Charles De Ketelaere: Quiet Elegance

Finally, Milan have signed the young Belgian player of their dreams. Having followed Charles De Ketelaere for years and initially contacting his agent two years ago, Maldini and Massara worked excruciatingly hard for eight very long and rumor-filled months to bring him to Italy. He is finally here. Milan paid one of the top transfer fees in the club's history, plus committed to a percentage of his sell-on fees to Club Brugge just to bring him here. His transfer saga was very stressful for all involved, including for the player himself. He is actually a very normal, shy, quiet person whose incredible talent and potential is masked only by his quiet elegance.

Massive talent and potential, and Milan character

At only 21 years old, the fierce competition for his signature was an indication of the talent he has shown playing for his hometown Club Brugge in domestic and European competitions. Born March 10, 2001 and raised just outside of Bruge, Belgium, he began playing for his local club, KFC Varsenare along with other friends from school. Right away, he was noticed by Club Brugge, and he joined their academy at the young age of seven. After a year of trying to play for both clubs to be able to stay with his friends, he made the switch to Club Brugge exclusively. De Ketelaere grew in their academy, also working as a ballboy, and he was such a fan, he had posters of Club Brugge players on his walls. 

Young Charles and his older brother Louis De Ketelaere

Simultaneously, he was also playing tennis, and took lessons at a top sports academy in the area. He was regional champion of his age group twice before he decided to give up tennis to focus entirely on football. His mother said that he struggled with unfair calls in tennis, something he apparently still struggles with sometimes in football, according to her (he probably did not see Milan's season last year.) The player himself is quoted as saying that he would rather play football with his friends in the evening than play tennis alone for an hour.

He could have been king of the court

He says he was given the number 90 at a young age and started winning with it, so wanted to keep it, that's why he still wears it now. There was a difficult time for De Ketelaere around the age of 16 when he struggled with some physical problems because he grew so fast. He reportedly grew 10-15 cm. (4-6 inches) in one year, which caused problems with his knees, amongst other things. But once he stopped growing so explosively, his problems disappeared, and he now stands at an imposing 1.92 m (6 ft. 3 in.)

It was also around this time that De Ketelaere moved, first to the club's U17 side, then to their U21 team just six months later. His senior debut with Club Brugge was at the age of 18 in a Belgian Cup match. Just a month later, he found himself playing in the Champions League against PSG. He scored his first goal later that season, and would eventually score a total of 25 goals and make 20 assists for the club in 120 appearances in all competitions in three seasons.

Versatile, intelligent, and hardworking

Club Brugge fans originally dubbed him Prince Charles, but then crowned him King Charles when he scored the winning goal in stoppage time away to Zenit in the Champions League in October of 2020. Let's just say that a certain former Anderlecht player is no longer the only Belgian King in Milano. Not that De Ketelaere is the type to talk smack. Perhaps his agent, Tom de Mul, who played alongside Ibrahimović at Ajax, could manage the smack talk for him. For someone who wore the Blauw-Zwart (Blue-Black) his whole career, he is clearly intelligent enough to choose the Rossoneri now. Or maybe it was just because he doesn't like cheaters.

There is a new King in Milano

Speaking of intelligence, he had to give up law school when his footballing career began to take off. That intelligence also translates to footballing IQ, one of his hallmarks, as he is known for clever movement both on and off the ball. Not only is he very talented at finding space and positioning himself well, his talents with dribbling and passing are amazing, especially for someone so tall. His trademark, elegant gait when he runs is evoking comparisons with a certain Brazilian Milan legend, but I believe that he will write his own story at Milan.

His first day at Milanello

There are obviously the goals and the assists, which is how fans tend to measure a player's abilities, and everyone knows about his brilliant left foot, but De Ketelaere is so much more than just a goalscorer. He is incredibly versatile, being able to play at any of the attacking midfield positions, and has been used as a center forward, a false nine, a wingback, and even a left back. While some people feel that he needs to cement his one place in the team, with most people agreeing the trequartista role suits him best, his versatility is exactly what Pioli needs in a squad that is missing some important pieces. He even does well to contribute defensively.

Champions League scoring... when the Prince became a King

His Champions League experience will be vital. He already has 16 appearances for Club Brugges and two goals and an assist at the highest level so early in his career. That's more than many of our players who are much older. Playing in the Champions League was clearly another reason he came to Milan over the Premier League clubs courting him, endearing himself to fans when he was willing to take a pay cut just to make the deal go through.

Milan's future nutmegs Milan's past

De Ketelaere has featured for Belgium at the U16, U17, U19, U21, and senior levels. He already has eight caps for the senior team, and scored his first and only goal so far by infamously nutmegging former Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma at Juventus stadium in the Nations League tournament last year. He joins fellow Belgian internationals Alexis Saelemaekers and Divock Origi at Milan, although the former may not be as excited at his arrival. It seems De Ketelaere is getting more playing time for Belgium than Saelemaekers these days, and it will likely be similar at Milan, as well. 

A legacy of winning trophies

Winning league trophies

And lifting Supercup trophies, too

Winning is an expectation now for De Ketelaere, as he won the Belgian Jupiler Pro League all three seasons with the first team, as well as two Belgian Supercups. He certainly has a lot of experience lifting trophies. He was also one of only five footballers ever awarded Belgian Promising Talent of the Year, which he won in 2020, following in the footsteps of players such as Divock Origi and Romelu Lukaku. He was also awarded Belgium's Best Young Player of the Year award for 2021 this past January.

One of only 5 footballers to win Belgian Promising Talent of the Year

Awarded Best Young Footballer in Belgium last year

In spite of all of this early success, however, De Ketelaere is a very normal, quiet person. He lives at home with his mom, and he has twin siblings, Louis and Renée, who are three years older than him. He has a longtime girlfriend and does normal things like walk his dog. He helps fans learn to say his name, but avoids going places where he will be asked to take too many selfies or sign autographs.  He is young, humble, hardworking, and fits exactly the profile of the players Maldini likes to sign for Milan's project. 

Quiet, humble, hardworking, and only wanted Milan

Charles De Ketelaere came to Milan to be a part of a winning team, not for personal accolades. Ironically, he also picked a project that will be best for his own personal development as a player, and a place where his talents will inevitably stand out and potentially make him a world class player one day. His immense talents will make him revered, while his humility and determination have already made him endeared. Someday, he will likely become Milan royalty, but at the same time, he will be known for his quiet elegance.

This post inspired by the music of Miles Davis' "Someday My Prince Will Come"

Our next match is 
a preseason friendly
Vicenza vs. Milan
Saturday, August 6 • 19:00 CEST (1pm EDT)
Centro Tecnico Piermario Morosini Stadium, Vicenza
This match will be shown on Sportitalia and is not available in the U.S.

Charles De Ketelaere: Quiet Elegance Charles De Ketelaere: Quiet Elegance Reviewed by Elaine on 7:15 AM Rating: 5
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