Martinez is here to stay
Just before midnight on Thursday, the Belgian FA made – i.e. leaked – a shock announcement. Roberto Martinez would be extending his stay as coach of the Belgian team for a further two years. They’d previously said they would evaluate his performance only once the Russian dust had settled.
Martinez has already sent a list of ‘35’ to FIFA, but this has not been leaked, or made public. So, will his extended contract impact his thinking on the ‘23’ for the tournament?
Martinez, like Marc Wilmots before him, is conservative in his thinking and likes to stick with those players who earned the qualification. Maybe it’s because those same players gave the OK on Martinez’s contract extension?
Added to that Martinez prefers players from the Premier League and, finally, his extended stay in Brussels gives him the argument that he is planning for the future, by including a couple of younger players.
And the likely answer is
Putting all those factors together, it looks like Roma’s Radja Nainggolan – who has never been on Martinez’s Christmas card list – will be watching the World Cup from his Roman villa while a player such as West Brom’s Nacer Chadli will soon be thumbing through a Russian phrase book.
This, even though the former has been one of Serie A’s outstanding performers in recent years while Chadli has hardly played for months. Importantly though, Chadli fits the 3-4-2-1 formation and appeared in six of the 10 qualifiers; Nainggolan only got on the pitch twice.
With Martinez looking to the future, there could be places for Monaco’s Youri Tielemans, despite a lack of game time, and Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker, who’s got the advantage of being able to help out in defence or midfield. Likewise, Thorgan Hazard can play up-front or as a wing-back.
Among those missing out could be Palace’s Christian Benteke, no form and only two appearances in the qualifiers, Wolfsburg duo Divock Origi and Landry Dimata, and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas, recently returned from an unsuccessful spell with Olympiakos.
Interesting options like Club Brugge’s winger Anthony Limbombe, the much-touted by the media and multi-talented Belgo-Brazilian Edmilson Junior and Atalanta’s right-back Timothy Castagne will be, and have been, ignored.
With fitness doubts about Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, and possibly Toby Alderweireld, I’ve seen the need to add Watford’s Christian Kabasele.
Here’s my idea of the final selection for Russia and a mention of an additional 23 players who might have been considered by Martinez.
Martinez’s Likely 23
Keepers: Courtois, Mignolet, Casteels.
Defence: Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Meunier, Ciman, Dendoncker, Kabasele
Midfield: Witsel, De Bruyne, Carrasco, Fellaini, Dembélé, Thorgan Hazard, Tielemans, Chadli,
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Mertens, Batshuayi
Reserves (making up the 35)
Limbombe, Mirallas, Origi, Benteke, Boyota, Sels, Jordan Lukaku, Depoitre, Denayer, Mechele, Nainggolan.
Off the radar (another 11)
Castagne, Edmilson Jr., Praet, Kums, Foket, Januzaj, Diamata, Engels, Odjidja-Ofoe, Defour (injured), Bakkali