Domenico Tedesco breathes new life into Belgian football team
The group-stage exit at the World Cup in Qatar was the lowest point in Belgium’s recent footballing history. It resulted in the end of Roberto Martinez’s six-year run as national coach and the retirement of several high-profile players. While fans expected a long road to recovery, Domenico Tedesco has managed to right the ship in just two months.
Although only 37, and the youngest ever coach of the Belgian national team, Tedesco already has a reputation for reanimating lifeless squads. He guided Schalke 04 to second place in the Bundesliga in his first season at the club and won Germany's top cup competition, the DFB Pokal, after just five months in charge of RB Leipzig.
He's now done the same with the Belgium national team. Less than two months after his appointment, Tedesco’s team beat Sweden 3-0 and Germany 3-2 with two convincing performances. They were a sharp contrast to the disappointing 2-0 defeat in November against Morocco in the World Cup. Several factors help explain the reawakening of the Belgian Red Devils.
A new generation
Tedesco made his first impression in Belgium by upsetting several players who had been certain of their place for years. The likes of Dries Mertens, Michy Batshuayi, Youri Tielemans and Axel Witsel were left out of the squad, in favour of younger upcoming talent. He also opted for a slimmed-down squad, with just 20 players.
Before the match against Sweden, the German-Italian coach faced plenty of criticism for his decisions. "We will start evaluating our cooperation with the federation internally," said Dimitri de Condé, technical director at league leaders KRC Genk, when none of his players were selected. “I find this a total lack of respect towards our club."
But Tedesco’s decisions were vindicated as the newcomers seized their chances. Amadou Onana (21), Dodi Lukebakio (25), Orel Mangala (25), Wout Faes (24) and Arthur Theate (22) were among the squad’s best performers.
Another problem for Belgium in Qatar was Kevin De Bruyne’s mental state. The star midfielder was visibly unhappy with Martinez’s decisions and performed far below his best at the tournament. With his goal and two assists against Germany, it seems Tedesco has brought De Bruyne back to life.
Tedesco also showed off his tactical flexibility, by adapting his formation to his opponent. Martinez always stuck to a predictable formation, which opposing managers figured out and were able to exploit.
"That there is a new enthusiasm around the Devils? I am happy you also feel that"
As the Red Devils have shown in the past weeks, there is plenty to be excited about for Belgian football fans. Tedesco agrees: "That there is a new enthusiasm around the Devils? I am happy you also feel that," he said after the game against Germany.
"Of course, it's cool when you win, but above all, I wanted to convey hope to the players and the staff. Belgian football was not going downhill: after all, losing at a World Cup is always a possibility. The quality was there, but sometimes there was a lack of confidence."
The question remains whether Belgium can carry on this momentum. Tedesco didn't manage to continue his good results at Schalke and Leipzig, leading to his resignation from both clubs. Time will tell if his tenure with the Red Devils ends the same way.
© BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR