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Lateral play and Love Island: what to know about Red Bulls target Dante Vanzeir

Belgian forward targeted by Red Bulls is quite the character on and off the pitch

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Royal Antwerp FC v Royale Union Saint-Gilloise - Jupiler Pro League - Championship Round
Dante Vanzeir watch is officially on.
Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

The big rumor of the winter transfer window has hit airwaves and wifi routers.

As confirmed stateside by Tom Bogert on Monday afternoon, the New York Red Bulls are pursuing Dante Vanzeir of Union Saint-Gilloise. The Belgium international forward (one cap) has scored 42 league goals across the domestic first and second divisions over the last three years, and may take some jingle-jangling to pry loose. At least, that’s what was told to Het Laatste Nieuws.

He is, of course, aware of the interest. “For the moment, I’m still at Union and that’s what I’m focusing on,” said the 24-year-old (via FootNews and Walfoot). “We’ll see in the future if this interest is concrete. My agent, my father and the people around me are taking care of it. If I feel flattered? Yes, of course. It’s fun because it rewards my performance. But I’m not going to dream about it either. Whether it’s America or Europe, it doesn’t really matter to me. The project has to be complete, otherwise I wouldn’t want to leave. But if something suits me 100%, I’m old enough to make a decision. It’s hard for me to say now if I’m staying at the Union. There are still 20 days left for something to happen.”

The manager, Karel Geraerts, appears to not give a turkey what happens with the striker. “I count on every player in my squad and he is very important to me,” shared the 41-year-old. “But it’s not my job to convince him to stay or to tell him to leave. Each player has his own path, his own career. As a coach, I can only advise him. And the advice I give him is to be ready for Sunday, to focus on the derby. The rest is the work of his agents and entourage.”

Of course, Vanzeir is no stranger to headlines and the pressures of the media. He is said to have been in a relationship with Love Island contestant and former Miss Walloon Brabant, Raphaëlla Deuringer, who competed (?) during season two of the Belgian syndicated series. According to Nieuwsblad, she “fell for the curly-haired Matthew,” who was then “snatched away” by Jaimy.

However, her return during the third season of the show indicated that her relationship with Vanzeir was, in fact, over. The footballer reportedly posted a clown emoji to the “stories” section of his personal Instagram account, alleged to be a “telling reaction” to her television appearance. In her own post, she wished him “the best in his career and [hopes] he can fulfill all his dreams,” noting that “sometimes two people just aren’t made for each other.”

Well, uh… (clears throat) … maybe Vanzeir and the Red Bulls are… meant to be together.

New York’s squad shape appears to signal a good fit as well. After a season where the team struggled to turn breakouts and overloads in wide areas into goals, Vanzeir appears to hint at an adjusted approach.

1. FC Union Berlin v Royale Union Saint-Gilloise: Group D - UEFA Europa League
Vanzeir is the type of quick wide forward who could thrive in a Red Bull system.
Photo by Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Vanzeir most typically lines up for USG as the right-sided forward in a 3-5-2 formation used by Geraerts, peeling out wide and hugging the line like a traditional winger as much as crashing the box like a striker. His goals often come in the type of quick breakouts and counter attacks Red Bull likes to make hay from, but the question becomes where does he fit in a New York formation loaded with a variety of wide forward players.

If Gerhard Struber plans again on using the 5-4-1/3-4-3 hybrid he rode 2022 with, Vanzeir would be an ideal fit for the type of deep-and-wide forward roles Struber often deployed Luquinhas, Lewis Morgan, Serge Ngoma, and Omir Fernandez to freelance in at points of last year. But even more enticing is the chance Vanzeir offers to return to the 4-4-2 diamond formation that Struber attempted to install in his first few months in Harrison. With Cory Burke added in free agency, Elias Manoel signed permanently, and Patryk Klimala apparently back at preseason in good spirits after an offseason of exit rumors, the addition of Vanzeir would give New York a full stable of mobile, incisive forwards capable of operating in wide areas.

The thought of a January Red Bulls transfer saga always arouses the memory of a certain Paraguayan-Argentine. Could Vanzeir prove to be the type of final piece that Kaku did in the rampant Shield season of 2018? Getting him signed appears to be an ample challenge to begin with, but the ingredients for a dream are being measured out in Harrison.