They appear to be the coming force of European football. Young Belgians are turning into stars across the Premier League and, indeed, across Europe over the past two years. So how long is it going to take this talented young group to lead their nation to the summit of world football?
Perhaps a stupid question, perhaps not. After all, Belgium are being treated to a ‘golden generation’ that perhaps dwarfs the one the English rags spent so long raving about during the noughties.
Rather than Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and co, the Belgians possess talents such as Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembele.
Kompany of course led Manchester City to their first Premier League title and Hazard, two-time French footballer of the year, has lit up Chelsea’s performances this season.
There has been quite an influx of Belgian players into the Premier League this summer. Defender Jan Vertonghen joined Spurs from Ajax and will undoubtedly establish himself as a first choice defender, even if defence doesn’t appear to be Andre Villas-Boas’ first priority. Aston Villa also recently dived in for Christian Benteke, one of Belgium’s exciting attacking prospects, scoring 33 goals in 37 games for Genk last season.
Talking of prospects, Romelu Lukaku, currently on loan at West Brom from Chelsea is possibly the most exciting prospect of all. His mixture of power, speed and strength gives him all the tools to be a top player on the international stage. He failed to shine in his first season at Chelsea due to limited opportunities, but has begun to show signs of being the real deal early in his Baggies loan spell.
Spurs’ latest Belgian acquisition, Moussa Dembele, possesses all the qualities to become a world class playmaker. You only have to watch his three performances so far this season in the Premier League to see the left-footer oozes class.
David Moyes has also got a couple of Belgians in his armoury. New signing Kevin Mirallas showed promise in the Capital One Cup, albeit against Leyton Orient. In the absence of talisman Tim Cahill, the Belgian elbow monster Fellaini has looked sharp in August, single handedly destroying Manchester United in the season opener.
I almost forgot to mention Axel Witsel, who moved from Benfica to Zenit this week for the outrageous sum of €40 million. Another classy player who may well make up the core of the midfield along with Felliani and FC Porto’s Steven Defour. There are more youngsters on the way, too. Think of Chelsea’s three other Belgians, all youngsters out on loan – Thibaut Courtois (goalkeeper, Atletico Madrid), Kevin de Bruyne (midfielder, Werder Bremen) and Hazard’s younger brother, Thorgan (winger, Zulte Waregem).
But we shouldn’t focus solely on names – because Belgium’s results are improving, too. The ‘Red Devils’ will surely view Euro 2012 as an opportunity missed after a 1-1 away draw with Azerbaijan and a poor record against Turkey, who finished runners-up in the group to Germany, cost them a chance to reach their first major finals since the 2002 World Cup. Since then, an impressive showing in a narrow 1-0 defeat to England has been followed by a dominant 4-2 victory over the Netherlands in last month’s round of friendlies.
Following the turmoil the team was in a couple of years ago, when many of the stars of the present were showing a little less maturity, Belgian fans must be revelling in the improvement their side is showing. Finally, Belgium’s young stars appear to have woken up to their potential and started to take things seriously. Together with a few experienced veterans, most notably Daniel van Buyten and Timmy Simons, this may be the best squad Belgium has ever fielded.
Coach Marc Wilmots has been quick to quash any talk of a ‘golden generation’ ahead of their opening World Cup qualifier away to Wales this week. But with a predicted starting 11 worth €180 million (the third most expensive in the world behind Brazil and Portugal) you’d be mad not to have an outside bet on them to triumph in 2014 at a best price of 50/1…
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