The term “golden generation” is arguably thrown around a bit too freely in football. England’s golden generation of the 2000s, for example, is most associated with failure to live up to its promise. In the United States currently, there is talk of a golden generation, despite many of the players not yet proving worthy of the tag on the pitch. There is potential, yes, but you could argue that the golden generation label should be applied retrospectively.
What, then, to make of the current Belgium team, the side for whom the golden generation name is applied to most frequently in modern football? The team, of course, is successful, coming third in the 2018 World Cup and becoming ranked as the best team in the world for the first time in 2019. But the final step to truly merit the golden generation tag is victory in a major tournament, and many people are tipping Belgium for the European Championships, which gets underway next month.
Perhaps the last chance for several Belgium players
In his coverage of Euro 2020 Group B for MansionBet, Chris Rivers points to the fact that “the clock is ticking” on this generation of Belgium footballers. The writer has a good point. The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne may be viewed as being at the peak of their powers, but many players who formed the backbone of this generation – like Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld – are in their 30s. The band is going to break up eventually, even if Belgium fans can point to other young talent coming through.
The good news for Belgium is that they have a very easily navigable group, featuring Denmark, Russia and Finland. They are considered third favourites for the tournament, marginally behind France and England in the bookmakers’ eyes. The pathway through the knockout stage is a little convoluted to predict, but Roberto Martinez will be confident the Red Devils can cut a path through any side en route to the Final at Wembley on 11th July.
If we could offer a little criticism of Belgium, it is the depth of the squad. Whereas England might be so stacked with talent that leaving the likes of Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold at home is an option, the fringes of Belgium’s squad are somewhat lacklustre. Christian Benteke has managed 11 goals for Crystal Palace across the last three seasons, yet he still merits a place in the squad of the top-ranked team in world football. While he is admittedly more prolific for country than club, you might worry about Belgium’s chances should Lukaku get injured and Benteke become the main target man.
Squad has a sense of unity that others will envy
Nevertheless, there is a sense of unity about this Belgium team that makes you believe that they will succeed. Indeed, the spine of the first eleven – Courtois, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku – remains the same as it was in Russia in 2018, France at Euro 2016 and the World Cup 2014 before that. The point of the golden generation is that the players have, by and large, come through the ranks together – and that is most applicable to Belgium. In the end, that unity is perhaps Belgium’s greatest weapon. We mentioned England, who could soon be tagged as having a golden generation, as potential winners given the strength of Gareth Southgate’s squad. But many of the English players have rarely lined up with each other before. We, perhaps unfairly, maligned Christian Benteke earlier, but his teammates know him well and vice versa. That’s part of the strength of this Belgian team that does not always show up on paper. Next month, it will be time to prove it.