The rise of Belgium has been evident with how well the national team has played in World Cup qualifying. This stellar run of form has seen them rise to as high as 5th in the FIFA World Ranking, with their most recent placement at 11th. Fortunately for them the FIFA World Cup Draw seedings were based off of the October rankings, where they were 5th, and allowed them to be placed in a very favorable group with Russia, Algeria and Korea Republic. I for one pegged them as a Darkhorse team after the last World Cup in South Africa, but their rapid rise has them among the potential favorites. But despite all the talent they possess in the squad, they lack in World Cup experience. Some good results in the group stage could help make up for that.
Many of these talented Belgian players have made their way over to Chelsea, ranging from the lower youth ranks all the way up to the senior squad. From Eden Hazard down to Charly Musonda, the club is building up a solid core of Belgian talent. But recently, some of Chelsea's Belgian players have been making headlines for concerning reasons.
Last season Chelsea had four Belgians out on loan throughout Europe. Romelu Lukaku was bulldozing through Premier League defenses with West Brom, Kevin De Bruyne was slicing through Bundesliga backlines with Werder Bremen, Thibaut Courtois was stonewalling La Liga strikers with Atletico Madrid, and the other Hazard, Thorgan, was living up to the family name with some impressive play in the Jupiler League with Zulte-Waregem. These impressive showings had many Chelsea fans eagerly anticipating the potential arrival of them into the first team picture for the 2013-14 season. Besides Thorgan, the other three seemed more than capable of challenging for first team minutes.
The pre-season saw rumours come and go involving each of them, with some of those rumours having more traction than others. Despite these rumours all of these players remained under contract for Chelsea, with Courtois and Hazard being sent back on loan again to Atletico Madrid and Zulte-Waregem, respectively. As for Lukaku and De Bruyne, they would each get the chance to show Mourinho what they have to offer first hand. Both players had excellent preseasons, in my opinion, and both looked poised for first team minutes despite the depth of each of their positions.
The first few games saw a handful of starts for De Bruyne and a handful of substitute cameos for Lukaku. Many fans wondered why Lukaku wasn't given a chance to start given the scoring woes that had plagued Torres and Ba. Maybe it was a case of seniority or maybe it was tactical, but that is a question that is likely to remain unanswered for the time being. A poorly taken penalty in the Super Cup against Bayern proved the last action for Lukaku in a Chelsea uniform for this season (and hopefully just this season). A deadline day January loan agreement with Everton was made after Chelsea signed Eto'o left many fans stunned, angered and/or confused. What was Chelsea thinking? What was Mourinho thinking? One could only speculate as to why this happened, but we all hoped it was best for both parties.
Fast-forward to present day and the landscape of our Belgian contingent is starting to take shape. Eden Hazard is starting to show consistent signs of his world-class ability, as shown during the Sunderland match. He has been a regular in the Chelsea first team and is clearly a favorite of Mourinho as well as the fans. Over in Spain, Thibaut Courtois has continued being, well, Thibaut Courtois. He has helped Atletico Madrid turn the two-horse La Liga race into a three-horse race again, albeit with a little help from a certain
Brazilian Spanish stiker named Diego Costa. Over in Belgium, Thorgan Hazard is once again lighting up the Jupiler League. His performances make you wonder if a step up to a more competitive league would have been the right move, but you can't fault Chelsea for keeping him in a team that he had grown comfortable playing in. He has come out and said he does not feel he is ready to play for Chelsea just yet, which is probably true. He has highlighted Kevin De Bruyne's situation as a reason why, as he knows that a player of his caliber is getting very few minutes would mean he would likely suffer the same fate should he return to early. He still dreams of one day playing alongside Eden at Chelsea, which would be fantastic if it comes to fruition. His performances have put him on the radar of Belgian coach Marc Wilmots, as evidenced by his first senior international cap, and he may get a chance to play alongside his brother for Belgium before he does for Chelsea. He is likely a long shot to make the squad for this summer's World Cup, but if he continues performing at a high level he will certainly be worthy of consideration.
Now we move onto the first of our final two Belgians on our books whose careers are both at a crossroads, albeit much different ones. Romelu Lukaku is thoroughly enjoying his time at Everton under Roberto Martinez where he as picked up where he left off last season at West Brom. He has been a nightmare for Premier League defenses, netting 8 times in his 11 appearances and adding 3 assists. His goalscoring ability is certainly evident, but his overall play has improved steadily from his time at West Brom. He is still far from a finished product as he still disappears for spells during matches and his ball control could use improving. But what he lacks at times in technical ability he more than makes up for in physical ability. There is, however, a need for more maturity on his part, both on and off the field. It is this off the field immaturity that has him at an impasse with Mourinho, who was not happy with what Lukaku had said during an interview when discussing his loan deal. Hopefully the situation is being blown out of proportion, but the situation is still one that needs to be resolved if Romelu is to have a future at Chelsea. He is a confessed Chelsea fan at heart, but I can only hope that still remains true after the problems he has had during his time here.
Kevin De Bruyne is our other Belgian at a proverbial Chelsea crossroad. His season started in very promising fashion having enjoyed a successful preseason that earned him early playing time. An assist against Hull City in the opening Premier League fixture had fans buzzing about what was to come in the future. His performance earned him starts against Manchester United in the Premier League and against Swindon and Arsenal in the league cup. His uninspiring performances, particularly against Swindon, and his perceived poor performance in training saw Mourinho relegate him to the bench, which is where he would spend most of his time apart from a few substitute cameos. This lack of playing time re-ignited the transfer speculation that surrounded him during the summer. He publicly stated he was happy at the Chelsea for now, but it was becoming clear that he craved first-team minutes. Mourinho somewhat recently stated he regretted the way he had been treating Kevin and hoped to give him more games. It's been three games since those words, and Kevin has only been given a 10-minute cameo against Steaua. It seems like it is make or break time for Kevin, and I for one hope he is given more of a chance to prove himself before January comes around. This weekends Crystal Palace match would be as good a chance as ever for Mourinho to give him playing time. I for one hope he gets a start, but a half hour cameo could go a long way towards restoring his confidence and form.
Hopefully we begin next season with Romelu, Kevin and Thibaut all in Chelsea blue (or whatever color our GK kit is). But there is no ignoring the fact that all three could be elsewhere. I think Chelsea would be wise to sort out each of their situations as soon as possible, as all three are great talents and have bright futures ahead of them. I guess for now we'll just have to wait and see how the Belgian conundrum plays itself out. I for one hope to be "Thibauting" this time next year.