Young Belgian central defensive colossus Daniel Van Buyten is now standing tall as his country’s most expensive player following his œ7.7million move from Standard Liege to Marseille.

The 23-year-old had been linked with Leeds United and Schalke. But once Marseille appeared on the scene, they were always likely to get their man.

OM president Robert Louis-Dreyfus was until recently a majority shareholder at Standard, Van Buyten was a childhood fan of the Provencal club, and the Belgian starlet was keen to renew acquaintances with Tomislav Ivic, the Croat coach who had been his mentor at Standard before leaving for Marseille last spring.

‘Of course, it will be a big advantage for me that I know coach Ivic and his methods,’ says Van Buyten, who joined Standard in 1999 from Sporting Charleroi. ‘I made a lot of progress under him at Standard and I think it will be the same at Marseille.

‘OM have just had two poor seasons but that doesn’t change anything. Ivic and Bernard Tapie (Marseille’s sports director) were very persuasive. I could not refuse. They want to take OM back to the top next season and it’s an exciting challenge for me.’

Some observers have argued that OM have paid too much for a central defender who is not the paciest and has only limited full international experience D he won his first cap in February. Yet when Ivic describes Van Buyten, who stands 1.96m tall, as the ‘new Jaap Stam’, he is by no means indulging in flights of fantasy.

Like Stam, Van Buyten is immensely powerful in the air and in the tackle, and bristling with steely competitiveness. But the young Belgian has other qualities too. His positional sense and distribution are sound, and he has the versatility to play as a stopper or sweeper.

Van Buyten, or ‘Big Dan’ as he is known in Belgium, has certainly inherited the physical stature of his father Francis, a former professional wrestler. He has also benefited from Francis’ role as personal trainer and football coach during his formative years. As well as enforcing a tough fitness regime, Van Buyten senior also worked endlessly on his son’s skills, particularly his heading.

‘There was a field next to our house and so I put up some goalposts there,’ recalls Francis. ‘I had seven or eight balls and I would put in crosses for Daniel and his brother Alain to head. These sessions seemed to go on for ever. I would centre something like 120 balls, one after the other.’

And how it has paid off.

Club Club Marseille (Fra)
Country Belgium
Born February 7, 1978, in Froidchapelle
Previous clubs JS Froidchapelle, Olympic Charleroi, UBS Auvelais, Somzee, Sporting Charleroi, Standard Liege
International debut February 2001, v San Marino
International caps 2 (1 goal)