What Could Have Been: An XI Of Players Developed By Genk
Belgian side Genk are one of the top sides when it comes to producing and developing players and preparing them for top-level football.
In recent years, the likes of Sporting, Porto, Southampton, AS Monaco, Dinamo Zagreb and Le Havre have all done a fine job of integrating young players into the first-team and their alumni of former players is quite something.
But you can also put Genk in the conversation, as the amount of high-quality players they have had a hand in the development of is extremely impressive.
We've put together an XI of players who have either turned out for Genk or come through the ranks at the club and hypothetically, if they would have been able to keep hold of their prized assets, what a team they would have.
GK: Thibaut Courtois
In goal, is Chelsea No.1 choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The 24-year old came through the ranks at Genk and made his debut as a 16-year old back in 2009. By the time the 2010/11 season rolled around, Courtois was Genk's first-choice goalkeeper and played a key role in their title success that season, keeping 14 clean sheets that season and conceded just 32 goals in the league.
After Chelsea acquired him, he was a revelation on loan at Atletico Madrid, winning La Liga and Copa Del Rey before returning to Chelsea - where he has become the first-choice goalkeeper and won a Premier League title as well as the League Cup in 2014/15.
He is one of Genk's biggest success stories.
CB: Timothy Castagne
Another one of the youth products at Genk is still with the club. Right-back Timothy Castagne is seen as one of the top defensive prospects in the world and has made 80 appearances since making his debut. As a side-note, he's a 71 rated defender on FIFA 17 and can get to an 82 rating if all goes well in career mode.
CB: Christian Kabasele
Compared to other players in the team, Christian Kabasele hasn't really achieved that much in the game to be honest. He moved to Genk in 2014 from Eupen and then signed with Watford in the summer. He has made a total of 13 appearances for the Hornets and has scored three goals from defence.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly
Senegal international Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the most sought-after central defenders in world football and has been linked to Chelsea on a number of occasions. He really furthered his career at Genk, winning the Belgian Cup in 2012/14 and getting a move to Napoli, where his reputation has been enhanced even further. His commanding defensive displays are regularly talked about and he deservedly made the Serie A Team of the Year in 2015/16.
He has made 22 appearances for Napoli this term and will no doubt need to be on top form in their upcoming Champions League last 16 clash with Real Madrid.
RM: Yannick Carrasco
Atletico Madrid and Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco is another major Genk success story, having spent part of his youth development at the club before moving on to Monaco. After flourishing in France, Atletico snapped him up and he was part of the side that reached the Champions League final last season but ultimately lost out to Real Madrid on penalties.
Carrasco scored Atleti's second-half equaliser in the game, becoming the first ever Belgian player to score in a European Cup final to do so.
You may remember his celebration...
CM: Steven Defour
Burnley midfielder Steven Defour took his first steps into first-team football with Genk back in the day as a 17-year old before continuing his upwards spiral in football. Now 28, the man who once received a letter from Sir Alex Ferguson after suffering an injury is a regular in Burnley, currently 12th in the Premier League with the second best home form in the league.
He has won league titles in both Belgium and Portugal and is an established international for his country.
CM: Wilfred Ndidi
The most recent jewel to come through Genk well and truly announced himself to English football this week with a sublime match-winning strike for new club Leicester City in the 3-1 FA Cup fourth round replay against Derby.
Ndidi cost Leicester £17 million and they will be hoping the 20-year old can fill the gaping hole left by N'Golo Kante, who is tearing it up at Chelsea.
LM: Dennis Praet
Attacking midfielder Dennis Praet was a top talent at Genk a few years back and caught the eye of leading European clubs such as Arsenal, Barcelona and Ajax. He eventually moved to Belgian giants Anderlecht before making a first-team appearance and after winning three consecutive league titles, including a campaign that saw him win the Belgian Golden shoe - cementing his place as the best player in the country.
He moved to Sampdoria in the summer and has made 21 appearances in all competitions this term.
CAM: Kevin De Bruyne
Undoubtedly the biggest and most successful player to come through the ranks at Genk, Kevin De Bruyne is easily one of the best players in the Premier League and one of the top players in the world in his position. After winning the league and cup with Genk, Chelsea signed him but he and Jose Mourinho did not see eye-to-eye and he subsequently signed for Wolfsburg in 2014.
KDB lit up the Bundesliga in the 2014/15 campaign, scoring 16 goals and contributing further with a massive 28 assists - that prompted Manchester City to fork out £54 million for his services but he has been well worth the money.
In his debut season with City, he netted 16 times in all competitions and this season he's been on fire again, proving to be an integral part of Pep Guardiola's way of playing by scoring six times and registering an exceptional 13 assists.
ST: Divock Origi
Liverpool striker Divock Origi is another big name to have turned out for Genk as a youngster before going on to bigger and better things. He impressed at Lille in his spell there and joined for Liverpool in 2014 and eventually joined up with the side after remaining in France on loan. At 21, he's a full international with Belgium and has scored a fairly solid eight goals in 30 appearances this season.
ST: Christian Benteke
Crystal Palace and Belgium striker Christian Benteke has had two spells at Genk - the first coming as a youngster from 2006 onwards and the second in 2011 after leaving Standard Liege to return to The Smurfs. When Villa signed him as a relatively unknown quantity in 2012, he had scored 18 goals in 29 games in domestic football and in Europe in that calendar year.
In the 2012/13 season alone in a struggling Villa side, he netted 23 goals in his first season at the club and followed with up with tallies of 11 and 16 goals in the next two campaigns. Granted, his Liverpool stint did not work out after a big £32.5 million but to be fair, scoring 10 goals in 42 appearances isn't the worst record ever.
Crystal Palace paid what could end up being £32 million for his services in the summer and even in a relegation-battling Palace side, he's still managed a commendable 11 goals this season.
Genk certainly played a huge part in his progression, like they have done with a number of the players who feature in the above XI.
Similarly, here's what a few other teams could have looked like had they not offloaded their assets.
(h/t Give Me Sport)