John Napier – Poor Little Belgium “Gets No Respect”
John Napier is a former professional soccer player who represented his country of birth Northern Ireland at every International level. He had a distinguished seventeen year professional playing career, starting with Bolton Wanderers in 1961-67. Napier also played for Brighton & Hove Albion and Bradford City in England as well as the NASL in America for the Baltimore Comets and the San Diego Jaws. Napier has coached at the professional level in England, and since the 70’s, the multiple time MVP Napier has shared his expertise developing youth players. A highly respected youth soccer coach, Napier coaches with the San Diego Soccer Club and also identifies players, and coaches for Cal South ODP and has had numerous National Championship winning teams. Napier is a regular columnist sharing his insights on player development and the joys of soccer.
The little Kingdom of Belgium, is actually a real federal monarchy in Western Europe and has a thriving soccer community. A founding member of the international federations FIFA (in 1904) and UEFA (in 1954), Belgium — says John Napier — deserves more respect!
Soccer coaches all over the world always talk about the youth systems of such great soccer countries as Holland (Netherlands) and Spain and of course South American greats Brazil and Argentina. They are all fantastic, proving it almost every decade with new young talented players.
But hardly anyone ever mentions “Little Belgium.”
Poor little Belgium gets no respect. Well people, we need to look a little closer at such a small country. Belgium is approximately the same size as the state of Maryland with a population of ten and a half million people, but it has produced some very high-quality players.
How come this small country can produce such well-known and great soccer talent? It really is remarkable when you look at the players that will represent this small country in this year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Belgium has always been able to produce soccer talent. Maybe not as much as neighbor Holland, but over the last decade it has produced so many talented young players that they could be a dark horse to go all the way in this year’s World Cup in the summer. At least in my thoughts.
According to a presentation by Bob Browaeys on the Belgium Vision on Youth Development, the country had approximately 2000 clubs and 400,000 registered players on 17,902 teams in 2012. The focus is on six basic competences that a future top player needs to develop:
- Winner’s mentality
- Emotional stability
- Insight in the game
- Ball and body control
The Belgium youth development model is an interesting document filled with all the requirements to be able to get to the top as a soccer player, and this country has been working very hard to get to where they want to be. They have seldom been explosive at the club level, but over the years have sent young players to some of the most famous clubs in the world.
As they come back to represent Belgium as a nation, we see why they are so successful with their youth soccer programs. The Belgians were Euro League Champions in 2012, and when you look at the top countries in Europe that is a fantastic achievement.
With the World Cup bracket they are in, Belgium will have a very good chance of progressing. They are the highest ranked team in their group, facing Russia (No. 19), Algeria (25) and Republic of Korea (60). Many of the country’s best players currently take the field for top international clubs and bring that experience home to their national team. Among the key players will be goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), defender Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), midfielder Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and forward Romelu Lukaku(Everton, on loan from Chelsea).
Belgium Men’s National Team with Current Professional Clubs:
- Thibaut Courtois (Athletic Madrid)
- Maurouane Fellaini (Manchester United)
- Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
- Axel Witsel (Zenit Russia)
- Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich)
- Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
- Keven Mirallas (Everton)
- Toby Alderweireld (Athletic Madrid)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg German League)
- Nacer Chadli (Tottenham)
- Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)