Belgium Just the Latest Golden Generation Exposed to Excess Hype
A small number of bloggers and journalists will presumably have been pretty smug on Friday evening, as two Romelu Lukaku goals confirmed Belgium's place in the World Cup.
A few years ago a few bright sparks, including sites like the Belgian Waffle, spotted that there was an uncommonly large number of brilliant young players coming through the Belgian system, and championed them accordingly.
And with players like Thibaut Courtois, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku combining, this made Belgium everyone's "dark horses" for years to come.
Of course, as Rory Smith noted in The Times on Monday, there comes a point when a dark horse can no longer be regarded as dark—at some point, they're just a horse, and after their qualification with a game to spare, Belgium will be one of the European teams to watch in Brazil.
This turnaround was the result of hard work and innovative thinking, according to former national coach Georges Leekens, who told The Daily Express:
This was a country where footballers had had enough of being criticised for failure. We needed to change this mindset and get them to believe in themselves and, most importantly, get them enjoying themselves.
In terms of youth development, we worked more on the qualities that we have and focused less on what we can’t do. We started to work on the positive things. Before we didn’t have any wingers, now we have three or four high-quality players.
Of course, others simply attributed it to that most vague of things, the "golden generation," which comes with its own problems. This is a term familiar to most, and one that generally induces sighs and rolled eyes aplenty.
We all know about England, with the likes of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney excelling at club level, leading many to assume that this talent would automatically translate to the national team.
As it turned out, England's "golden generation" turned out to simply fulfil the seemingly traditional English criteria of mediocrity and semi-glorious failure, talking an excellent game but freezing on the biggest stage.
Of course, England weren't the only ones.
The Portuguese "golden generation" stemmed from an outrageously-talented young side, featuring Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Jorge Costa winning successive World Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991. Great things were expected of them, but the best Portugal could do was humiliation at the hands of Greece on their own turf, in the final of Euro 2004.
The Ivory Coast's team is reaching the end of its current "golden generation"— a side featuring Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Eboue and the Toure brothers was expected to dominate Africa and make a serious impression on the World Cup, but a series of disappointments in the Cup of Nations (including two final defeats on penalties) and group stage exits at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 all give the impression that this was a generation of talent wasted.
Holland have had any number of golden generations, with the most notable of recent years the team rooted in the great Ajax side of the mid-90s. Great things were expected of the De Boer brothers, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert, but again they ultimately disappointed.
This Belgian side is of course hugely talented, but history teaches us not to expect too much of them, dark horses or not.
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