That was then
I’ve been asked many times how did this happen and, like the country, it’s complicated. There has been a lot of talk about the work of the Belgian Football Association but I have never been convinced by that argument. Many of the squad have never played professionally in Belgium and another major factor is the multi-ethnic make-up of the squad.
Back in 2002, there was only naturalised Croat Branko Strupar and Kinshasa-born Mbo Mpenza who could be described as having roots in a different culture. And as Vincent Kompany said, luck plays a part too. With this wealth of talent, one would have expected this side to be a major force in world football but results have not been as good as expected.
This is now
Now I’m in Lyon, waiting for the first game of the Euros. With Italy as the opponents, the game could not be bigger. Even if my Italian contacts tell me this is the worse team they have had for decades, Italy almost always deliver in the big tournaments.As for today’s game, I have concerns. Marc Wilmots is a good man motivator, is loyal to his players and he protects them from the media. That’s not enough though and he has frequently been criticised as lacking sufficient tactical nous.
All the talk now is that Marouane Fellaini will play in midfield as Wilmots goes for more muscle than creativity. Wilmots has called Fellaini ‘unique’ and he’s right; it’s not whether he is better or worse than other midfield players – the point is that he is Fellaini. On a good day, he will score goals, on a bad day you won’t see him.
The main problem he brings is that Kevin De Bruyne gets shunted to the right wing. This is unforgiveable as he’s the obvious choice as a central playmaker, one of the best in Europe. Then there’s the issue of Eden Hazard and De Bruyne not gelling. The answer now seems to be to keep them as far apart as possible.
There are also problems in defence, not entirely of Wilmots’ making but there could have been more thought given to the time when Kompany and Vermaelen began to show their age. Then there is Romelu Lukaku. I’ve written extensively about him and I do not see him as an international-class striker.
This all means that young players like Yannick Carrasco, Michy Batshuayi and Jason Denayer may not feature much, if at all, in the tournament. This could have been avoided with more planning and chances taken to introduce them into the squad.
The squad did not deliver in Brazil and I fear progress since then has not been good enough. I just hope I am totally wrong and that Wilmots picks a team that will take Belgium to Paris on July 10.