A few weeks ago I was shown Dan Warren’s infamous 2003 article predicting how players like David ‘sicknote’ Dunn, Neil ‘Fatty’ Mellor, Chris ‘Baseball Cap’ Kirkland and Martin ‘only famous for breaking Eduardo’s ankle’ Taylor would be helping England manager Alan Shearer lift the elusive European trophy in 2008.
With England failing to qualify for Euro 2008, let alone challenge for the trophy, the article’s been doing the rounds and has inspired me to put my neck on the line by making a similarly (seemingly) ridiclous prediction.
Obviously touting England for success in Russia 2018 would be crazy, whilst Pepe Bluefields showed there’s a lot of potential in the squad with his ‘Future England XI’…let’s not kid ourselves.
Belgium on the other hand, despite not qualifying for a major tournament since 2002(!), are a team to keep an eye on during the next 10 years. The highly anticipated ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgian footballers are slowly beginning to prove themselves in the top leagues around Europe…
Possibly the most highly rated teen goalkeeper in world football at the moment is Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois (currently on loan at Atletico Madrid). The nineteen year-old 6 ft 6 giant signed for Chelsea in summer 2011 and was sent straight out to replace the recently departed David de Gea.
Competing with Courtois for the Belgium No. 1 shirt will be Sunderland’s impressive 23 year old shot-stopper Simon Mignolet, who’s been able to keep his place in the Mackems’ goal ahead of the ex-‘most expensive goalkeeper in the Premier League’ Craig Gordon and Kieren Westwood. Six years time is a long way away, plenty of time for either goalkeeper to prove himself as a Joe Hart-esque superstar, or a Chris Kirkland-esque flop.
Two of the most feared defenders in the Premier League are likely to be competing for the centre-back spot alongside the current Ajax captain.
At 25 years old Vincent Kompany, is already the captain of the Belgium National Team and some other team called Manchester City. First known as a wonderkid at Anderlecht before moving to Hamburg, Kompany will be 32 by the time Russia 2018 kicks off.
Arsenal’s 26 year old Thomas Vermaelen has played a massive part in Arsenal’s resurgance this season after an Achilles injury kept him out of much of 2011. As powerful as they come, Vermaelen will also be 32 at the 2018 World Cup.
Ajax’s 24 year old captain Jan Vertonghen has been linked with some of the richest clubs in Europe, and a move to Eastlands to join Vincent Kompany could happen in 2012. With Vertonghen being 31 at the 2018 World Cup, he (alongside Kompany and Vermaelen) will be hoping that their careers don’t peak too early.
The full-back positions currently look to be the weakest positions for a young Belgium side. Man City’s 21 year old Dereck Boyata (left) (currently on loan at Bolton) however still looks to be a promising talent. Hoping to compete with Boyata will be Anthony Vanden Borre (right), although Genk’s 24 year old right back has struggled to live up to the high expectations placed upon him whilst he was a teenager.
Without any natural left-back showing signs of world class potential, the whole of Vertonghen’s national career may be destined for that spot, as it has been so far, with him being unable to fight off competition from Kompany, Vermaelen and the aging Daniel van Buyten.
If you’re to watch out for any Belgian player during the next 6 years, it’d better be Lille’s Eden Hazard.
The 20 year old has had an outrageous 2011 (as predicted by Pepe Bluefields), and is now accepted as one of the most dangerous playmakers in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before he gets his big move to a top European club, most likely to be Real Madrid.
Accompanying Hazard in the midfield might be Everton giant Marouane Fellaini, currently aged 24, the powerful ‘all-elbows’ centre midfielder will be 30 in 2018. Also aged 24 is Fulham’s highly rated midfielder Moussa Dembélé. Legend has it that the strong, skillful Dembélé has never been successfully tackled in his whole professional career to date, and Fulham will be facing a struggle to keep hold of him as bigger clubs come looking for the un-tackleable Belgian.
Other names to watch out for are Genk’s Kevin de Bruyne (left), Benfica’s Axel Witsel (centre), and Porto’s Steven Defour (right). Aged 20, 22 and 24 respectively, all are versatile midfielders and will be hoping to progress to succeed at the top level over the next few years.
As far as out-and-out wingers go though, PSV’s goal crazy Dries Mertens (left) and Twente’s pacy Nacer Chadli (right) are two to keep your eyes on. Mertens (24) has scored 13 from 17 games in the Eredevisie this season, including one hat-trick and one four-goal haul. Whilst Chadli (22) has taken the reins over from the departed Bryan Ruiz at Twente to become one of the best players in the league.
The likelihood of Belgium having a successful generation will largely be dependent on them having a world class strikeforce. The likes of Jelle Vossen (left) and Kevin Mirallas (right) appear promising, but together they won’t win the World Cup for you…
…Romelu Lukaku might just though.
At just 18 years old, Chelsea’s 6 ft. 3in striker has been labelled as one of the stars of the future. Boasting pace, power and an ability to score plenty of goals – Chelsea spent upto £18 million on a player they hope can become their new Didier Drogba.
With 2018 a whole 6 years away, tipping a team who haven’t played in a major tournament since Leicester City were in the Premier League is a bold (or maybe stupid) thing to do.
However, if the players reach their apparent potential, Russia 2018 could be a real opportunity for Belgium’s Golden Generation. Whether Belgium will have the strength in depth compared to the likes of ‘usual suspects’ Brazil, Spain, Germany and so on will be interesting to see – but the quality and quantity of young Belgians all coming through at the same time, is staggering.