The AGONAsport Profile: Bjorn Engels
AGONAsport’s George Tsitsonis profiles the young Belgian defender Bjorn Engels, signed by Olympiacos at the end of the transfer window.
Bjorn Engels has long been touted as a rising star in Belgium. Ever since joining Club Brugge as a 12-year-old in 2006, Engels has been targeted as a player who would go on to big things.
After years in the club’s academy system, Engels moved up through the ranks to make his first team debut in 2012. His first appearance was in a Europa League match against Bordeaux where he conceded an own goal just a minute after coming on as a substitute.
He came back stronger in the following campaign as he became a mainstay in the starting eleven of Brugge in his first full season as a professional. Under Juan Carlos Garrido’s watchful eye, Engels impressed with his steady play and featured in 33 league matches while chipping in with five goals. It was the player’s true coming out party and already a bright career beckoned.
Injury derailed the next season as the talented center-back suffered a very bad knee injury which meant he would only feature 12 times. In what was nearly a year layoff, Engels returned to the team in December 2015 and played a role in leading his side to the Belgian league title. Injuries continued to obstruct the player, however he still managed 28 appearances in all competitions.
Last season it was more of the same for Engels. When he was fit and playing there was a genuine excitement about the standard of his play and overall quality. However, injuries to his shoulder and abductor did see him forced to sit out for spells of the season.
The current campaign had begun well for Engels as it was a relief to those around him to see him begin the season healthy. Olympiacos came in at the end of August and snapped up the player as a replacement for the departing Panagiotis Retsos in a deal reported to €7.1 million.
At 6’4, Engels is perfectly suited to the aerial game. His ability to win air duels is certainly one of his greatest assets. Not only is Engels strong in the air, but he has an established reputation as a superb tackler. Noted for his ‘clean’ defending, Engels certainly reads the game well and is timely with his interventions. Besides his defending, Engels will also give Olympiacos a new dimension in attack. He has proven a fine goalscorer from set piece situations having racked up 12 goals for Brugge over the last four seasons.
While for a 22-year-old, Engels has a good amount of experience (102 top flight appearances), he hasn’t played tons of football over the last three seasons. Engels has only made 56 appearances over the last three years due mainly to a multitude of injuries picked up.
With his hope to push on a make a move someday to the Premier League and his beloved Arsenal, Engels could have the ambition needed to shore up the Olympiacos backline. This is a player who has always been spoken about as a potential star. His ability has rarely been questioned, but injuries have held back his progression. A couple seasons of doing well in Greece could resurrect hopes of a big money move abroad and that desire to make it big could work in Olympiacos’ favor.
THE BIG QUESTION
Can Engels stay healthy? This is a player that has endured several injuries over the last few seasons. From a serious knee injury to recurring problems with that same knee to shoulder injuries and muscle pulls, Engels has proven to be injury-prone. Olympiacos are banking that he can overcome this and feature regularly for the club.
Olympiacos supporters have waited years for a leader that can take control of the defense. Someone who can organize and lead the backline both domestically and in Europe. Engels seems like that sort of player. Good, both in the air and on the ground, the Belgian defender has shown he has the potential to be an impact player at the top level. That said, there are problems with injuries and questions as to whether he can adapt outside of Belgium.
Previously, Engels came close to the Premier League and ultimately did not make the switch. That in and of itself may be a sign of a player who is mature enough to want to develop further before making that jump. All in all, Olympiacos appear to have made a shrewd acquisition especially if Engels can avoid injuries. This is a young player with experience who is getting better, and also an individual who could be resold for a big fee down the road.