Despite not having a single player in any of the title-winning squads in Italy (Juventus), England (Manchester United), Spain (Barcelona) or France (PSG), the Belgian national football team have a panel filled with talent. With household names in almost every position, few would bet against them mounting a serious challenge in the next few international tournaments.
After naming four or five current Belgian internationals, you begin to realise what an array of talent they have at their disposal. As the list of players grows, you begin to question things, often saying; “Jesus, is he Belgian too?” The overriding answer is usually yes and even Jesus himself would find it difficult to get into Belgium’s starting XI.
Currently sitting unbeaten at the top of their 2014 World Cup Qualifying group and with nearly all of their playing squad under the age of 30, come next year’s World Cup in Brazil, it may well be that another team beginning with ‘B’ is making all the headlines.
Simon Mignolet (24) – Sunderland
Thibaut Courtois (21) – Atlético Madrid (on-loan from Chelsea)
For a great team to fully showcase their attacking potential, they must have a dependable shot-stopper between the sticks; luckily for Belgium, they have the choice of two.
In what was a forgettable Premier League campaign for Sunderland, one player who really shone for them was goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Keeping 11 crucial clean sheets during the season, Mignolet’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed, with Arsenal recently rumoured to be interested.
Belgium’s other goalkeeping option has enjoyed a prosperous loan spell in the Spanish capital. Anyone who tuned into the recent Copa Del Rey final would have witnessed a string of stunning saves from Atlético’s Courtois, including one point-blank block from a Mesut Özil strike. With José Mourinho watching on in admiration from the opposing dugout, Courtois could well be whisked back to Stamford Bridge soon to link up with the incoming Special One.
Vincent Kompany (27) (C) – Man City
Thomas Vermaelen (27) – Arsenal
Jan Vertonghen (26) – Tottenham
Toby Alderweireld (24) – Ajax
Belgium’s defence is where we find their captain, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany. Having guided City to their first ever Premier League crown in 2012, Kompany’s performances this campaign were not up to the impeccable standards he had previously set. Despite this, the centre-back is a born leader and his presence strengthens any defensive line.
Another Belgian centre-back who didn’t enjoy a successful campaign in England last season was Arsenal’s captain Thomas Vermaelen. Dropped in favour of Per Mertesacker for Arsenal’s 2-0 win in the Allianz Arena in March, the former Ajax man also missed his team’s crucial penalty in their shoot-out defeat to Bradford in the League Cup. Vermaelan is a proven goal-scoring defender however, and his versatility proves to be a real asset for the national team.
In stark contrast to the aforementioned duo, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen enjoyed an exceptional debut season in the Premier League. Four goals, nine clean sheets and a place in the Team of the Year highlight just what a successful season he had.
Belgium can also call on the services of Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld. The versatile defender won his third Eredivisie title this year and at a young age, he could develop into a key player for the national side.
Mousa Dembélé (25) – Tottenham
Marouane Fellaini (25) – Everton
Axel Witsel (24) – Zenit St Petersburg
Eden Hazard (22) – Chelsea
In reserve: Steven Defour and Nacer Chadli
Belgium’s talent pool is again evident in the selection of midfield players they can choose from. Tottenham’s Mousa Dembélé – although not scoring as often as he could for Tottenham – is still a key player for them; his and Sandro’s absence in the latter stages of the Premier League season can be seen as one reason for Spurs’ decline in form. With a wonderful left foot, Dembélé often generates numerous Belgian attacks.
Marouane Fellaini once again had a good season at Goodison Park. His aerial threat and strength are a nightmare for defenders and now that David Moyes has left Merseyside, Fellaini could also be departing; 11 goals and seven assists from the big man has caught the eye of a few of the big guns.
One player not featuring regularly on our television screens in Zenit’s Axel Witsel. One season at Benfica was enough for the Belgian to attract attention from the Russian club, and they splashed out €40 million to acquire his services. A talented midfielder who can also score goals, his attributes only enhance the Belgian midfield.
Last but not at all least is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Another Belgian who enjoyed a sparkling first season in England, the 5”7 attacker terrorized defences and also managed to register nine goals and 16 assists. Securing a PFA Player of the Year nomination was a reward for Hazard’s hard work and he certainly lived up to the hype that surrounded his arrival.
Romelu Lukaku (20) – Chelsea
Christian Benteke (22) – Aston Villa
In reserve: Kevin Mirallas, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens
When it comes to forwards, Belgium are again spoilt for choice. Both Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke finished in the top six of the this year’s Premier League goalscoring charts whilst Kevin Mirallas scored some fantastic individual goals of his own for Everton.
Staggeringly, Lukaku is only four months older than me. Built like a heavyweight boxer, Lukaku enjoyed a lucrative loan spell at West Brom last season, registering 17 league goals including a final-day hat-trick against Manchester United. Touted as a long-term replacement for Didier Drogba, Chelsea should happily welcome Lukaku back and if he continues to show the potential he has so far, he could become a world-class player.
If you think a 20-year-old Belgian scoring 17 Premier League goals is good, Christian Benteke beat that feat by notching 19 goals of his own that ultimately saved Aston Villa from relegation. Relatively unknown to the Premiership fanbase before his arrival, Paul Lambert’s €8 million acquisition of Benteke from Genk proved to be one of the signings of the season. At 22, Benteke may look to move away from Villa Park to develop, and he would not look out of place at any of Europe’s major clubs.