Top 5 expensive Belgian imports to the Premier League
Aston Villa’s spending spree this summer has grabbed the headlines in the British tabloids.
Manager Dean Smith has already shelled out a lot of money to bring as many as ten new players so far, and with just a week remaining before the transfer deadline, it won’t be surprising to see Villa bag a couple of more scalps in the market.
Apart from ironing out permanent deals for last season’s loanees Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi, Villa have also splashed the cash to bring in the likes of Wesley Moraes, Matt Targett, Jota, Trezeguet, Ezri Konsa, Bjorn Engels and Douglas Luiz as a part of their massive squad overhaul this summer.
Interestingly, it is the towering Brazilian centre-forward Wesley Moraes who has arrived at Villa Park in a club-record £22million deal from Belgian heavyweights Club Brugge, making him the most expensive Belgian import ever in the Premier League.
Looking at the past records, Aston Villa have every reason to be confident of Wesley’s ability to make the step up to the Premier League because this is not the first time that Villa have raided the Belgian market for a centre-forward, having enjoyed resounding success with the transfer of Christian Benteke from KRC Genk back in the 2012-13 season.
Besides the other elite leagues in Europe, the Belgian top-flight, despite not being regarded as a highly competitive ground, has emerged as one of the most reliable markets for the Premier League clubs over the years.
Starting from Romelu Lukaku, Benteke and Aleksandar Mitrovic to the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Wilfred Ndidi and, most recently, Leander Dendoncker, there have been numerous success stories of players acclimatising brilliantly to the Premier League after arriving from Belgian clubs.
Apart from Aston Villa, the likes of Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton have also completed big-money raids on the Belgian market this summer to bring in Leandro Trossard and Moussa Djenepo, which further underpins the fact that the English clubs are not reluctant to show confidence in the Belgian league players.
While players arriving in the Premier League from the lower leagues in Europe are still viewed with suspicion by the English fans, it is worth mentioning here that a big number of the Belgian imports in the English top-flight have done their reputation no harm.
It is definitely worth taking a look at some of the most expensive Belgian imports to the Premier League and how they have fared over the years.
Note: Only the initial sign-on amount in each case is taken into account and the values mentioned below do not include add-ons or performance-related bonuses.
Here are the 5 most expensive players to arrive in the Premier League from the Belgian market:
1. Jose Izquierdo – £13.5million
The diminutive Colombian winger rose to prominence in Europe during his three-year spell at Club Brugge in Belgium, where he carved out a real reputation for himself with his pace, breathtaking solo runs down the flanks and a terrific eye for goal.
The left-winger plundered 38 goals and 19 assists in 117 appearances for Brugge in all competitions, winning the Belgian Cup and the Belgian Pro League, whilst also impressing in the Europa League and the Champions League.
Izquierdo’s heroics in Belgium earned him a £13.5millionmove to the south coast of England with Brighton and Hove Albion in the summer of 2017 and the 27-year-old enjoyed a decent first season at the Amex Stadium, registering 5 goals and 3 assists in the Premier League.
However, the Colombian fell out of favour in his second season under Chris Hughton and managed only 9 starts in the league. Now, it remains to be seen whether new manager Graham Potter has him in his plans for the upcoming campaign.
2. Aleksandar Mitrovic – £13million
The towering Serbian centre-forward was one of the best emerging talents in Europe when Newcastle United splashed out £13million to sign him as a 20-year-old from Anderlecht in the summer of 2015.
Prior to his move to England, Mitrovic had already won the Serbian title with his boyhood club Partizan Belgrade and the Belgian Pro League in his debut campaign at Anderlecht.
A strike rate of 44 goals in 90 appearances was apparently enough to convince Newcastle of Mitrovic’s talent and the Serb showed strong signs of promise in his debut season in the Premier League, although his 9 goals in the 2015-16 season weren’t enough to prevent relegation.
Despite Newcastle’s relegation to the Championship, Mitrovic stayed at St.James’ Park with a view to guiding the Magpies back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.
However, a drastic dip in form in the 2016-17 season saw the Serb find the net on only 4 occasions in 25 league appearances in the second-tier, although Benitez’s side did manage to secure promotion, courtesy of Dwight Gayle’s free-scoring form.
Mitrovic struggled in the 2017-18 season in the Premier League before resurrecting his career on loan at Fulham in the Championship, scoring 12 in 20 games in the second half of the 2017-18 season to propel the Cottagers to the top-flight.
His promotion-winning heroics earned him a permanent deal at Craven Cottage and Mitrovic impressed with 11 goals in Fulham’s 2018-19 Premier League campaign, which ultimately ended in relegation.
3. Wilfred Ndidi – £15million
The tough-tackling and all-action central defensive midfielder made his professional debut for Genk back in the 2014-15 season and his resounding success in the Belgian top-flight over the next couple of seasons paved the way for a £15millionmove to Leicester City in January 2017.
Apart from impressing in the latter half of Leicester’s remarkable run to the quarter-finals of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League, Ndidi soon established himself as one of the most daunting and energetic defensive midfielders in the Premier League and nailed down a regular starting role right from the beginning of his time at the King Power Stadium.
Still only 22, Ndidi has already proven himself to be an exceptional talent and Leicester might struggle to hold on to him for too long if he continues to develop at such a rapid rate.
The Nigerian international continues to be a massive bargain for Leicester and the Foxes are likely to recoup at least two to three times the money should they decide to move him on in the near future.
4. Marouane Fellaini – £15million
The Belgian international’s towering frame and bushy haircut became a familiar sight for the Premier League fans for almost a decade, especially for those at Goodison Park and Old Trafford.
Former Everton manager David Moyes was the man responsible for bringing the 6ft 4in central midfielder to the Premier League in 2008 for a fee of £15million from Standard Liege and he reunited with Fellaini at Man United in the summer of 2013.
Fellaini went on to enjoy an illustrious and distinguished career in English football, and racked up a mammoth 354 appearances in all competitions for Everton and Man United combined, registering a total of 55 goals and 38 assists in the process.
The 2018-19 season proved to be Fellaini’s swansong in the Premier League, with the Belgian moving to the Chinese Super League in January 2019.
However, he has to go down as one of the best ever Belgian imports in the history of the Premier League, having won the FA Cup, League Cup and the Europa League with Man United.
5. Romelu Lukaku- £12 million
Currently one of the stalwarts in the Premier League, Romelu Lukaku bagged 41 goals in 98 appearances for Anderlecht and won a host of honours in Belgium, including the Belgian Pro League in 2009-10 and the Ebony Shoe before earning a £12million move to Chelsea in 2011.
Lukaku, however, struggled for playtime at Stamford Bridge and established himself as a free-scoring forward in the Premier League during his loan spells, netting 17 for West Brom in the 2012-13 season and following it up with another 16 at Everton in the following campaign.
The Belgian centre-forward joined Everton permanently in 2014 and subsequently carved out a massive reputation for himself owing to his free-scoring form, which saw him rack up a staggering 87 goals in 166 appearances for the Toffees.
Following his resounding success at Everton, Lukaku moved to Man United for a fee of £75million in 2016 but his returns have dipped slightly during his stint at Old Trafford, as he has accumulated just 42 goals in 96 appearances for the Red Devils till date.
Where will the 3 newly promoted teams finish this season? Can Norwich and Aston Villa beat the drop?
PL prediction: Where will the 3 newly promoted teams finish this season?
Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa are the three newly-promoted teams that have come into the Premier League this season.
Only once in Premier League history have all three promoted teams dropped straight back down, and that was back in 1997-98.
Furthermore, there have been three instances when all three promoted teams have survived, most recently in 2017-18, when Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town all retained their Premier League status.
All the three promoted teams this season – Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, have had contrasting starts to the campaign so far. That being said, let’s take a look at who will finish where in the table.
1. Norwich City – 12th
Daniel Farke’s Norwich City took the Championship by storm and confirmed their promotion fairly early.
During the summer transfer window, the Canaries made some interesting signings in Sam Byram, Patrick Roberts, Josip Drmic and Ralf Fahrmann. Clearly, Farke relies on those players who served the club well last season.
Norwich’s opener against Liverpool turned out to be a heavy defeat for the visitors as they lost 4-1 at Anfield. It could have been worse than that but thanks to goalkeeper Tim Krul, as he made a couple of outstanding saves.
But Farke’s side have shown great character to come back from the disheartening opening day defeat at Anfield. They defeated Newcastle United 3-1 at Carrow Road in their first home game of the season, with last season’s star Teemu Pukki scoring a fabulous hat-trick.
If Farke can be flexible with his tactics and get Pukki firing every weekend, the Canaries can certainly enjoy a respectable mid-table finish.
2. Sheffield United – 16th
After conceding the joint-fewest goals and keeping the most number of clean sheets in the Championship last season, Sheffield United are the most impressive defensive unit among the promoted sides.
The Blades have returned to the top-flight for the first time since 2007 and the plans have been laid down in order to stay at the top for a long period of time.
Having snapped up experienced defender Phil Jagielka on a free transfer following his release from Everton, Chris Wilder focused on bolstering his attack in the transfer window, with the likes of Lys Mousset, Oliver McBurnie, Callum Robinson and Luke Freeman arriving at Bramall Lane.
And to everyone’s surprise, they have enjoyed a really promising start to the Premier League campaign, picking up four points from the first two games. Wilder’s men drew 1-1 with Bournemouth before beating Crystal Palace 1-0 at home at the weekend.
If Sheffield United can make the Bramall Lane a fortress, chances of them beating the drop would become higher.
3. Aston Villa – 17th
Aston Villa beat Derby County in the playoff finals at Wembley to become the third promoted side this season.
Upon their return to the top-flight since the rock-bottom finish in 2016, they were one of the biggest spenders in the summer window as Dean Smith signed as many as 13 players.
The Villans released a number of experienced stars including Alan Hutton, Micah Richards and Glenn Whelan in order to reduce the squad’s age and pump in some fresh, young talents.
Despite reinforcing the backline, Aston Villa have conceded five goals in the first two games. There is a lot to improve for Smith’s side, who are yet to open their account in the points table.
Villa’s massive summer spending is risky and reminds us of Fulham’s approach last season after their promotion. The plan backfired and the Cottagers now find themselves back in the Championship.
Certainly, it won’t be a similar case as far as Villa are concerned, with Smith being a smart tactician. He also has assistant coach John Terry to somehow help the club in difficult situations. It’ll be a close shave, nevertheless!
2018-19 EFL Championship Rewind: 5 most thrilling encounters
2018-19 EFL Championship Rewind: 5 most thrilling encounters
Frantic see-saw promotion battles, brilliant individual performances, controversies on and off the field, edge-of-the-seat cliffhangers and goals galore – the 2018-19 season of the EFL Championship had everything in the locker for all sets of fans to rejoice, reminding one and all why the Championship is regarded as arguably the most competitive second-division league in the world.
While the likes of Aston Villa, Norwich City and Sheffield United ended the campaign on a high and secured their berths in the Premier League for the 2019-20 season, others like Leeds United, Derby County and West Brom tasted the agony of narrowly missing out on promotion glory in the playoffs.
However, all that is nothing but history now and with the 2019-20 Championship season set to kick off this weekend, it is definitely worth taking a look at some of the most thrilling encounters from the previous campaign.
1. Aston Villa 2-3 Leeds United – 23rd December
Operating in the upper reaches of the table and very much the favourites in the race for automatic promotion at that time, Leeds United made the trip to Villa Park on 23rd December high on confidence, having won each of their last five encounters in the Championship.
Up against a Villa side with a vulnerable backline, Marcelo Bielsa’s side were very much the favourites to stretch their winning run to six games in a row. However, the Lions roared early on their home turf and caught the game by the scruff of the neck to stun the visitors.
John McGinn’s bursting run set up Tammy Abraham for a neat close-range finish just 5 minutes into the game before Conor Hourihane’s beautifully-placed low curler into the bottom corner made it 2-0 for Aston Villa at the 17th-minute mark.
Leeds had it all to do after the interval and the Yorkshire giants fought back with two quick-fire goals within a span of five second-half minutes to restore parity at 2-2.
Half-time substitute Jack Clarke scored his goal for the Whites before Pontus Jansson’s header just after the hour-mark set up a tense finish at Villa Park.
Both teams missed scoring opportunities and Leeds had a shout for a penalty turned down, although it was the visitors who had the last laugh.
Kemar Roofe took advantage of a sloppy headed clearance from Ahmed Elmohamady and fired home his 11th goal of the campaign to complete a remarkable comeback and claim all three points for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
2. Leeds United 3-2 Blackburn Rovers – 26th December
If Leeds’ comeback victory against Aston Villa three days earlier was remarkable, then what followed at Elland Road on Boxing Day has to go down as simply awe-inspiring.
The Whites were on top of the standings in the Championship at that time and were pretty much the outright favourites to make it seven victories in a row against a struggling Blackburn side.
After a rather quiet first half-hour, it was Leeds United who took the lead, courtesy of an own goal from Rovers defender Derrick Williams, who sliced Jack Harrison’s cross into his own net.
That own goal, however, was cancelled out just two minutes into the second half, as Charlie Mulgrew converted from the penalty spot after being fouled inside the box by Leeds skipper Luke Ayling.
Blackburn Rovers looked to have won the game in the 90th minute when Mulgrew scored his second of the night from a long-range free-kick, putting Tony Mowbray’s side 2-1 up with just injury-time left to play.
However, the tides turned completely in the dying moments of the game, as Kemar Roofe once again emerged as the saviour and scored twice in the first and fourth minute of injury-time to complete an awe-inspiring comeback for the second time in a row.
3. Norwich City 4-3 Millwall – 10th November
Norwich City were very much one of the favourites for automatic promotion at that time and hardly anybody would have expected Championship strugglers Millwall to travel to Carrow Road and give Daniel Farke’s side a real run for their money.
Well, the game turned out to be an absolute edge-of-the-seat thriller, with four goals in the last 16 minutes, including two in injury-time, sealing the game in Norwich’s favour.
Tom Elliott headed past Tim Krul midway through the first half to put Millwall in the driver’s seat before Teemu Pukki’s neat close-range finish early in the second half restored parity for the home side.
Pukki then had a spot-kick saved after Onel Hernandez’s goal-bound effort was handled inside the box by Murray Wallace. However, the Canaries did take the lead midway through the second half, thanks to Moritz Leitner’s thunderous low drive into the Millwall net.
There was more drama to unfold at Carrow Road though, as quick-fire goals from Ryan Leonard and Jed Wallace made it 3-2 in favour of the visitors.
Norwich, however, had the last laugh in a thrilling contest as Jordan Rhodes’ equaliser in the second minute of stoppage-time followed by Pukki’s winner in the 97th minute ensured that the Canaries bagged all three points and prevented an upset.
4. Norwich City 3-4 Derby County- 29th December
Norwich managed to edge past Millwall in a gripping game at home in November but Frank Lampard’s Derby County ensured that they finished the year on a high with an astonishing comeback win at Carrow Road.
Norwich dominated the first 35 minutes and took a deserving 2-0 lead, courtesy of goals from Ben Godfrey and Teemu Pukki.
However, things changed dramatically in the last 10 minutes of the first half, as strikes from Chelsea loan duo Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount ensured that the Rams went into the interval with the scores level at 2-2.
Pukki restored Norwich’s lead nine minutes from time just before the floodlights in one section of the ground went out, forcing both the teams to head for the tunnel.
Taking advantage of the stoppage, Florian Jozefzoon levelled it up for Derby County in the 87th minute from a goalmouth scramble before Jack Marriott’s lovely dinked finish over Tim Krul sealed an exceptional comeback victory for Lampard’s side.
5. Aston Villa 5-5 Nottingham Forest- 28th November
This has to go down as one of the best free-scoring games in the Championship for quite a while, although Villa could only manage a draw against a 10-man Nottingham Forest.
Early goals from Lewis Grabban and Joao Carvalho handed the visitors a 2-0 advantage before Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham restored parity with a quick-fire brace, ensuring that the first twenty minutes of the game produced as many as four goals.
Matthew Cash made it 3-2 in favour of Forest but Abraham once again rose to the occasion to make it 3-3 before half-time.
Joe Lolley restored Forest’s lead for the second time in the game with a thunderous long-range effort but things went astray for Aitor Karanka’s side when Tobias Figueiredo was sent off. Abraham capitalised on the numerical advantage and headed it in from Jack Grealish’s cross to make it 4-4.
Anwar El Ghazi’s curling effort gave Villa the lead for the first time on the night but Lewis Grabban ensured with a near-post finish that the scores finished at 5-5.
Thus, an eventful night at Villa Park ultimately ended in a stalemate, with both teams keeping the fans on the edge of their seats with plenty of goals but neither doing enough to earn three points.
5 players since the turn of the century who have tasted success following the cross-border transfer from the SPL to the EPL
5 players since the turn of the century to have tasted success following the cross-border transfer from the SPL to the EPL
Over the years since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, we have seen players from England move north of the border to the Scottish Premiership with varying degrees of success.
Focussing on things since the turn of the century, the Scottish top-flight has become an escape route for players in England who fail to make the grade or want to resurrect their career by drifting away from the intense level of competition.
Yet, there have been instances when the sheer reputation and pulling power of Celtic and Rangers have prompted established Premier League players like Neil Lennon, John Hartson, Chris Sutton and Tore Andre Flo to fly north of the border with the hope of pursuing a successful career.
However, it is worth mentioning here that the likes of Celtic and Rangers often struggle to keep hold of some top-quality young talents when the Premier League clubs come knocking on the door with big-money offers.
We all know that money doesn’t flow in the Scottish Premiership as easily as it does in the Premier League, meaning that Celtic and Rangers, despite being massive clubs with a lot of history, cannot compete financially with the English clubs.
While a lot of players from English football, even the aged ones, move north of the border with a lot of success, not too many players manage to do the same the other way round.
Now, it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out as to why this happens. Barring the obvious difference in the quality of football between the two leagues in question, the level of competition in English football is also quite high as compared to the Scottish top-flight.
Interestingly, there have been some marked instances since the turn of the century when players from Celtic or Rangers have actually made a cross-border transfer with a lot of success.
The most recent of those has to be Southampton’s acquisition of Stuart Armstrong from Celtic last summer and while the Scottish playmaker only chipped in with 3 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League this past season, it would be fair to say that he did reasonably well for an underperforming unit in his debut season in England.
Without any further delay, let us look at some of the success stories of players to have moved south of the border from the SPL to the EPL.
Only players who have moved from Scotland to England without any previous experience in any division of English football have been considered for discussion, which eliminates someone like Fraser Forster.
1. Virgil van Dijk
The towering Dutch centre-back has to be at the top of the list simply because he is the greatest cross-border success story ever. Van Dijk is very much a household name in Europe nowadays but he was a completely unknown commodity when Celtic purchased him from Dutch club Groningen in the summer of 2013.
The Dutchman has hardly looked back since then and established himself as one of the mainstays of Celtic’s backline over the course of his successful two years at Parkhead, guiding the Hoops to back-to-back Scottish league titles and the Scottish League Cup in the 2014-15 season.
As a matter of fact, van Dijk made it to the Scottish Premiership Team of the Year in each of his two seasons at Celtic.
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman was the man responsible for bringing him to the Premier League and the Saints splashed £13million to secure his services in 2015 and what followed is known to all.
Van Dijk established himself as one of the most consistent centre-backs in the entire division and outgrew his humble surroundings at St.Mary’s before earning a £75million move to Liverpool in January 2018, which made him the most expensive centre-back in the world.
His stay at Anfield has proven to be a resounding success, with the Dutchman playing a key role in Liverpool’s 2nd-place finish in the 2018-19 Premier League season and guiding them to their first UEFA Champions League triumph since 2005.
He has already played in two European finals and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that there is a lot more to come from van Dijk in the upcoming campaigns.
2. Stiliyan Petrov
Stiliyan Petrov was hardly a superstar when Celtic brought him in from Bulgarian outfit CSKA Sofia back in 1999 but seven seasons of resounding success at Parkhead, which included four Scottish league titles, transformed him into a household name in Europe.
As a matter of fact, Petrov was a key figure in Celtic’s march to the UEFA Cup final back in 2002-03.
His consistently impressive performances didn’t go unnoticed from the teams south of the border and former Hoops manager Martin O’Neill was the man responsible for bringing the combative Bulgarian midfield enforcer to Aston Villa in the summer of 2006.
Petrov hardly had any problems dealing with the competitive nature of the Premier League and went on to establish himself as a cult hero at Villa Park, racking up a staggering 219 appearances for the Lions in all competitions over the course of six fruitful seasons before his career ended prematurely due to leukaemia.
3. Victor Wanyama
Wanyama was plying his trade with Belgian club Beerschot in the Belgian top-flight when Celtic snapped him up in the summer of 2011. That marked the Kenyan’s metaphoric rise in football from a complete rookie to a Premier League star.
The tough-tackling midfielder went on to win back-to-back domestic titles with Celtic and earned plenty of plaudits for his daunting and fearless displays, most notably scoring a powerful header to help the Hoops stun Barcelona in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League.
Southampton splashed £12.5million in the summer of 2013 to bring Wanyama to the Premier League and he became the first Kenyan international to play in the top-flight of English football.
Wanyama proved himself to be a tailor-made fit for the Premier League and reached great heights over the course of his three-season stay on the south coast, making 97 appearances in the process.
Having helped Southampton to an impressive 6th-place finish in the Premier League in the 2015-16 season, Wanyama completed a transfer to Tottenham for a fee of £11million to fulfil his dream of playing in the Champions League.
In his first season in North London, the Kenyan established himself as one of the key figures in the midfield and operated as a part of manager Mauricio Pochettino’s double pivot midfield.
Wanyama’s influence has gradually waned over the past couple of campaigns due to his struggles with injuries but his cross-border success story remains truly an inspiring one.
4. Mark Viduka
Mark Viduka made his move to Celtic Park in December 1998 with a lot of goals for Dinamo Zagreb under his belt, and the towering Socceroos centre-forward proved his credentials very soon.
He stayed at Parkhead only for a single full season but that was enough for him to get his name into the history books, as the Australian international racked up 25 goals in 28 league appearances in the 1999-00 season, also winning the Scottish League Cup in the process.
Viduka’s stocks were rocketing sky-high after his goalscoring heroics at Parkhead. Leeds United manager David O’Leary was the quickest to react, snapping up the striker in the summer of 2000.
Viduka went on to establish himself as a bona fide goalscorer in his first season at Elland Road and struck 22 goals in competitions, including all four in a memorable 4-3 victory over Liverpool at home.
The Australian also racked up 4 goals in Leeds’ march to the semi-finals of the Champions League in his first season, which is still the record for the most number of goals scored by an Australian player in the Champions League.
Viduka’s incredible strike rate at West Yorkshire saw him finish with 68 goals in 158 outings before he made his move to Middlesbrough in 2004 following the financial crisis at Elland Road.
Leeds’ stay in the top-flight came to an abrupt end but Viduka’s success story didn’t. He went on to register 41 goals in 98 appearances at Teesside before a final swansong at Newcastle United.
He didn’t have the pace to bother defences but he certainly won a lot of hearts with his natural finesse and razor-sharp reflexes in front of goal.
5. Shaun Maloney
The diminutive 5ft 7in playmaker broke on to the scene at Celtic in the 2000-01 season under Martin O’Neill but he found regular minutes hard to come by in the subsequent campaigns and was used largely on a rotational basis.
Nevertheless, he spent seven seasons in his first stint at Parkhead and won four domestic league titles before O’Neill, then in charge of Aston Villa, brought him to the Premier League in January 2007.
Maloney’s stint at Villa Park proved to be a mediocre one as the versatile playmaker netted 7 goals in 33 appearances for the Lions in all competitions. He headed back to Celtic but his second stint at Parkhead coincided with Rangers’ dominance in Scottish football.
Maloney did return to the Premier League, however, with Wigan Athletic willing to offer him a return to south of the border. Maloney moved to Wigan in 2011 and he proved his critics wrong under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, as the Scotsman went on to play a key role in the Latics FA Cup winning campaign in the 2012-13 season.
He even pledged his loyalty to the club following their relegation from the Premier League and plied his trade in the Championship.
Maloney switched boats to join Hull City in the Championship following a brief stint at Chicago Fire in the MLS and subsequently went on to represent the Tigers in the Premier League before hanging up his boots.
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