ST PETERSBURG – It was a two-year process for Roberto Martinez to harness the individual talents of Belgium’s golden generation and bring them to the brink of the World Cup final, he said on Monday.
Belgium meet France in the semis in St Petersburg on Tuesday with the Red Devils tantalizingly close now to fulfilling their potential after previously under-achieving with a talent-laden squad.
“It’s been two years to try and understand these footballers, the human beings behind the footballers, and to try and get a group that shared the same ambition, not just to use the national team to improve their brand,” Martinez told a news conference.
“We’ve strived to be as good as we could be at the international level and it’s taken us two years to get there. But there haven’t been one or two secrets to make it work, it’s been common sense.
“It’s a group of people who share a vision of making Belgian football proud and achieving something important and these players have done that.”
Martinez, previously manager of English clubs Swansea City, Wigan Athletic, and Everton, took over after a disappointing European Championship in 2016 when Belgium were beaten 3-1 by Wales in the quarter-finals.
“Working in the Premier League you are well aware of the Belgian talent. It’s not something you need to travel to Belgium to realize,” he said.
“It was intriguing to want to be part of this team, of this group, of this generation. I think the Belgian footballer is quite unique – technically-gifted player with an incredible footballing brain.
“Now a lot of questions have been answered in terms of saying ‘this is a team, not a group of individuals’. They’ve almost made a commitment of trying to help each other to become a high-performance squad.”
Martinez shot down suggestions Belgium might have played their best game in beating Brazil in the last eight and would find it hard to lift their game again for the challenge of France.
“No, no, I think when you are in the semi-final of the World Cup it’s a unique moment in anyone’s career and I don’t think you switch off. It is an opportunity, almost to try and improve on what we did against Brazil,” he said.
“It’s great to be facing a team like France because they are very similar in terms of the individual talent they have,” Martinez added.