By Ryan Fleming
John Chapman has been living in Brussels for more years “than he can remember.” And he’s been covering Belgian soccer for as long. A contributor to the likes of FourFourTwo and others, Chapman is one of the experts and journalists covering Belgian soccer. He runs his own site, It’s Only Belgian Football, But I Like It, and gives the league the kind of exposure it deserves outside of Belgium.
And we wanted to get more insight into the Belgian Jupiler League and the Belgian National Team, a team getting a lot of praise and with loads of potential. So, we sent over some questions to get Chapman’s views on what’s happening in Belgium and what to look for from the national team int he coming years.
The Soccer Guys (TSG): With Belgium missing out on qualifying for the Euro this summer, is it really all or nothing in qualifying for the World Cup?
John Chapman (JC): I don’t think so, but the fans wouldn’t be happy. It’s a very young squad so you can hardly say now or never. For example, at time of Russia WC in 2018, Lukaku will be 24, Courtois 26, De Bruyne 27, Vadis Odjidja 27, Witsel 29, Defour & Fellaini 30, Dries Mertens, Vertonghen, Dembélé (all 31) and old-timers Kompany and Vermaelen 32. Having said that, there will be pressure to qualify for Brazil as the squad has been hyped as the ‘golden generation’. And it certainly is a talented bunch. Tough group though and I’m not sure Leekens is the man for the job.
TSG: What players would one specifically look out for as Belgium tries to qualify? What players are vital to be healthy for the team to succeed?
JC: Kompany and Vermaelen are top players but Vertonghen and Lombaerts are good back-up. As captain, Kompany is probably vital. Hazard is seen by many as world-class already but he’s often clashed with Leekens and rarely plays well for Belgium. The old Standard trio of Witsel, Defour and Fellaini should be key. Main problem is to find a consistent goal scorer; Lukaku isn’t playing and there’s no one else at the moment. The other player to watch is Thibaut Courtois, a really top keeper in the future.
TSG: Can you explain Belgian Natinoal Team tactics?
JC: I find this a tough one. Leekens like to play 4-3-3 with two out and out wingers. As he hasn’t really had a settled 11 because of injuries and such a large squad to choose from, tricky to say what tactics are. They frequently try to be too offensive at home and get picked off, that could be down to inexperience.
TSG: Do you think the jump for Kevin de Bruyne will be as difficult as Romelu Lukaku has found it?
JC: Not really as he will undoubtedly stay at Genk this season and then spend one or two more years on loan. So he’ll have a period of transition.
Stupid that Lukaku played just one game for Anderlecht this season and that meant he couldn’t go out on loan. I’m not totally convinced by either player. Lukaku rated higher outside Belgium than at home; De Bruyne has had about half a good season and only plays when he has the ball.
TSG: On the topic of Lukaku, do you think Andreas Villas-Boas should [have] given him more time than just the last 10 minutes of games? Or do you think he should have followed the “Kompany Route” in taking slow steps to the bigger leagues?
JC: I don’t think big clubs wanted Kompany when he was at Anderlecht as he had one or two injury problems towards the end. Then again, I do feel Lukaku should have gone on loan to Lille/Lyon before trying to get in Chelsea team. I guess Chelsea have learnt from mistakes.
TSG: Talk about some up-and-coming Belgians, maybe in the Jupiler League, or elsewhere.
JC: I assume members of the current national team are discounted, even though some are very young. So, in midfield, Vadis Odjidja (19) at Club Brugge (currently injured) is a real prospect and will be close to national team soon. At Standard there’s an 18 year-old striker by name of Michy Batshuayi, he’s scored a quite a few goals in his first season and has real pace. Thomas Kaminski (19) is a good young keeper at Leuven, he’ll be joining Anderlecht in the summer. And to be honest, that’s about it in the Jupiler League. Anderlecht have only two Belgians in the first team.
Anderlecht have two Belgians in the first team; Standard have three at most, Genk a few and Club Brugge have several good youngsters, but it’s too soon to shout about them.
Two others to watch out for, in Italy, are an attacking midfielder – Omar El Kaddouri (21) at Brescia. he came on against England U21 and turned the game – one of many players to start at Anderlecht and not make it. Also, watch out for Radja Nainggolan (23) at Cagliari – a real battling midfielder who has a big reputation.
In France, Lille’s Gianni Bruno (20) looks very useful – a young striker.
The player everyone mentions is Charly Musonda Junior, aged 15, and on Anderlecht’s books. Said to be a cross between Xavi and Iniesta. So no pressure there.
TSG: Thoughts on the American game?
JC: I saw USA lose to Belgium last year; was impressed by Jose Torres, Kyle Beckerman and Brek Shea. I know Howard, Dempsey and Donovan of course, good players. I just have a feeling that USA should be doing better than they are. I have to admit I’m no expert.
TSG: Any other talking points?
JC: Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan is fond of complaining that Klinsmann never watches the Jupiler League. He has actually been having a great season, doing a lot of the hard work for his more obviously talented colleagues. Big difference to last season when he looked lost.
Well it will soon be time to talk about the Playoffs system. the top six will go into Playoffs 1 and play each other twice, starting with half the points they gained in the classic season. Everybody says they dislike it but it was very exciting last season – when Genk were champions and Anderlecht won the classic season.
Follow Chapman on Twitter @Belgofoot and visit his site: http://belgofoot.squarespace.com/
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.