Over the years, Europe has had some pretty decent national teams. The Magical Magyar Hungarians of the fifties, the bright orange flame of Dutch football scorching the turf with their total football, the formidable les Bleus teams of Platini and then Zidane, the German and Italian world champions, and now of course the all-conquering Spain. Even England had a fair old team in the late sixties. Well, nobody saw it coming a few years ago – or nobody that I’ve spoken to anyway – but a new power is rising on the continent. Someone is pushing in alongside Puskas, moving aside Muller and shoving in next to Xavi, and it’s……Belgium. Belgium? Really?
Some may well have noticed the trend, others maybe not, but cast your eyes around some of the top clubs in Europe, and especially England, and you’ll see what I mean. With almost stealth-like endeavour, young Belgian players have been integrating themselves into the football spotlight. To illustrate what I mean, let’s have a quick skim through the options open to Marc Wilmots, Belgium’s national coach.
Starting between the sticks, he can go with Sunderland’s 25 year old Simon Mignolet, or the young goalkeeper signed by Chelsea in the summer, but now currently on loan at the Atletico Madrid team currently hounding Barca in La Liga, the 20 year old Thibault Courtois. Not a bad start, but what about the defence in front of them?
In this area, the Belgian options are plentiful and full of quality. Just pick a four from Manchester City skipper Kompany, Arsenal captain Vermaelen, Tottenham’s Vertongen, Bayern’s Van Buyten and Lombaerts of Zenit. You’ve even got one spare.
Moving into midfield, there’s a few names familiar to Premier League fans – plus one that I think will be a bright star soon. On one side there’s Eden Hazard of Chelsea, with a middle two of Tottenham’s Dembele and Everton’s Felaini, and completing the four is his Goodison team mate, Kevin Mirallas. The other player fighting for a place in the midfield isanother player signed by Chelsea, but currently on loan. Kevin de Bruyne is a winger of rare talent and promise, currently earning a big reputation in the Bundeliga with Werder Bremen. Next season though, he may be back at Stamford Bridge, and if so, I’m predicting a big future for the 22 year old.
It’s a strong and creative midfield, but who is going to stick the ball in the onion bag for the team? There are two young Belgian strikers, currently strutting their muscular stuff, a la Drogba in his prime, a few miles apart at Midlands clubs. At Villa Park, in an otherwise depressing season for the Holte End ‘Villans,’ Christian Benteke has been a rare ray of joy. Meanwhile, across at The Hawthorns, the third of Chelsea’s trio of Belgian players currently out on loan, RomeluLukaku, is earning a fearsome reputation for his pace, power and goal-scoring ability. For the record, Benteke is 22 and Lukaku still a teenager.
So there you have it. Remember – unless you heard it somewhere else earlier – you heard it here first. The 2014 World Cup, might come a bit early for this generation, but if not then, the Euros in 2016 could be the tournament for Belgium. It’s been a bit of a running joke that the most famous Belgian’s have both been fictional detectives, Poirot and Tin Tin. Well, I think there’s enough clues here to suggest that this situation could change in the not too distant future.