team at both under 19 and under 21 level.
You can imagine that there were a few raised eyebrows when Celtic announced that Boyata had been handed a four-year contract for the paltry sum of £1.5 million. And for a while, the detractors were right.
Part of a pretty woeful defence that conceded nine in five at the beginning of the 2015 / 16 season, Boyata in particular was singled out for criticism, with clumsy fouls and repeated failures to tackle and clear balls causing some concern for both fans and pundits. The start of 2016 / 17 wasn’t much better, but Boyata did manage to find some form as the season progressed, making 22 appearances and even bagging 5 goals as part of the ‘Invincibles’ squad that went undefeated in 47 domestic games. Boyata stepped up his game even further last season, playing the lion’s share of games in a flexible role as centre back or right back. This consistency, and additional goals from defence, earned him a more prominent place in a Belgium squad that had previously used him as a backup in European qualifiers.
Following improved form and better technical defending, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez felt that Boyata could add versatility to a Belgium defence that lacked flexibility going forward. And surprisingly, Boyata was named to face Panama in Belgium’s opener. A decent performance meant that he was picked again for other group games against Tunisia and England, but when things got serious, Boyata returned to the backup role he must now be growing used to. His performances were far from unsatisfactory however, and were enough for Belgium FA Technical Director Chris Van Puyvelde to state that he believed Boyata would be a driving force behind Belgium’s goal to win the 2020 European Championships.
Belgium’s exciting run all the way to the semi finals may have been surprising for many, but in reality it could have easily been predicted. It’s no secret that the Belgium squad includes some of the best players in the world, and selection tactics like playing Boyata in the first 3 games before bringing in fresh legs certainly played a huge role, but the fact that Belgium have done nothing but improve over the last 3 World Cups just goes to show how far they have come. By looking at Belgium’s massive performance increase over the last 2 decades, making an informed bet for them to go far in the World Cup wouldn’t seem so risky.
For Boyata, his future is certainly in limbo after a decent performance this summer. Fulham had a bid rejected just days before the transfer window, which means there has definitely been interest from other parties in a shorter and therefore more hectic transfer window. There’s no doubting that this offer would have been accepted a couple of years ago, but Brendan Rogers has clearly stated that losing Boyata at this time would put him in a tight situation for the season ahead.
He may still be a Celtic player for now, but at this rate, Boyata is certainly turning heads as he continues his late footballing bloom. With a year left on his contract, Celtic may just struggle to retain his services next summer.