Roberto Martinez has admitted it took him two years to give Belgium’s bunch of individual superstars the belief that they can go on and win their first World Cup together.
Belgium go into their semi-final against France in St Petersburg on Tuesday on a high after a quarter-win win over Brazil which shattered the notion that their big names are impossible to unite in one team.
Martinez said: “Now I think a lot of questions have been answered in saying that this is a team, not a group of individuals.
“They made a commitment of trying to help each other become a high-performance squad and to come together to be as good as we can at international level has been a two-year process.
“It’s a group of people who want to share the vision of making Belgian football proud and they’ve done that.”
Martinez believes Belgium’s success has been due to their adaptability, after he resisted criticism to play Kevin De Bruyne in a deep-lying midfield role for the group games, before switching to devastating effect against Brazil.
“The quality in this group is their incredible capacity to change things if the game needs it,” added Martinez.
“That execution against Brazil gives you the biggest satisfaction as an international coach. At this level that kind of intelligence and adaptability is essential.”
Martinez’s impact has been hailed by De Bruyne himself, with the Manchester City star – who made his senior debut in 2010 and has tasted previous World Cup and European Championship disappointment – convinced things are different.
“I think he has built on the potential of the team,” said De Bruyne.
“This team have been playing together for seven or eight years and I think he
has brought us tighter together with more belief in winning it.
“Maybe in the other two – the (last) World Cup and the European Championship, some players did not have the belief yet of winning it.”
According to Martinez, another aspect of Belgium’s emergence is the role of Thierry Henry, who will be put in the delicate position of having to plot the downfall of his former side having been appointed as assistant coach two years ago.
Martinez added: “Thierry has brought something we didn’t have.
“What we didn’t have was an international who has the knowledge of winning a World Cup, of being a footballer expected to perform in the eyes of the world and how it feels.
“We cannot follow the path of another Belgian generation that has won the World Cup. As a coach his dedication and attention to detail is so important, and he was the perfect missing piece of our technical staff.”
Stay updated with the latest news, gossip and football stories by following us @Football_P