Belgium’s Golden Generation crashed out at the group stages at what is certainly going to be the last World Cup for many players. Roberto Martinez has gone, and its likely that Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Aldeweireld will also depart the international stage. Martinez kept faith with those he had led into tournaments for the past six years, leaving the next generation on the bench. While it would be bold to say that the next generation will be as good as the one we have seen, there are certainty reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Red Devils.
At 30 years of age, Thibaut Courtois probably still has another World Cup in him, and given his quality the Red Devil’s would be wise to utilise every bit of his time as a professional player. After him, Genk’s current and RB Leipzig’s future keeper Maarten Vandevoordt could be the future Belgian number one. He made the Genk number one spot his own as a teenager, and is quickly amassing plenty of experience at a young age. His move to Leipzig won’t come till 2024, when he should be in a good position to start every game for them. Playing Bundesliga football at 24, he should be ready to take over when Courtois is ready to move on.
With this tournament being the end for both Vertonghen and Aldeweireld, whoever takes over from Martinez will have to blood new defenders. Wout Faes, Arthur Theate and Zeno Debast all made the 26 man squad, yet none of them played a single minute at the finals. In a way, this was a waste as it would have given them valuable tournament experience for the future. Any new coach can easily slot these three into a back three, as we spoke about before the tournament started. All three are young enough to be the defensive core for the Red Devils over the next few years.
In midfield, Axel Witsel will more than likely be phased out after showing he was a shadow of his former self at this tournament. Amadou Onana looks well set to take the defensive role, and was one of the few youngsters Martinez was happy to start in Qatar. Putting him alongside Youri Tielemens may well be the way to go in the future, Roméo Lavia of Southampton is also one to factor in to any future Belgian midfield. Sambi Lokonga, while at Anderlecht, looked to be one for the future, but he has struggled at Arsenal so far. Being only 23, there is still time for him to live up to the promise he showed with the Mauves.
Aster Vranckx burst on to the scene at KV Mechelen, earning a move to VFL Wolsburg and now the 20 year old is on loan at AC Milan. If he can continue to develop as predicted, he could well be in competition for a central-midfield role with the Red Devils in the years to come.
Jeremy Doku only got 20 minutes in Qatar to have an impact on a Red Devils side that needed his style of play. He showed in that short period of time that he is hugely talented, and at just 20 years of age will be a big player for the Belgians going forward. Keeping him fit will be the biggest concern, as he has had a number of injuries in a short period of time. He could be to this generation what Eden Hazard was in his prime, the creative tricky winger that can transition the side and open the door for the strikers.
Anderlecht’s Yari Verschaeren is another one to keep an eye on. The 21 year-olds development was curtailed somewhat by injury a few seasons ago, and this season he has been moved around to fit into Felice Mazzu’s Anderlecht system. However, Mazzu has left and new manager Brian Riemer may be able to fully unlock the potential Verschaeren has.
Lois Openda scored in the warm-up game, but was limited to just a few minutes off the bench. He may have to still play second fiddle to Romelu Lukaku at the next tournament, as the record goal scorer will still be the preferred striking option. Even in Qatar, it was evident that without Lukaku the Red Devils lacked the goal threat needed at this level. Openda, at 22 years of age, is at the moment the striker of the future. Charles De Ketelaere of AC Milan has struggled since his move, but again he is young and should be given time to adjust to the Italian league. He was the best player for Club Brugge during the title winning 2021/2022 season, single handily winning them points at times. Finding his best position in this Belgian side will be difficult, as at Brugge he flirted somewhere between attacking midfielder and striker.
The Belgian FA have a big decision to make on who will lead the Red Devils as they transition from the Golden Generation to the new generation. Whoever is given that job should be happy to know that they will be blessed with some fresh new talent that deserves a chance to show what it can do.