Ambassade van België in het Verenigd Koninkrijk
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English Premier League taken over by Belgium

08 januari 2013

Belgian footballers

Vincent Kompany (second right) with Premier League stars Kevin Mirallas (far left), 
Mousa Dembele (second left), and Simon Mignolet (far right)

Belgium’s current generation of footballers is capturing the imagination of football fans worldwide. In England, an all-time high of 16 Belgian players are featuring in the Premier League clubs.

Vincent Kompany, nicknamed Vince the Prince, is proud to be part of a generation of players proving that there is more to Belgium than beer, chocolates and waffles. The formidable Manchester City defender and inspirational captain is also Belgium’s national team’s skipper. “There are almost too many Belgian guys to name now in the Premier League,” he says. “When I signed four and a half years ago I was the first, then Fellaini (Everton) came and Vermaelen (Arsenal). Ever since, a growing number of Belgian players is having an impact on the English Premier League. I hope that soon we will showcase our talent at international level too. We have a side now that deserves success, not just because of the quality, but because of the type of players we have. We have the character, the personalities.”

The current crop includes exciting players like Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, on loan at West Bromwich Albion), Moussa Dembélé (Tottenham) and Christian Benteke (Aston Villa). The next batch of Belgian stars is already preparing to take on the Premier League. Chelsea appear to be the side which will benefit the most, with winger Kevin de Bruyne (on loan at Werder Bremen) and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (on loan at Altletico Madrid) due to join Stamford Bridge this summer.

Whether the current talent is evidence of a kind of youth academy utopia is debatable. Many of Belgium’s current international side have grown up as footballers outside the country. Hazard, for instance, flourished in France at Lille’s academy, as did Mirallas (Everton); Vermaelen (Arsenal) and Vertonghen (Tottenham) developed in the Netherlands at Ajax.

However, following a period of dismal performances during the early 2000s, Belgium’s Football Association realised that its youth development was structurally poor. Jean-François de Sart, Belgium’s under-21 national team head coach from 1999 till 2011, explains that the Belgian football federation decided to open seven regional training centres for spotted young talents to receive additional and more structured practice. “Since then, the Belgian league has gradually become a reservoir of talents for leagues all over Europe. We’ve never produced so much football talent at once,” says de Sart. Additionally, Marc Wilmots, the new national coach, has managed to dissipate the friction that existed between the young prodigies and national team veterans.

Belgium certainly has the potential to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and the European Championships in 2016. Given that almost the entire Belgian team core is employed in England, it seems strangely fitting that its players’ schooling in the Premier League may well help Belgium to return to the world stage.