Spaniard Roberto Martinez has been in charge of the Belgian National Football Team for over six years and has not been able to get their golden generation of a squad a serious piece of silverware. This World Cup in Qatar may be his last chance with these great players, and it would be a shame to see them bow out without providing their fans with one last thrill.
No one is saying Belgium is going to win the cup only that they could if things just worked out for them. The three main things that have to happen for that true cup contention to materialize are that the team reaches Qatar in good health, that Martinez places the right lineup into the right strategic position to optimize their abilities, and that as the game progresses the Belgian players and their coach do not choke.
It is sad when a group of talented players is hampered by a coach who does not seem to get the best out of them and is yet retained year after year. Not that Martinez is a bad coach, only that after so many years in charge without a trophy the Belgian Football Federation should have said “ok, it is time we will try someone else.” Martinez has a good club-coaching track record, and he is a smart, modern team administrator with good player-management instincts and decent strategic results.
The issue is that he should be able to innovate and create with the team he has been given. Instead of borrowing from this or that school of thought or from a mentor-manager from his past, the Spaniard needs to be formulating box-breaking conceptualizations of how best to meld a Courtois with a Carrasco, Hazard, Lukaku, and de Bruyne. He needs to know that Tielemans and Ketelaere are ready for some prime-time exposure and that this is the cup to try his luck.
If Martinez leaves the World Cup with his charges having made the quarterfinals, he will have left the team’s potential unmet. If he reaches the semifinals, then he will have replicated past performances and can call himself a capable manager. But he needs to reach the finals to be able to say with any conviction that he set his team up well for success.
The key for Martinez will be his matchups against the big boys—the likes of Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, France, Holland, and Portugal. If he can formulate, and implement through his charges, a game plan that wins over such opposition and do so sequentially, then he will have earned his wings with the Belgian golden generation and our sport’s history.
Photo: Belgian Coach: Roberto Martinez, Dreamstime.com ID: 78680605, by Oleksandr Osipov