for the Red Devils, paradise passes through exile

They were two at the start of the Euro. But after the withdrawal of the second goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, Hans Vanaken became the only player in the Belgian selection to play in his national championship. And again, the Club Brugge midfielder played only one small minute in the competition, and sat in the stands three times. Unattractive championship, exile of young players … Christophe Franken, head of the football section of the Belgian daily The last hour, provides some explanations on this particularity.

The absence of Jupiler Pro League players in the national team? « We’re starting to get used to it « , answers Christophe Franken. Belgium had a long period without any qualification for a major tournament, between 2002 and 2014: « Before 2002 a lot of Red Devils came from the championship, but he lost in quality and our players got too strong for the Jupiler Pro League. So since 2014 almost all the selected players play abroad », summarizes the Belgian journalist.

When Belgium returned to the international scene, on the occasion of the 2014 World Cup, only three players from the Belgian first division had been selected, against four for Euro 2016 and only one during the 2018 World Cup. For comparison, Portugal, the Netherlands and Russia, the championships which are just ahead of the Jupiler Pro League in the UEFA national league rankings, have respectively retained 6, 12 and 22 local players in their list for this Euro 2021 .

How far are the days when Belgian clubs subscribed to the European Cup finals and in particular those of the Cup, won three times by a team from the flat country between 1976 and 1988 (Anderlecht twice and Mechelen ). Since 2001, only La Gantoise has qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2016 and has been eliminated at this stage. In the history of C1, only Bruges made it to the final, in 1978.

A weakness of the championship which does not allow to retain or attract the best players: “Even when Simon Mignolet returned to Brugge, which is our biggest club, in 2019, it was a big surprise. It’s very rare to see a player who was Liverpool’s second goalkeeper come back to the Belgian league, even at the end of one’s career « , observes Christophe Franken.

The majority of clubs then focus on training, scouting, to make added value with juicy transfers: « The Jupiler League is actually a post-training championship. Anderlecht, for example, has trained many great Belgian players, but as soon as they pass a milestone, they have to go into exile if they want to play for the national team », notes the football chief to the DH. « This is the case of Jérémy Doku, who left for Rennes. He was one of the best players in the Belgian league, but he saw a real difference in level while Rennes is not even the best club in Ligue 1 , which is not the best league.We can also see that he has improved a lot when he returns to the national team« , he adds.

If Roberto Martinez, the coach, does not rely on the pool playing in the Jupiler Pro League, he relies a lot on his internationals who fill the workforce of English clubs: « Finally, the Red Devils championship is the Premier League, jokes Christophe Franken. Moreover, various Belgian media have sent permanent correspondents to England to follow the championship « . For this Euro, Martinez called on ten Premier League players, including Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne and Leicester midfielder Youri Tielemans. They were even eleven at the last World Cup, when Eden Hazard was still playing on the side of Chelsea.

« Paradoxically, you shouldn’t have too many Red Devils in the Belgian championship, that would be a bad sign on the level of the selection. »

Christophe franken

to franceinfo: sport

However, according to Christophe Franken, the coach is regularly present in the stadiums of the Belgian championship to observe the local players: « He often summons large groups for friendlies or playoffs, to show that he is following the players, to send them positive signals, but we know that the hard core play abroad. » Roberto Martinez would he try to keep a minimum of Jupiler Pro League players in selection, as a matter of principle? « One can even wonder if Vanaken would have been taken if the roster had not been expanded to 26 players. »

According to Franken, even the proposed merger between the Belgian and Dutch leagues (BeneLeague) would not reverse the trend: « The aim is to become the fifth European Championship, but that would not make Belgium more attractive. Maybe that would just delay the departure of the right people. «  And the Belgian federation finds itself without a solution, while the clubs do not have the means to retain their players: « At the beginning, it was shocking, but the federation understood that it was a waste of time. Finally, we would not have been particularly shocked if there had not been a Belgian league player with the Devils in Euro « , admits Christophe Franken.

Despite a neglected national championship, Belgium remains a favorite of the Euro. They face Italy on Friday July 2, a selection that presents diametrically opposed characteristics, with only four players playing far from Serie A.

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