What next for bruised Belgium after European exploits and Wilmots dismissal?
Lee Gormley | July 16, 2016
What next for bruised Belgium?
Despite boasting what had been dubbed their ‘Golden Generation’, Belgium faltered at the quarter-final stage of Euro 2016 this summer, following a similar exit from the 2014 World Cup, and it was coach Marc Wilmots who immediately paid the price.
The 47-year-old was recently relieved of his Red Devils duties just two weeks after the national side’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of a gallant Wales outfit, who were outdone by eventual champions Portugal in the semis.
Wilmots was in charge for 51 games spanning four years and entered this summer’s European Championship boasting a squad of many star names, a team which were also ranked second in the world rankings by FIFA before the tournament.
Although, Belgium’s earlier Euro exit, added to their World Cup semi-final defeat to Argentina two years ago, proved to be a damaging blow for Wilmots as he was giving his marching orders. So following the sacking and recent disappointing showings, where do Belgium go next?
2018 World Cup qualifiers on the horizon
The Red Devils have been installed at 16/1 with Coral to lift the 2018 World Cup in Russia, though they face a long uphill battle to regroup after recent struggles and their managerial departure.
Belgian FA president Francois de Keersmaecker thanked the dismissed coach for his efforts in a recent statement released, but also admitted the squad needed a new sense of momentum before their next qualifying campaign.
“The Royal Belgian Football Association have made an agreement with Marc Wilmots to end his contract, that lasted until 2018,” he outlined.
“With Wilmots as a head coach, the Red Devils have climbed from the 54th position to the top of the Fifa world ranking. He managed to win 34 games out of 51, including eight draws. Above all, the fans have reinstalled their love for the Belgian Red Devils during this period.
“The RBFA’s technical commission have made an evaluation of the recent Euro 2016 and have declared that the intended goals have not been reached. There is a common sense that the team needs a new impulse to lead this group towards a top result at a major tournament.”
The Red Devils’ hopes of bouncing back in qualifying for Russia are encouraged by their promising Group H opponents, with none of Greece, Estonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Cyprus being daunting challengers. Therefore, they are odds-on 2/7 to top their standings.
Search begins for new man at the helm
With Wilmots gone, the search has begun for a new man at the Belgium helm, with a host of names having already been cast into the running at this early stage.
Boasting the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku in their ranks, many would assume guiding such a talented roster would come easy, but Wilmots failed in uniting so many star names, suffering defeat to a seemingly much more committed Wales.
It’s clear the next man in charge must do a better job of managing a squad of not just huge names from Europe, but big egos too, but does that necessarily mean acquiring a high-profile former player again?
Wilmots arrived on the coaching scene after netting 28 goals in 70 appearances for Belgium across a 12-year international playing career, while also still holding their record for most World Cup strikes (5).
Plenty of potential managerial candidates have been thrust into the fray since Wilmots’ somewhat expected departure, with former Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal being an interesting name put out there, while Eric Gerets and Michel Preud’homme are other options.
Who will succeed Wilmots as Belgian boss?
It’s been the case in the past that big name managers, who arrive on the scene after plenty of playing success, don’t always emerge with similar proficiency on the sidelines, with Marco van Basten being a key example of this.
The Dutch legend’s stint as full-time Netherlands coach didn’t go smoothly, and was involved in plenty of fall-outs with high-profile stars including Ruud van Nistelrooy, while Wilmots at Belgium was another more recent unsuccessful player-turned-coach.
Van Gaal is an intriguing potential option for the Red Devils, having had his time at Old Trafford cut short despite ending the club’s 12-year wait for an FA Cup triumph. After the stresses of the Premier League, a return to international coaching may be perfect for the former Clockwork Orange tactician.
“Van Gaal might be a potential candidate…”
He enjoyed relative success in charge of his home nation during two spells, and the Belgium opening could tempt him back to the dugout, with Belgian FA president De Keersmaecker also having admitted Van Gaal could be an option.
“Van Gaal might be a potential candidate,” De Keersmaecker declared. “We will see if he puts himself forward as a candidate. If he does then we will evaluate his candidacy.”
Former international shot stopper Preud’homme, who led Club Bruges to the Belgian championship in May, was also among the early favourites and the 57-year-old could be a suitable candidate with his club experience.
Another option is former right back Gerets, who was famously known as ‘the Lion’ during his playing career, with the 62-year-old also regarded as one of the greatest ever to have featured for Belgium.
He also masterminded PSV’s first and only ever European Cup triumph back in 1988, and his renowned systematic approach may tempt his country to come calling for the vacant managerial role.
It’s evident that whoever is chosen next to lead Belgium, they will need to gain immediate control and respect from a dressing room full of big name stars, with the Red Devils set to face Spain in a friendly on September 1st, before their hopeful World Cup qualifying campaign begins.