About half of Marc Wilmots’ squad are based in the Premier League, but plenty of them are struggling for regular action
This means that fringe players can still believe in their chances of selection while the squad regulars just want to play football. The result has been a number of high-profile on-off transfer sagas, involving agents, lawyers, parents, club chairmen, coaches, managers and – in the midst of the statements and counter-statements – a lone footballer.
First up is Thorgan Hazard, once merely brother of the more famous Eden. Then he won the Belgian League’s Player of the Year award and, heavily prompted by his advisors, Hazard Junior looked certain to break his contract with league minnows Zulte Waregem. Then, presumably advised by their lawyers, Anderlecht backed off.
Over in Liege, Standard’s young Michy Batshuayi – strong, quick and a proven goalscorer – was the subject of a transfer saga that involved claims and counter-claims by agents, clubs and his parents. Finally, the player himself stood up and said “enough is enough”. Batshuayi is staying in Liege and presumably he thinks that Wilmots knows where to find him.
Both Hazard and Batshuayi are fringe players at best, but the third – Steven Defour – is a certainty for Wilmots’ squad.
The problem is a lack of playing time at Porto. Hey presto, his agent fixed up a deal in the omnipresent Premier League. The deal looked certain until Porto’s captain Lucho decided he fancied a move to Qatar and that meant Defour was needed in Portugal, even though he could remain on the bench.
But some moves do come to fruition. Take Kevin de Bruyne, a key player in Wilmots’ World Cup strategy. After a successful season on loan in the Bundesliga, he was told by Chelsea that he was needed in London. Now, after six months of watching matches from the stands, De Bruyne has been granted a move back to Germany.
In Italy, Radja ‘Ninja’ Nainggolan – a midfield warrior of Belgo-Indonesian extraction who would walk into most countries’ squads – moved to Roma in a complex transaction that involved deals about co-ownership. He immediately restated his desire to fight his way into the World Cup squad.
The dust will settle in a couple of days’ time when the transfer window closes. Wilmots’ main problems lie with those players – about half the squad at the last count – plying their trade in the Premier League.
It’s a dilemma. At the “top” clubs, some players risk not playing enough due to the intense competition for places while others risk being burnt out by the end of a season that has no winter break and an overly-physical approach to the “beautiful game”.
That is Wilmots’ real problem – he wants to be loyal to his proven players, while wanting them to play regularly, but not too much. Who would be a coach?!