unknown in the Netherlands, the penalty killer in Belgium
Anderlecht-Ludogorets, Conference League intermediate round, last week. It comes down to penalty kicks. Full of confidence, young Dutchman Verbruggen stands on his goal line waiting for the Bulgarians to fire at him one by one.
His memories go back to the Croky Cup a few months before. In the penalty kick series against Lierse SK, Verbruggen took a penalty, only to stand behind the ball himself to poke in the winning one. And with success.
Anderlecht through in the cup, thanks to Verbruggen.
Back to the game with Ludogorets, Thursday night at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. He saved not one, two, but all three(!) of the penalty kicks he faced. Because his teammates do shoot the balls in, the penalty series is quickly finished.
Anderlecht through in Europe, again thanks to Verbruggen.
In the summer of 2020, Belgian superpower Anderlecht plucks the then 18-year-old Verbruggen away from the youth academy of NAC Breda for 300,000 euros, where he is seen as a growth brilliant who is leaving too soon. But against Anderlecht, NAC cannot compete.
Goalkeeper trainer Ten Rouwelaar
In Brussels, he comes through the intercession of goalkeeper trainer Jelle ten Rouwelaar, who has also just made the move from Brabant to Belgium. Verbruggen has known the former goalkeeper since he was fourteen years old from NAC’s youth and considers him his soccer father.
During his first season with Anderlecht, Verbruggen spent most of his time on the bench. During the playoffs in May 2021, when it comes to the Belgian national title, Verbruggen is suddenly first goalkeeper.
“I came here as third goalkeeper and thought: nice, I’ll see. Then I was there for two weeks and the first goalkeeper got injured. And just before the playoffs, the choice of Vincent Kompany (trainer at the time, ed.) suddenly fell on me,” Verbruggen looks back.
Although the title remains far out of Anderlecht’s sight, Verbruggen makes a good impression. The more difficult he finds it to take a good seat on the bench again afterwards, behind first choice and captain Hendrik Van Crombrugge.
Mental coach and Jan Vertonghen
Verbruggen talks about his disappointment with his mental coach, with whom he has worked since his NAC youth. He teaches him to control his emotions. To let things slide away that he has no influence over anyway.
Also this season, Verbruggen starts as a second-round pick. It makes him impatient. During one of the carpool rides from Antwerp to Anderlecht, routine player Jan Vertonghen exhorts him to calm down. His chance will come.
Meanwhile, the young Dutchman is being pulled from England. Championship club Burnley, where old acquaintances Kompany and Ten Rouwelaar now work, wants to capture him. Despite a summer million-dollar offer, no transfer is forthcoming.
Reluctantly, Verbruggen once again takes a seat on the Anderlecht bench. “I told the people on the board that too. I can’t sit on the bench until I’m 24, huh. I have to play,” the 1.94-meter tall goalkeeper told the Belgian press.
That sounds like swagger. A touch of Dutch arrogance, they would say in Belgium. But that is not Verbruggen, calm and steady in himself. He is simply convinced of his abilities.
A change of trainers works out well for him and since the beginning of the year Verbruggen has been the No. 1 at Anderlecht, where he keeps the captain thus on the bench and has been goalkeeping ironclad ever since. With the place in the pre-selection of Oranje as ultimate reward.
He does it for his father, who would have loved this. Coen Verbruggen died unexpectedly in January 2021. He was fifty years old. A day before his cardiac arrest, father and son were still together in Breda.
Now Verbruggen junior carries his father, himself a former goalkeeper and crazy about the game of soccer, with him every game. He has had the letter ‘C’ inscribed on his gloves, he tells the Flemish press.
“When I step on the field now, my dad is always a little bit with me.”