Time to stand up and be counted

By | June 13, 2016

That was then

Wilmots at yesterday's final training session.

Wilmots at yesterday’s final training session.

I’ve been writing about Belgian football since the last century and there have been enormous changes since that time. A team that was seen as no-hopers and 77th in the FIFA rankings has moved up – in those rankings – to be the best in the world. No one has ever believed that standing of course but it’s remarkable that the Belgian squad is now the most expensive ever assembled in Europe, according to transfer fees paid (319 million euros).

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.

All eyes will be on Marouane Fellaini. (opyright John Chapman)

All eyes will be on Marouane Fellaini. (copyright John Chapman)

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.

4 thoughts on “Time to stand up and be counted

  1. Zoltan Jorovic

    I share your doubts about Wilmots, he looks out of his depth with no real idea of how to create a team from a group of talented individuals. At least he has learned from the Italy game not to shoehorn Fellaini into the side, and let De Bruyne be the playmaker in the middle. I fear they will struggle to get past Wales as the midfield looks too open to swift counters.

    Lukaku has not convinced despite his two goals against Ireland. He is to prone to make the wrong decision and his first touch can often be average. I think Benteke is a better fit, but both Origi and Batshuayi might also be better options to start with. Against the top defences Lukaku appears clumsy and the ball rarely sticks with him when he is up front alone.

    The lack of really top full backs is also a concern, especially now Vertonghen is out. If Hazard continues the fine form he showed against Hungary – and he should be comfortable facing Wales as he knows many of the players and that he can go past them – then Belgium ought to win. But, Bale and ramsey are well-equpped to strike quickly in a counter-attack.

    If they do beat Wales I think they will go out in the semi-final, because Wilmots is tactically just not good enough.

  2. Jones

    One of Belgium’s main problems: Kevin De Bruyne.
    Do you really still believe De Bruyne should be in the centre? All his decisive actions before and during the euro’s came from the right.

    Those that have followed KDB (and also Naingollan btw), know that these are two positionally undisciplined players. Combining them in centre midfield was always going to give you the problems Belgium encountered against Wales. If, furthermore, your quality on the wings is limited (KDB is a much better option than Carrasco or Mertens), the choice is an easy one: KDB should play on the right wing (which should not stop him popping up in the centre at the right moments). The hype surrounding Carrasco was totally unjustified and based only on his CL final performance. Look at this stats with Atletico this year: never warranted a starting position with Belgium.

    Still, I expected much worse from Wilmots.
    With the lack of length in the team, Fellaini obviously should have started against Wales. The improvement in the second half was instantly visible. Shame Fellaini did not player more because he really showed fine form ahead of the Euro and was one of the best Belgians against Italy. Starting a disciplined, solid central midfield is what Wilmots failed to do, mainly because he gave in to the pressure and allowed KDB in a central role. Witsel, Dembele and Fellaini or Naingollan was what we should have seen.

    1. Belgofoot Post author

      I disagree with almost everything you say. Starting with a midfield three of Witsel, Nainggolan and Fellaini immediately gives the opposition a sense that Belgium is playing for a draw at best. De Bruyne is not undisciplined. Frequently he has had to move to wing as Hazard comes inside to the centre. Agree Carrasco was disappointing.

    2. Zoltan Jorovic

      Its fascinating how two people can watch the same match and see it completely differently. There was a slight improvement after half time, until the Robson-Kanu goal, where Fellaini bizarrely rushed to place himself on the wrong side of the welsh forward, as did the two defenders. That was virtually his only meaningful contribution. He huffed and puffed and elbowed and at least showed willing to get into the box, but to little effect, as usual.

      To me the problem was Belgium rarely pushed anyone into the box to support the lonely, isolated and eventually abject Lukaku. He tried hard, but there was rarely any teammate within 20 metres of him. Why did neither Hazard nor De Bruyne regularly get into the box? It can only be they were under instructions from Wilmots not to – both do so all the time with their clubs.

      The failure to put bodies into dangerous areas inevitably meant no real pressure on Wales, who were able to push people into midfield and control the pace to suit themselves. Wilmots caution meant he didn’t urge his players to commit numbers into the box when they had possession, yet he also failed to coach a tight, disciplined system to defend when without the ball. The combination was fatal. I do hope he does the right thing and resigns.


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