PROSPECT | Sebastiaan Bornauw

Originally hailing from Wemmel in Belgium, FC Köln’s new star defenceman Sebastiaan Bornauw has had a very different upbringing in football. Moving to Morocco at the age of six due to his father’s work, Bornauw began his blossoming career with Wydad AC in the bustling coastal town of Casablanca. It’s from here where the foundations were laid for a career that is very much on the ascendancy currently with Bundesliga side FC Köln.

Prior to his €6 million transfer to FC Köln during the summer transfer window of 2019 from Belgian side Anderlecht, young defender Bornauw enjoyed a very non-conventional start to footballing life. Now 21 and flourishing in the German Bundesliga, Bornauw started his playing career in Morocco with domestic champions Wydad AC in Casablanca. Speaking to recently, the Köln star explained: my dad was working in Morocco. I first lived in Belgium, then France, then Morocco because of my dad’s job. I started playing football there at the age of six. That was my first club and I have really good memories of that time.”

After a year playing in Northern African, the Belgian native returned home and enjoyed a brief spell with first division side FCV Dender E.H before joining Anderlecht’s famous youth set up shortly afterwards. Making his debut in 2018 at the age of 19, Bornauw became a key part of the first team with the former Belgian champions, making 29 appearances in all competitions. The young defender playing in the Jupiler Pro League, in the domestic play-offs and four times in the Europa League during his break-out season. His consistent and solid performances at the back for Anderlecht further led to a debut for the Belgian under 21 side in October 2018.

His power, pace and poise on the ball mixed with his physical presence during his first season with the Belgian side alerted a number of possible suitors looking to take the young defender away from Lotto Park. It was recently promoted Bundesliga side FC Köln who got a deal done first and the youngster moved to the RheinEnergieStadion last summer. The Belgian U-21 international has spoken very highly of his move since then across the border to Germany in the media: “the adjustment went very smoothly, especially because I immediately felt at home here. It is great to be in Germany and to be able to play in such a championship for a beautiful club.”

Since then, Bornauw has gone from strength to strength after Köln’s original poor start to the season and has become a huge player for the Billy Goats at both ends of the pitch in their push for a mid-table Bundesliga finish.

Despite now playing as a commanding no-nonsense central defender with Die Geißböcke, Bornauw actually began his footballing career as a striker during his younger years. His previous forays upfront have helped him to notch five goals in 22 appearances so far in his debut season with the German side, the clubs second top-scorer this term behind striker Jhon Cordoba. Moreover, in the Bundesliga this season Bornauw is the second highest scoring central defender behind Eintracht Frankfurt’s Martin Hinteregger.

Standing at 6 foot 2, the young Belgian offers a big presence in both penalty areas, highlighted in the fact that all five goals have come from set pieces, three of which have been towering headers. An added bonus in an attacking sense for Köln.

It’s his performances at the back though that are unequivocally more important. Normally playing besides Rafael Czichos in a four-at-the-back formation, Bornauw has demonstrated some stand-out characteristics to date whilst playing for current tenth-placed Köln.

A no-nonsense centre back who’s robust in the challenge, the young Belgian has been widely likened to former Bayern Munich defender Daniel Van Buyten, also currently Bornauw’s agent, with his playing style. Despite Bornauw responding to the comparisons modestly, “I have a long way to go compared to the career he has had” the similarities are there to be seen.

During the 2019/20 season so far, Bornauw has played 22 matches for Koln, amassing a total of 1973 minutes in the Bundesliga. His tackling has been one of his stronger traits on the pitch, having won 21 tackles in total, displaying a tackle success ratio of 65.63% in the process. This is a much higher percentage than similar players of his age in the league such as Robin Koch at Frieburg who has a 60% successful tackle rate or Ozan Kabak at Schalke whose figure is well down at 47%.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the overall strongest area of the Belgian’s game is his positioning and all-round defensive awareness. Bornauw’s vision defensively rarely sees him out of position and that coupled with his solid aerial ability makes him hard to beat when faced one-on-one. On top of that, his leadership qualities have been well-received by Köln fans and represent a part of his game that has surprised many to date.

With the ball at his feet though Bornauw can seemingly struggle. The Belgian U-21 international is not the type of centre-back to crisply control the ball and then take the time to play a ball through to the midfield. This season has revealed a preference to play long, lofted passes to the forwards with the young defender looking rushed and flustered on the ball on occasion. His lack of pace and agility also presents a worry if caught up-field on the counterattack from set pieces.

Despite his rough edges and raw talent, there’s already an apparent high level of interest surfacing from teams towards the top end of the Bundesliga looking to make a move for Sebastiaan Bornauw this summer. It’s for this reason coupled with his hard work to date this term that FC Köln are already looking for the defender to sign a new contract extension despite his current deal running until June 2024. This simply highlights just how crucially important the young Belgian defender has already become for this club. 

Nathan Evans.

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