COMMENT: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton are all represented in Marc Wilmots' Premier League-infused 23-man World Cup squad
Romelu Lukaku tells the story that Chelsea and Arsenal first tried to poach him for their academies when he was just 13 after he was spotted by the Londoners’ eagle-eyed youth scouts.
After much deliberation, he turned them down to focus on his schooling and to maintain a familiar environment to improve on his already obvious ability.
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He was not the only one in a Belgium squad that this summer boasts 13 players currently playing for Premier League clubs.
On Sunday, they have the chance to beat Russia at the Maracana and seal their place in the last 16 of their first World Cup finals in 12 years.
And after England’s early exit from the tournament, Lukaku has told disappointed Three Lions fans that they should switch their allegiance to the Red Devils.
“I hope the England fans support us now,” said the Chelsea striker.
“We are all proud that we play in such a beautiful country and that we have helped English football to become better. So hopefully the English will now support us throughout rest of the World Cup.”
For those Englishmen not digging out the family tree to find a far-flung link to Argentina or Chile, it makes perfect sense.
If England fans are looking for a new team to back in Brazil, then Belgium are the only option.
The English-based contingent in the 23-man Belgium squad is made up of players from Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton. The biggest and most successful clubs in the country all seem to have some sort of Belgian connection these days.
Two Belgian captains lifted the three domestic trophies in England this season. Vincent Kompany captained Manchester City to Premier League and Capital One Cup triumphs while Arsenal skipper Thomas Vermaelen was handed the FA Cup in the royal box at Wembley last month.
Eden Hazard won the PFA young player of the year award and lifted fans off their seats with some magical moments, Adnan Januzaj emerged as one of the few positives in a miserable season for Manchester United while Lukaku led Everton’s Champions League charge while on loan from Chelsea.
The Premier League has proved the perfect finishing school for their talents.
Just as he is for Chelsea, Hazard is the star turn and Wilmots claims the 23-year-old is one of the best five players in the world.
He has the chance to prove it during the World Cup but Hazard has admitted himself that he needs to improve on his mediocre record of just six goals from 45 national team appearances.
As Belgium continue to produce exciting young talents, expect their Premier League representation to grow, with dozens of scouts at matches on a weekly basis to find the next Kompany, Hazard or Lukaku.
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The trend of signing Belgian players will only continue if the Red Devils are successful in Brazil, particularly with already long-standing links between clubs. Arsenal once used Beveren as their feeder club, while Manchester United have a long-standing formal link-up with Royal Antwerp.
Belgium’s youth structure and coaching provides some lessons for the Football Association as they try to find a way to improve the standard of players coming through and subsequently the success of the national team in major tournaments.
The population of Belgium was recorded at a little more than 11 million in a 2013 census. Thanks to some famous exports, however, the Red Devils can bank on extra support from England for the remainder of the World Cup.