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Nationaliteam No.2: The Belgian Right Back

April 29, 2011

With the latest crop of youthful Belgian talent comes an optimism that is soon to give birth to expectation. Hot prospects from Belgium are now a constant in the transfer rumour mill and as summer looms, it will only become more fervent. It would be considered something of a minor miracle if the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne were to begin next season wearing the colours of the club they ply their trade for now. This emergence of talent from the youth ranks of Belgium is by no means a new phenomenon. Whatever the achievements of this new generation, they will be compared to that of the last great Belgium team, one that finished 4th in the World Cup of 1986. A team fronted by a strong triumvirate of Jan Ceulemans, Erwin Vandenbergh and Enzo Scifo who were supplemented by Franky Van Der Elst and a humble right-back in the form of Eric Gerets.

Eric Gerets, now coach of the Moroccan national team, is the second most capped player for Belgium, playing 86 times for Diables Rouges. Known for his capability for long-throws, Gerets’ attacking verve was a key aspect to the playing style of the national team. This Belgian side were able to raise their game for the big occasion, reaching the 1980 UEFA European Championship Final only to lose courtesy of an 88th minute strike from Horst Hrubesch. Gerets’ glory wasn’t just via the team’s achievements and displays as he managed to score in the tournament, scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Spain. This was one of only 2 goals he would score for the national team. Gerets’ generation wasn’t ready to be defined by just this though and 6 years later in Mexico, the team reached the semi-finals of the World Cup before being dispatched by eventual winners Argentina (possible revenge for Belgium’s group phase victory 4 years prior in Spain). Gerets would also captain the team at Italia ’90 in the opening group phase game in the absence from the starting eleven of Jan Ceulemans and would make his last World Cup appearance against England as Belgium lost 1-0 thanks to a celebrated goal from David Platt.

Gerets’ generation brought about Belgium being an ever-present at the World Cup. Following his retirement, Dirk Medved and Eric Deflandre would turn to be decent alternatives albeit not quite with the ability of Gerets. When Deflandre retired from the national team in 2005, there appeared to be a born successor emerging courtesy of the Anderlecht youth system. This 18 year-old was thought to be one of the new leading lights of the next Golden Generation of Belgian talent alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany. But things haven’t quite hit the heights expected of the Zaire-born right back, Anthony Vanden Borre.

Anthony Vanden Borre has shown an ability to play in various roles but his natural position where he has excelled most has been at right back. Comparisons to Gerets in terms of ability were of course inevitable and Vanden Borre’s emergence into the European scene in 2005 following 2 seasons of first team football indicated good times to roll ahead. Things haven’t quite worked out that way for the versatile right back. A move to Italy in 2007 was with the intention to develop his game but his attitude particularly in training was called into question and Vanden Borre struggled, playing only twice for Fiorentina in 6 months before moving to Genoa. He played more but his performances were not as good as had been indicated by his initial promise and he was loaned out to English Premier League sinking-ship Portsmouth. He can now be found back in Belgium playing for KRC Genk and he’s now 23, its hoped that he can concentrate on playing and demonstrating just why he was so unbelievably highly regarded before (Football Manager, the blame is at your door).

A Belgian players’ attitude being called into question isn’t an exclusive to Anthony Vanden Borre, in fact far from it. Belgium’s inability to qualify for recent major tournaments has been pinned onto the very thing that should be taking the Diables Rouges to new heights: their talented bunch of young men. The “cocky” attitude displayed by some of the new guard has been likened to children. Marc Goosens was the national team doctor for some 25 years before resigning in 2009, saying “The mentality of some players is deplorable; they are pseudo-stars with the sick attitude of childish snobs”. 2009 may in the future be seen as a ground zero for this team. A 2-1 loss away to Armenia attended by the solitary Belgian supporter to give an exact estimate. The team was then said to be at its most fractious. When Vanden Borre made a costly error against Spain in that World Cup qualification group, he was snubbed by his team-mates and the media were informed of the factions that existed in the Belgian camp.

Looking at recent events though, it is adequate to say that things have improved and that they are taking their first steps on the road to potential fulfilment. Now coached by Georges Leekens (his 2nd stint as Belgium coach: his 1st ended after failure to emerge from their World Cup Finals group in 1998), they currently sit 2nd in their Euro 2012 Qualifying Group, below Germany who possess a 100% record but above Turkey albeit having played a game more. They host Turkey on 3rd June in a game that will go a long way to decide the likelihood of qualification but Belgium appear to be more primed for a concerted bid for World Cup qualification given the relative inexperience of the team. With the natural talent they possess, Belgium could really emerge from the shadows which they’ve thrown themselves into in recent years. As for their right back situation, Anthony Vanden Borre is a regular on the bench as Laurent Ciman has jumped ahead of him in the pecking order via some fine displays for his club, Standard Liege and Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld also provides even more competition in the role. Ciman is only 2 years older than Vanden Borre and Alderweireld a year his junior so it’s going to require persistence and in terms of Vanden Borre, an aspect that has been chronically missing in the last few years: consistency, for him to reclaim the place that his potential was seen to command.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. footballisscience permalink
    November 21, 2011 01:01

    Nice blog! But the Belgian National team is really lacking a right back; very often CB are deployed as RB; Alderweireld, Vertongen, or Vermaelen. Just a comment…

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