clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Getting To Know the Belgian Barricade: Mile Svilar

Roma has found itself another Belgian. But will he turn into the next Nainggolan or the next Vermaelen?

SL Benfica B v Varzim SC - Liga Portugal 2 Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Mile Svilar. Don’t let his name fool you, Mile is a born and bred Belgian. Starting his football career in Antwerp as a kid and joining Belgium’s most prestigious club Anderlecht (well, currently there’s a lot of debate going on about that in the land of fries and waffles) through his teenage years. Then he left his home country at the age of 18 to play for Benfica, another prestigious club. Curiously, Mile didn’t play a single official minute in Belgium but obviously, Benfica’s scouts saw something promising in him.

Son of former Serbia and Antwerp goalkeeper Ratko Svilar, Mile has featured in all of Belgium’s youth teams but eventually chose the Serbian NT since he has a double passport. Not that surprising if you know Courtois, Belgium’s current number one keeper, is only 30 and still going strong. Plus there’s also Casteels, Selz, and Van Crombrugge to compete with. Not that easy for a 22-year-old.

Ever since his Anderlecht days, Svilar has been hailed as an exceptional talent. He was said to be the future number one keeper at Anderlecht, only to leave too soon. taking a risk by joining a foreign team. Admittedly, Mile could have chosen to fight for his place at Anderlecht first and gain some experience before taking such a big step. After all, Courtois also opted to stay in Belgium as a prodigy, first winning the league title at Genk at only 18 years before joining Chelsea. Perhaps all those agents and media made his teenage head spin and let him think he was truly the next coming of Casillas, Neuer, or Buffon.

Perhaps he made the wrong career choices but that doesn’t mean he can still turn into quite the goalkeeper. He has interesting attributes. He isn’t as tall as Courtois or Van Der Sar but apparently has an amazing physique, agility, and reflexes. A modern athlete. Consider him more like a cat between the sticks. A new Alisson on our hands, if we’re dreaming big.

And he has the full support of his father. Ratko Svilar became a legend and cult hero at Antwerp, playing 16 seasons for the club, and winning the cup in 1992. He also had an amazing mop-top hairstyle, one that would have made Francesco Totti circa 2001 jealous. Fun fact: he retired at the age of 46th (!) in Belgium’s first division. The man sure loved to play football.

So far AS Roma has been a hit or miss for Belgians. We all know how Radja Nainggolan turned out. An instant fan favorite, one of the finest midfielders of Serie A, and tailormade for the club and its fanbase. Thomas Vermaelen? Errr, not so much. Thomas was a walking corpse and more injured than not; barely made a contribution in his one and only season at Roma in 2016-2017. Vermaelen was (he’s retired now) undoubtedly a fine defender but he was never a match made in heaven for Roma, unlike Radja. Nainggolan was destined for Roma.

So, will Svilar become our next Ninja? Or another forgettable addition like so many others before him, playing only a handful of Coppa games, leaving through the backdoor, or being sent out on three different loan spells ala Olsen? Time will tell but at the age of 22 (23 this summer), Mile has plenty of time as keepers traditionally enter their prime around 28-30. With Rui Patricio, Smalling and Mourinho, he is surrounded by enough experience and know-how to take over Rui’s gloves once the Portuguese keeper's contract expires in two years. Roma sure has an exciting blend of youth and experience in Rui and Svilar for the near future.

Nevertheless, he’ll need to show up for training and prove to the bosses that those Benfica scouts weren’t wrong back in 2017. Otherwise, he’ll end up like Fuzato or Pau, both also young and talented keepers who missed that spark, that vital piece to succeed in a city like Rome and a club like Roma. In Rome, he’ll need to fight for his spot too but it seems Mourinho is an admirer (he faced Benfica with Manchester United in 2018) so that’s actually quite an advantage for Mile. He just needs to earn José’s trust and repay his faith.

I get that some fans are a bit skeptical about this move, though. After all, Mile left Belgium far too soon and at Benfica, he wasn't even a starter. He mainly played for Benfica’s B team since 2019—the reserves who play in Portugal’s second division. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence now, does it?

Mile does hold some nice records though, like being the youngest goalkeeper ever in the Champions League (Benfica vs Manchester United in 2017), beating Casillas’ previous record. Or becoming the youngest goalkeeper, in general, to play for Benfica. Or the youngest goalkeeper to save a penalty in the Champions League. Sounds good and all, but that’s a long time ago.

Now Mile needs to finally fulfill his prophecy. His mission: to become Roma’s next Ninja, this time between the posts. And who knows, maybe stay at the Capital until 2046, when he’s 46?

Then we can all say Grazie mille, Mile.