Golden generation. We often hear that of Belgium’s current national team and with the talents of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and even goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois it’s not hard to see why.
For many of those talents however age is not on their side and Belgium’s lethargic victory in their opening game of the 2022 World Cup has cast doubt as to how Belgium’s “Golden Generation” can really cope without the use of fresh talent.
Belgium’s starting line-up included six player over the age of thirty with their youngest player on the pitch Youri Tielemans, 25.
In contrast, the energetic Canadian side had three players under the age of 24 including two in their front three which is where all of Belgium’s problems were caused.
While terrific servants for club and country, a 35-year-old Jan Vertonghen and a 33-year-old Alderweireld just cannot keep up with the hunger and tenacity shown from the young talents of today.Embed from Getty Images
Where is Belgium’s Alphonso Davies? Where is Belgium’s Kylian Mbappe? Where is Belgium’s Gavi, Bukayo Saka, Jamal Musiala…you get the idea.
When you compare the side which faced Canada tonight to the Belgium side which lost to France in the Semi-finals of the previous World Cup in 2018, four years ago, there is only a difference of five players.
In fact had Lukaku started tonight, as I’m sure he would have if not due to injury, there would only be a difference of four.
Imagine that. All the development, all the new players coming through the ranks and in four years time you have more or less the same eleven with the difference of just four players, none of which younger than 25.
According to Statista (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1298094/average-player-age-national-teams-qatar-world-cup/), Belgium have the fifth eldest squad at the tournament with an average age of 27.8.
That includes their entire squad, the figure would be even higher based on just the first eleven.
What do the standout teams of the tournament have in common so far, age is on their side.
England, Spain and France have the top ten youngest squads in the tournament and have produced exciting attacking displays in their opening games.
Now, should Belgium go out and field a full eleven of their youngest players? No of course not.
However, fielding a team of players entering the last stages of lucrative careers is arguably just as foolish. You need to have balance.
Belgium need young-blood, some hunger to energise and rejuvenises a depleted, lethargic squad. Do they posses that talent?
Lois Openda, 22, seven goals in fifteen appearances for Lens in Ligue 1 this season following an impressive spell with Vitesse scoring 19 goals in 37 appearances. Michy Batshuayi was preferred to him despite having scored two less and playing half the number of games as Openda.Embed from Getty Images
Jeremy Doku, an explosive and energetic winger who is linked to a move to the Premier League after performing well for Rennes. 20-years-old. He wasn’t even subbed on yesterday.Embed from Getty Images
Charles De Ketelaere secured himself a move to Italian giants AC Milan last Summer after scoring for fun in the Belgium leagues for Club Brugge. He is yet to start or even appear in a major tournament for Belgium. 21-years old.Embed from Getty Images
Amadou Onana, Zeno Debast, Arthur Theate, Wout Faes. All did not feature yesterday not even as a substitute, all are below the age of 24 and some considerably younger.
If Belgium could incorporate some of their younger talent into an experienced, well rounded starting eleven, they could become a real force during this World Cup.
Why not start the explosive Doku over a lacklustre Carrasco? Why not Start the lightning fast Openda over the aging Batshuayi? Why not replace the tired legs of Alex Witsel for the powerful energy of Onana?Embed from Getty Images
What does experience give you? Composure, technique, leadership. What does youth give you? Hunger, explosiveness, pace.
Balance is key and very little of that is currently present in this Belgium squad.
Yes they managed to get a result against the Canadians, they may well top group F, but against the European superpowers left to face in the knockout stages of this tournament they will be played off the park.Embed from Getty Images
This squad is crying out for some youth and without it you really fear for Martinez’s and Belgium’s chances of getting silverware this tournament.
As they say, you’ve got to move with the times or the times move you.