With just under 50% of the votes received in the first month, Genk midfielder Bilal El Khannouss finishes at the top of this first phase of the Golden Boy Web, the award given to the best European Under-21 footballer directly by the fans. It has been a global success, with nearly a million votes coming from all over the world in the first thirty days, and now it prepares for the second phase.

Do you know Bilal El Khannouss?

Despite being just 19 years old (having turned 19 last May 10th), Bilal has long been on the radar of some of the world’s biggest clubs, starting with Kevin De Bruyne’s European champion Manchester City, followed by Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax. Italian suitors are not lacking either: Nicolás Andrés Burdisso, the Argentine technical director of Fiorentina, has been spotted multiple times in Belgian stadiums, especially at the Cegeka Arena, to watch the youngster live. On the other hand, Cristiano Giuntoli has been completely enchanted by El Khannouss. He was already planning an operation similar to the one that brought the surprising Georgian Kvaratskhelia to Naples; now that he has landed in Turin, he will try to bring the Genk number 34 with him.

Last February, to safeguard against possible poaching, Genk extended the midfielder’s contract until June 30, 2027. Considering that El Khannouss was signed four years ago from Anderlecht’s youth academy for free, it’s clear that the club of the so-called “Smurfs” (with their blue-and-white official kit) would let him leave for a more prestigious league for a sum around €20 million, negotiable. It would be a substantial capital gain, especially when compared to the values of the Jupiler Pro League, where Genk finished in second place (beaten in the 90th minute of the last matchday by Antwerp) and earned a spot in the second qualifying round of the upcoming Champions League against Geneva’s Servette. It should not be forgotten that Genk, a provincial club, has always sold its best talents to the highest bidder: from Koulibaly to Courtois, from De Bruyne to Milinkovic-Savic.

In the last season, the creative and tireless El Khannouss played a total of 41 games under the guidance of coach Wouter Vrancken, providing 5 assists and scoring 1 goal. There is enormous room for improvement, especially in terms of scoring goals, but his dynamism, propulsion, technique, and imaginative plays have made him, despite being only 18 years old, a key player for the team. He played a total of 2,668 minutes. In a top club in a top league, his growth and final maturation process could be even faster, both in terms of consolidating his diverse technical skills and, above all, in relation to strengthening his physique, which still needs to be further developed muscularly (he is 1.80 meters tall and weighs 70 kilograms), in order to be more effective in duels and shoulder-to-shoulder battles.

He possesses the typical flair and skill of Maghrebian origin playmakers, able to create game-changing moves at any moment. Quick and skillful when dribbling, he starts from a central position and enjoys positioning himself between the lines to seek penetrating passes for the attackers. With excellent ball control, he entertains the crowd with his eye-catching moves, spectacular “numbers,” but they are not just for show or lacking pragmatism. He does not feel pressure during matches, is enterprising, and always takes responsibility. His teammates have great confidence in him, recognizing the qualities that can make a difference.

On the other hand, Bilal enjoys being part of a group. He plays with the confidence of someone who, however, doesn’t let it lead to presumption or arrogance. He is driven by a strong will, the desire to always express proactive and qualitative football. And he has the right mentality to lead the life of a true professional (‘Girlfriend? I’m cautious of girls, I don’t respond to their messages. You never know what their real intentions are.’) in order to manage the exciting moments of his career and the difficult ones that require moral strength and the ability to react positively with wisdom and sobriety.

Bilal (his name is the same as the companion of Prophet Muhammad and the first muezzin of Islam) appears to be much more mature in terms of mentality, personality, and character than many of his peers who flaunt gold Rolex watches and drive flashy high-powered “supercars.” He keeps his feet firmly on the ground and focuses intensely on his work, never forgetting the humble origins of his migrant family in Belgium. His father works on rooftops, facing the summer heat and winter cold. As a young boy, Bilal would bring homemade sandwiches to his father during lunch breaks—life lessons from which he draws inspiration.

Very attached to his family, he enjoys spending his free time in the kitchen preparing tasty dishes. A potential… master chef. His specialty is “sauce à la bolognaise,” as they say in Belgium. The recipe? “Peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and tomato sauce”. A decidedly revised bolognese.

In Morocco, he became a star thanks to the World Cup, as he confessed in recent months. The Belgian press talks about him, comparing his passes to those of Kevin De Bruyne, and the admiration they have for him somewhat counterbalances the disappointment of not seeing him wear the national team jersey.
Pieter-Jan Calcoen wrote about him in Nieuwsblad: “It’s not illogical. In six months, El Khannouss went from the U18 team of RC Genk to the World Cup in Qatar. Soon, he will play there not with, but against the Red Devils,” collecting the player’s testimony. “I played for Belgium in the youth selections. U16, U17,… Then I chose Morocco. I wanted to make my grandparents proud.” This choice came after the national team coach’s call: “The coach’s phone call was very nice,” he said. “And yes, I had to confirm my selection anyway. It was a big surprise for everyone. Then you have to prove it”
After the World Cup, his fame exploded: “At the beginning of this season, I had 18,000 followers on Instagram, but then the World Cup happened, and I played in the third-place playoff. Suddenly, everyone in Morocco knew me. Even in Belgium, I noticed that I am increasingly recognized. What if I put on a hoodie then? (smiles) If they want to take a selfie with me, I’m happy to do it. I also wanted to be photographed with Boussoufa and so on. Now I also receive offers from all kinds of brands, like Arte Antwerp, which collaborated with Milan’s Rafael Leão. But I don’t want to go overboard yet because the most important thing is my performance on the field”.
It’s a success in terms of popularity and social media, which can also become a success in the market in the future, as published in Nieuwsblad. “€32 million is the record amount for which Charles De Ketelaere left Belgium. Genk wants even more for El Khannouss, with names like Manchester City and Napoli following him. ‘It’s a lot of money, but it’s part of the game, and I don’t care. Like those clubs: nice, but it’s for my brokers. They receive calls constantly, but I’m their only client. I don’t want to enter a big agency because in that case, you’re just a product, a number. Furthermore, I recently re-signed here until 2027. And even though I don’t want to make promises, the plan is to stay at Genk for at least another season. There is no better place for me”.