Prior to Michy Batshuayi setting Bundesliga fans’ pulses racing with his on-loan escapades for Borussia Dortmund last season, many other influential Belgians played a big role in Germany’s top division. With Axel Witsel's arrival in Dortmund, more success could be coming soon. We take a look at five Red Devils who hit the Bundesliga big time.
Now unquestionably one of the world’s greatest players, De Bruyne’s footballing journey to superstardom has been a fascinating one. His god-like status with Belgium mirrors the divine air he currently carries in the sky-blue of Manchester City, while there was also a time, not so long ago, that the mesmerising attacking midfielder was the toast of the Bundesliga.
First arriving in Germany with Bremen on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea in 2012, a then 21-year-old De Bruyne quickly began winning over fans with his direct running and eye for goal.
Not long after making his debut for the River Islanders, the attacker netted in successive games against Hannover and Stuttgart while as the season advanced, his services were used through the middle, on either flank and even as a striker. A couple of goals in Bremen’s final fixtures went a long way to helping the club retain their top-flight status.
A brief return to Chelsea didn’t quite work out for this Belgian, yet the English Premier League side’s loss was Wolfsburg’s windfall. Agreeing to a permanent move to Lower-Saxony in the winter of 2014, De Bruyne went on to enjoy UEFA Europa League qualification with his new teammates, who celebrated a fifth-place Bundesliga finish.
That tasty starter was merely the warm-up to a phenomenal 2014/15 campaign in which Wolfsburg would win the DFB Cup and finish as Bundesliga runners-up, earning the Wolves a place in the UEFA Champions League.
Their star, and indeed the best player in the land that term, was De Bruyne. The Belgian was on fire, thumping home three doubles that included a brace in a 4-1 win against Bayern Munich while he also netted in the German cup showpiece triumph against Borussia Dortmund in Berlin.
Following a campaign in which he ended with 16 goals and 28 assists (with a record 21 of those in the Bundesliga) in all competitions, De Bruyne was hailed as the finest player in the German top flight. A move to City soon followed, as did adulation with Belgium – for whom he has now scored 15 goals in 68 games. Yet for his electrical displays and game-changing skills, Kevin De Bruyne will never be forgotten as a legend that lit up the Bundesliga.
Daniel Van Buyten
Bundesliga clubs: Hamburg, Bayern Munich
Somewhat surprisingly, Van Buyten began his career as a striker, until the coaching staff at Charleroi spotted his potential as a central defender. Later impressing at Marseille – where he was a Ligue 1 defender of the year – and then briefly and Manchester City, the goalscoring defender had no sooner rocked up at Hamburg in 2004 when he was made club captain. Some 34 games, five goals and a UEFA Intertoto Cup win later, the physically imposing defensive workhorse was the toast of the Volksarkstadion.
It was to get even sweeter for the Red Shorts and Van Buyten in the following campaign, with a third-place Bundesliga finish propelling the club to the UEFA Champions League qualifiers. His 27 games that season piqued the interest of giants Bayern, whose then coach Ottmar Hitzfeld soon landed his man. Despite a slow beginning to life on Bavaria, Van Buyten was used as part of a three-man defence alongside Lucio and Martin Demichelis in 2008/09 before becoming a more regular fixture under Louis van Gaal the following season.
The titles began to flow and by the end of an illustrious career in Bavaria, Van Buyten – who competed at two FIFA World Cups for Belgium – had won four Bundesliga and DFB Cup doubles and became the first Belgian to win the UEFA Champions League in 2013, Eric Gerets having won the tournament in its previous guise.
Club: Bayern Munich
In any list of the all-time world’s best goalkeepers, the name Jean-Marie Pfaff will always rank high. A Belgian Footballer of the Year with SK Beveren at a young age, the talented custodian joined Bayern – where the legendary Sepp Maier had retired just a few years earlier - after the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
Despite conceding a bizarre own goal on his debut for the Bundesliga giants, Pfaff soon went on to atone for that error in his 155 subsequent top-flight games.
Part of a superb Bayern team that boasted the likes of Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme, the goalkeeper – who appeared in four major international tournaments for Belgium - picked up three Bundesliga titles and won two DFB Cups during his six-year stay in Bavaria. He finally hung up his gloves after a long and distinguished career in 1990.
Bundesliga club: Hertha Berlin
Goor is fondly remembered at Die Alte Dame (the Old Lady) where he racked up 13 goals in 87 Bundesliga appearances following his move to the club from Anderlecht in 2001.
Hertha’s most recent silverware were a couple of Bundesliga 2 titles in 2011 and 2013. Prior to that, the capital side won back-to-back DFB League Cups, a now defunct competition. Goor was on board for both of those triumphs, with the left-winger leaving his mark on a three-season spell in Germany.
If asked about his personal Bundesliga highlight during that time, the former captain of Belgium might point to the time he scored four goals in a 6-0 win against Hamburg in 2001/02.
Bundesliga club: Schalke
Considered a giant among fans of the Royal Blues, ‘Willi the fighting pig,’ as Wilmots became affectionately known among supporters, enjoyed two very successful spells with the Gelsenkirchen outfit.
In his first, he netted 21 goals in 104 Bundesliga matches, yet his status rose to that of hero when he not only scored in the 1997 UEFA Cup final first leg against Inter Milan, the Belgian also netted the winning spot-kick in the penalty shootout following the return game in Italy.
Returning to Schalke after a stint at Bordeaux, the attacking midfielder – who was present at four FIFA World Cups, playing in three – was part of The Miners’ successful DFB Cup run that concluded with a 4-2 final victory against Bayer Leverkusen.