Football is a mysterious beast at times, where talent at a young age doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate prosperous professional career.

Of course, you have players like Kylian Mbappé, or even Erling Haaland, who smash everything in their way, but there are many, many others who might have been some of the best in their national team’s youth group only for it to translate to a difficult start in the professional world.

That is what appears to be happening with Stoke City’s Thibaud Verlinden, who recently returned to the bet365 Stadium after a first half of the season on loan at Bolton in League One.

He’s made a couple of cameos from the bench since, but there was a time when the 20-year-old was considered one of the best in his age group in Belgium; better than the likes of Alexis Salemaekers, who left Anderlecht in January on loan with a view to buy to Milan in Serie A.

This is all according to former Manchester United goalkeeper Ilias Moutha-Sebtaoui, who gave an interview to Walfoot about his former teammate’s move to Italy.

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Asked if Salemaekers was the best in his team at the time, he said: “Oh no, not at all (laughs), but he has great confidence in himself. He’s also grown physically and is more at ease in challenges. His personality helped him a lot”.

Pressed about who was better than him, Moutha-Sebtaoui said: “With the national team, among the players deemed more talented than him, there was Thibaud Verlinden, currently at Stoke City. Adrien Bongiovanni, who’s at Monaco. In defence, Zinho Vanheusden, very strong. They were all stronger than Alexis, and I forget a few…”

All this, of course, doesn’t mean the Stoke City youngster will never achieve great things as a football player, especially since he’s still only 20, but it’s just an example of how certain moves can impact a player’s career.

Bought from Standard Liège back in 2015 when the Potters were still in the Premier League, Verlinden has only managed 11 appearances in five years at the club.

Had he stayed in Belgium, perhaps he would have had more chances at getting on a pitch, just like Salemaekers, who totalled 64 appearances for Anderlecht’s first-team before getting his move to Milan.

Only time will tell who ends up with the better career.