• Saturday, 12 June 2010

    The Belgian question

    They didn't make it to the World Cup finals, but we have high hopes for the future of the Belgian national side. Lots of good young players are coming through the system - Eden Hazard and Toby Alderweireld among many others - Dick Advocaat set some decent structures in place before he moved on which George Leekens can build on. The problem that the side has is reflected in the wider national politic.

    Prime minister Yves Leterme tried to resign about half a dozen times as he struggled to hold together a coalition that was built on shaky ground in the first place. Finally, he got his wish and quit, prompting fresh elections which are due this weekend. The dividing line is a simple one - language. The Flemish north, Dutch speakers, and the Wallonian, Francophone, south are heading for divorce as the New Flemish Alliance looks set for victory. Their leader, Bart de Wever, has built his entire electoral stance on separatism, favouring a Czechoslovakian-style split. The two halves of the country vote for their own parties which then produces the haggling about cabinet positions that Leterme couldn't deal with, the whole thing rumbling on in an ever more annoying circle. Over the last few years, it's been more and more a case of two separate nations living cheek by jowl.

    And so it goes with the football team. A recurring excuse for the side's repeated below-par performances is the language divide. When your captain and vice-captain come from different sides of that barrier, and allegedly don't get on, you have a few issues.

    The outcome of the elections could easily see a separate Flanders nation established. What happens to the Francophone area is less clear. Some thoughts are that it would be re-absorbed back into France. Belgium drew a tough qualifying group for Euro 2012 with Germany and Turkey the fancied runners. It could be the last time we see the side compete on an international level - a last chance for this promising group of young players to pull together before they are pulled apart.

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