Romeo Lavia: From Anderlecht Heartbeat to Premier League Prodigy
The Precocious Talent
Romeo Lavia, a 15-year-old midfield dynamo, turned heads at Anderlecht back in June 2019. In particular, he caught the eye of one footballing maestro, Pep Guardiola. It was an invitation from Kevin De Bruyne that had brought the Manchester City boss to Belgium, but it was Lavia’s mesmerising play that left a lasting impression.
Lavia was a standout player, even among boys two years his senior. Jules Houttequiet, his team-mate from Anderlecht’s youth setup, reminisces, “He was two years younger and he was a nice guy…He never lost the ball. He was so calm.”
Guardiola, in Belgium for the KDB Cup, spotted Lavia’s talent during an under-15s match. “When he was young and playing eight-versus-eight games, I remember thinking he was an interesting talent even then,” Jean Kindermans, Anderlecht’s head of academy, told The Athletic.
That day, Anderlecht clinched the tournament win and Lavia, reserved off the field but audacious on it, dazzled. The teenage maestro was the heart of the Anderlecht midfield, and his performance had Guardiola remembering the name.
The Manchester City Connection
Guardiola’s admiration for Lavia was duly noted by Vincent Kompany, former Anderlecht player and compatriot of Lavia. The message was passed on to Craig Bellamy, ex-City player and Anderlecht’s under-21 coach, who was also enthralled by the young midfielder’s talent.
The growing interest in Lavia from Guardiola put Anderlecht in a precarious position. Belgium had recently changed their ruling to allow clubs to offer professional deals to 15-year-old players, but Anderlecht still felt vulnerable.
Despite their best efforts and even a meeting with Belgium’s national manager, Roberto Martinez, Lavia, the young starlet who had joined Anderlecht’s academy at age seven, decided not to sign a professional contract. Instead, he headed for Manchester City in July 2020.
The Learning Curve
Lavia’s style of play, modelled on deep-lying midfielders like City captain Fernandinho, aligned perfectly with City’s principles of play. However, first-team opportunities were scarce. Guardiola couldn’t offer the assurances Lavia sought for regular playing time.
Southampton came calling in July 2022, signing Lavia for a deal worth £10million. Such was City’s reluctance to let him go, they installed a significant sell-on percentage and a £40million buy-back clause that comes into play in 2024.
Lavia quickly established himself as a standout player at Southampton. Despite a challenging season for the club that ended in relegation, he shone bright. His performances earned him a debut for Belgium’s senior side in March and saw Southampton turn down a £50million verbal offer from Chelsea just six weeks after he signed.
The Future for Lavia
As the summer transfer window approaches, there’s no shortage of interest in Lavia from the top six Premier League clubs. His intelligence, professionalism, and hard work make him an ideal fit for any club, according to Kindermans.
Lavia’s story is an incredible testament to his resilience and talent, proving his ability to adapt to new clubs, people, and trainers. His meteoric rise from the Anderlecht academy to the Premier League is only the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant career.
Meanwhile, at Anderlecht, their attention turns to the next Lavia, Joakim, Romeo’s younger brother and captain of Anderlecht’s under-14s. As Kindermans concludes, “Congrats to Romeo on his achievement… But don’t worry, I’m sure all the big teams in Britain know him (Joakim) already.”