It did not look hard at all for the Belgium national team to qualify to next summer’s World Cup edition despite missing out on the previous two editions, with a squad full of talented players, Belgium have enough depth to present two players at least in each position on the pitch. Many would argue that this group is their most talented one ever but is it just a coincidence that they have many good players this time around? Definitely not.
It all started back in 2001, the Belgian football federation in association with the football clubs, academies and schools in the big cities, Liege, Gent, Antwerp and Brussels, placed a long term plan to help children from immigrant families to get involved more in their society. Families who had talented children were provided help and nationality which helped boost the Belgium with talented youngsters from all over the world.
Just a year after failure in Euro 2000, where Belgium co-hosted the event alongside The Netherlands, they decided that they were not nurturing their players the right way. The federation urged teams to scrap playing for winning in youth tournaments and aim to focus on individual talent such as using training methods of 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2 rather than let the kids play full games against each other in training. The youth leagues for clubs ages below 14 were limited to play games of 5 vs 5 at the younger ages and 7 vs 7 at the ages of 13 and 14. Further on, for the older teenagers a 4-3-3 system was a must for every club, a formation which enhanced the role of each individual in each position on the field.
Belgium noticed that they had talented players but they were struggling to win hard games as they always trembled in front of the big teams, it was because the players were not exposed to the outside world and so the clubs were urged to allow their players to move and play abroad. At the moment, Belgium have 23 players playing in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, Russia and Netherlands, the best eight football leagues in the world. The players all left at early ages mostly in their early twenties but some even at a younger age. Eden Hazard joined Lille at the age of 14. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen joined Ajax at the age of 16 and Romelu Lukaku went to Chelsea when he was only 18 years old.
Moreover, Belgium urged the Flemish and Walloon clubs, the two ethnicities of Belgium to mix often in friendly matches between each other and recruit players from the other ethnicity to unify the players and enable them to speak both the Flemish and the French language without any problems.
With time, the French speaking society, the Flemish one and the immigrants became equals and inseparable even today the national team is captained by a player of Congolese blood, Vincent Kompany. Left back Sebastien Pocognoli is of Italian origin while Axel Witsel comes all the way from the Caribbean, specifically from Martinique. Marouane Fellaini, Nacer Chadli and Zakaria Bakkali come from Morroco while Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke are Africans as well coming from Congo.
At the moment, Belgium seems to have its most talented squad ever and this is not down to coincidence but it was the result of over a decade of planning and nurturing youngsters. This summer a young Belgian team will travel to Brazil representing players from different races, backgrounds and religion but they are all fighting for the same cause. It took them 12 years to return to the most prestigious football tournament but now they will not rest, they will put even more effort to impress and go as far as possible.