Defensive: Confidence, great reflexes, good grasp, good presence in the heart of the box, good timing in coming out, good technique that allows him to start the play.
Matz Sels was born in 1992, a good year for Belgian goalkeepers (Thibaut Courtois, Koen Casteels and Colin Coosemans all have the same age), in Lint, in the heart of Flanders.
A series of waterways connects the tiny town to Kontich, where the little Matz grew up with his relatives. Dad Luc, a former prolific striker of the suburbs (in the 1981-82 season he scored 10 goals with FC Heist Sportief, in Promotion série C), signed his son up for the nearby voetbalschool. At home, the division almost came naturally—with his dad striking, Matz had no choice but to save. Attitude and height did the rest. He remained at K. Kontich FC a couple of years, just long enough to attract interest from the side he had always supported, Lierse, who is in Lier, just a few miles far from his home. Near your eyes, near your heart, according to an Italian saying. Sels went through each and every Lierse youth team, before making it to the first team at the age of 17. But before having his debut, Matz spent the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons as a backup goalkeeper of Kujović and Kawashima.
However, when the latter joined Standard Liegi in 2012, there was no doubt anymore: Sels would be the starter, and the choice would pay off. He debuted in Jupiler Pro League during a late July afternoon against KAA Gent, who happened to be his next team. He would remember that game for saving a penalty, which would become a trademark throughout his career. With Lierse, Sels had an outstanding season but his explosion was stunted due to conflicts with owner Maged Samy. The Egyptian president, known as an inflexible person, threatened to put a camel in the club’s logo following a quarrel with the fans. As for Sels, the club’s proposal for a contract extension was deemed as inappropriate and led to a breakup, with the player deciding to wait for his deal to expire and leave on a free transfer, which cost Sels the move to the reserve team. With his switch to Gent in a winter, his more-than-10-year relationship with Lierse came to an end. However, his sorrow was soon overcome by the excitement for the chance of being a starter for his new side. The then coach Trond Sollied confirmed that Gent’s courtship had started long before. Ten days from his arrival, Matz already had to prove his ability to save penalties, as he steered his side to success in a tense Belgian Cup quarter-final against KV Kortrijk, managed by Hein Vanhaezebrouk, who would become his next boss. In the summer, he got back to being a starter for Belgium U21, but his path with the national teams came full circle in October 2015, when coach Wilmots took him into account for the Euro 2016 qualifying. Among the dates to remember, there’s the keeper’s Champions League debut, earned after an extraordinary run which resulted in Gent winning his first title in 151 years. Against Lyon, Sels proved lethal for penalty-takers once again, saving Alexandre Lacazette’s attempt from the spot in the closing minutes. His performances didn’t remain unnoticed, and in June 2016 Newcastle signed the player, who now will eye yet another prestigious achievement—bring the Magpies back to the Premier League.
He’s an humble but confident guy. During high school, when he travelled with Lierse, he used to set aside some time to study. A great dedication that was only overcome by his current girlfriend, Jolien Sysmans, who gave up on her swimming career to continue her studies.
Pro and cons
UP: Behaviour in the goal, speed in coming out, saving penalties
DOWN: Diving stile, sheer speed