Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Belgium head to the World Cup third in the world rankings, but they’re not in the main group of contenders for the trophy. There’s a lot of pessimism towards the Red Devils, which is based off their recent failings at international level. After making changes to put things right, will they be able to lift the World Cup this summer?
They’ve got the talent to go all the way, but could off field issues hamper Belgium’s push? They’ve not got the most serene camp in Russia, with problems growing for Roberto Martinez. Most of them also aren’t his fault, which must make it even more difficult to fix.
Ahead of Belgium’s opening game of the tournament, we’re looking at how off-field issues will affect them. Will it derail their push in the latter stages, or even allow England the chance to top Group G?
Also see: Belgium’s Potential Route to the World Cup Final
Talented Squad Getting Plenty of Interest
Belgium’s Golden Generation contains talent which is the envy of managers across the world. However, that also counts for the club game, and it could have an impact on their World Cup hopes. Talented players in the summer tend to have their head turned at some point or another, but could Belgium’s tournament hopes be overshadowed by transfer speculation.
It’s something all managers will have to keep an eye on, but Martinez has his work cut out. There’s a lot of speculation flying around his camp, and that’s not the only reason to worry. This summer sees a big shift in the transfer window, which closes on the 10th of August in the Premier League. With a heavily English-based squad, that means more business in likely to be done during the tournament than ever before.
Who Could be on the Move?
Throughout the spine of this Belgian side, players are being linked with a move away. That starts in goal, where Thibaut Courtois is set to leave Chelsea. Simon Mignolet is bound to move on with Liverpool chasing another goalkeeper.
Manchester United’s summer business will have a big bearing on Belgium’s summer. Their links with Thomas Meunier have died down, but they could always resume their interest. The PSG right-back is said to be considering a move, given that he’s not first choice in the French capital. Meanwhile, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld is a United target. Marouane Fellaini is departing Old Trafford, and PSG, Arsenal and AC Milan are said to be interested.
A major issue for Belgium would be if their captain, Eden Hazard, had his head turned by a move elsewhere. Given what’s going on at Chelsea, those Real Madrid links are bound reappear. However, if that’s to happen, then the Blues would likely want to force through an early move. His brother, Thorgan Hazard is also linked with a move to La Liga this summer.
Could Dries Mertens also be distracted by a transfer? His £24million release clause is excellent value, and it’s likely to be triggered this summer. He’s been linked with Chelsea, who have held talks about offloading Michy Batshuayi, who seems to want a return to Dortmund.
Those are just some of the rumours flying around about Belgium’s 23 man squad. There are bound to be more in the next few weeks, so can Martinez really keep them focused? Can he banish the agents and club talk and get his team pulling in the same direction? The last thing he wants is their unity disrupted by a player looking to impress a club, or rushing out of training to take a meeting.
Lukaku’s Frosty Reception
Romelu Lukaku has a fantastic Belgium record, but that still hasn’t convinced everyone. The Man United forward recently came out to criticise the lack of appreciation from his national supporters. We’ve seen major stars get flak from their own support in the past, but it rarely works out too well. It may not matter at the neutral grounds in Russia, but Lukaku’s problems aren’t limited to him. After years of underperforming, fans are getting animated against some their key names. We can’t see that helping the atmosphere in the camp, and it could add unnecessary pressure.
From Guardiola to Martinez – KDB not happy with Martinez
If you spent almost all of your year in a Ferrari, and then ended up spending your summer in a bus, you’d probably not take too well to it. That’s the situation for some of Belgium’s biggest names, who play for the world’s top managers. Kevin De Bruyne is the obvious option, who has traded in Pep Guardiola for Roberto Martinez.
Taking that step down surely has to be an odd experience. It’s certainly happening across the board this summer, but Belgium’s golden generation could be particularly affected. They’re coming from some of Europe’s top sides, to play for a man who destroyed David Moyes’ legacy and took Wigan down to the Championship.
The frustration at that change could be one of the reasons behind De Bruyne lashing out at his national boss. He laid in to their tactical set up during a press conference last year, putting pressure on Martinez. It’s not something you could see happening while he’s at his club side. However, once you get used to the obsessive nature of Guardiola, Martinez will obviously look poor in comparison. Getting to grips with that is surely going to test the Red Devils’ big stars.
Can Belgium’s Martinez Gamble Pay Off?
Fans anger with Martinez
It’s not only the players who have express displeasure with the Belgium boss. Martinez isn’t hugely popular among the fans, either. His decision to leave out Radja Nainggolan was a controversial one, and many weren’t pleased that he’s taking a risk at the back. The inclusion of both Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen as two crocked centre-halves is a gamble, one which fans jumped on following the Nainggolan controversy.
The negative feeling is bound to bleed in to the camp during the course of the tournament. It’s something journalists will seize upon if things don’t start well for the Red Devils. It’s just one of many off the field issues which Martinez needs to deal with, and it certainly doesn’t make his job any easier.
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