The real story behind Belgium’s renaissance

Belgium have some very talented players in their national team. Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Adnan Januzaj Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel…  Quite amazing for a country of only 11 million citizens.  There’s a lot of media telling that the Belgian FA (KBVB/URBSFA) is responsible for this so called “Golden Generation”. I explain you why others deserve much more credit for this talented pool of Belgian players.

It’s true that the Belgian FA changed a lot of things in 2006. They tried to be more professional and made some changes. But all that has nothing or very little to do with this generation who qualified for the World Cup in Brazil. They should get credit for the national football centre that was built in Tubize though. The idea to to make change the Belgium’s youth development was there but it wasn’t supported by everyone.

Kompany's presence missed. Photo - Erik Drost

Vincent Kompany is one of the best players Belgium have produced but he was very much made in Anderlecht.

The Belgium FA only started to make structural changes when Dick Advocaat became Belgium’s national coach in 2009. He was furious about the Belgian FA’s amateurism. He only wanted the best for their players. Belgium was willing to listen to Dick Advocaat and were prepared to invest in the Belgium national team. François De Keersmaecker was then also very disappointed when Dick Advocaat left Belgium for some bags of Russian money.

For me, the Belgian FA really started to invest in the future of Belgium’s football when they’ve signed Steven Martens. The current CEO of the Belgian FA made first made a product of the Belgium national team. Helped with some good results and the Belgian hype in the Premier League he made Belgium one of the biggest marketing monsters since decades. He did not only make a money machine of the Belgium national team but he implemented the youth development plans the Belgian FA had been talking about for years

This year, Steven Martens and his team made some important changes to improve Belgium’s youth’s development department. They’ve made some structural changes, which suggests that the former youth structure wasn’t good enough or at least was ready for some improvements.

What did the Belgium FA exactly change this year?

  • U6 teams will play 2 versus 2 instead of 5 versus 5. At that age it’s important to feel the ball a lot. They’re not capable yet to think about the other ones in their team so it’s better to focus on their own game. With 2 versus 2 they’ll have more contact with the ball and learn how to score.
  • 8 versus 8 from U10 till U13 with variation of the width of the football pitches. 35 metres for U10 and U11 and 45 metres for U12 and U13. Belgium FA want their youth players to create more chances, have more passes in a game and learn their players to make more decisions.
  • Time-outs! Instead of having two traditional halves the Belgium youth teams will play their matches in four quarters (till U17). This means that coaches will have more time during the game to coach their youth players.
  • During the winter they want their youth teams to play indoor or on artificial turf fields.

Who should get credit than for this talented generation? Anderlecht, Standard Liège and Racing Genk have by far the best youth academies in Belgium. Even in Europe they’re praisen by a lot of football experts for their great work. You will not be surprised than if you see how many players have been trained in these Belgian academies. The time, effort and money that these teams invested are huge. It took them years to have become one of Europe’s best youth academies and it would not be fair to attribute the success solely to the Belgian FA.

Eden Hazard's father Thierry wanted his sons to benefit from the outstanding youth setup at Lille. (Photo: @Belgianfootball)

Eden Hazard’s father Thierry wanted his sons to benefit from the outstanding youth setup at Lille. (Photo: @Belgianfootball)

Most of our players also left Belgium at a very young age, especially the Netherlands. Eden Hazard had his formation in the well known youth academy of Lille OSC. “90%” of our Belgian team have been trained in famous youth academies, they’re the ones who should get credit for this talented generation.

It’s good to see that the Belgium FA are doing a lot of things to help Belgium football in the long term. The youth teams have developed their own house style and former internaionals such as Gert Verheyen (u19) and Johan Walem (u21) have been put in charge. Marc Wilmots has left the door open to Timmy Simons to play his part in shaping Belgium’s future. However much these more recent developments are to be welcomed, the early hard yards were put in place elsewhere.  Some years ago nobody was interested in the Belgium national team, now everybody wants to have their share of Belgium’s success. It’s not a coincidence that most of the players of Belgium all played at well known youth academies in their country or Europe and went on to have careers abroad. No less than nine of the World Cup squad have never played a top division league game in their home country.

Overview of where the Belgium players spent their youth career*:

Belgium Anderlecht Vanden Borre, Kompany, Mertens, Lukaku
  Standard Witsel, Fellaini (also Charleroi), Chadli, Mirallas
  Racing Genk Courtois, De Bruyne, Defour (also KV Mechelen)
  Charleroi Ciman, van Buyten
  Other Lombaerts (Club Brugge), Mignolet (Sint-Truiden), Bossut (Ingelmunster/Harelbeke), Dembélé (Germinal Beerschot)
France Lille Hazard, Origi (also Genk)
Netherlands Ajax Vermaelen (also Germinal Ekeren), Vertonghen, Alderweireld
England Manchester United Januzaj (also Anderlecht)


*Players move around a great deal even before they reach the professional ranks!

(More info on Belgium’s restructure of their Youth Football on

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