With star players out of action, young Red Devils have a chance to prove their worth

Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois have all been ruled out of Belgium's friendly against Ireland on Saturday. While the absence of key players is never a good thing, it does provide an opportunity for the next generation to prove they have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Belgium's "golden generation".

Tonight, the Red Devils play the first of two friendlies in preparation for this summer's European Football Championship in Germany. After Ireland in Dublin, they face England in London on Tuesday. But coach Domenico Tedesco's most high-profile players won't be available.

World-class midfielder De Bruyne is out with a groin injury. Lukaku, Belgium's all-time top scorer, is struggling with a hip injury. And Courtois, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, has torn the meniscus in his right knee.

Irrepairable rift

De Bruyne and Lukaku will return to the team at some point. Courtois, however, is a different story. After a previous injury in December, he said he would skip the European Championships to recover. It emerged that this decision was due to a disagreement with Tedesco.

The rift between the two now seems irreparable. At a press conference last week, Tedesco said he had tried "absolutely everything" to mend their relationship. Courtois responded on social media with three long-nosed emojis, essentially calling him a liar.

While the loss of Courtois is a blow to the squad, there could be a silver lining. Other players have spoken out against his attitude and his return could have a negative impact on the team's chemistry. And like the other injured players, Courtois is in his 30s, nearing the end of his career. Their absence could be an opportunity for the squad to prepare for the future.

A new golden generation?

Tedesco seems to agree, judging by his selection. He has left out Toby Alderweireld and Axel Witsel, two of the last members of the golden generation still playing at the very top level. "We can call them up if we need them, but I don't feel a need for that right now," he said. "We are making plenty of time to give the youngsters confidence."

There are plenty of youngsters with the potential to follow in the footsteps of the "golden generation". Take 19-year-old Arthur Vermeeren, who has just signed for Atlético Madrid. Or Jérémy Doku, the 21-year-old winger who played a key role in Manchester City's success last year. And let's not forget about Loïs Openda, the 24-year-old striker who has already scored 19 goals in the Bundesliga this season.

The Belgian Football Federation seems to agree with his approach. Tedesco was handed a two-year contract extension last week, a move that usually comes after a major tournament. "It's about trust, within the league and within the team," Tedesco said. "It's a clear signal to everyone."

Manchester City's Jérémy Doku during a training session. BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY
Manchester City's Jérémy Doku during a training session. BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY


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