The supposed challenge of naming any famous Belgians is becoming redundant.
A self-respecting football fan should be able to reel off half-a-dozen in the Premier League alone as a crop of talented players from that country has suddenly emerged together. There were eight of them in the side who comfortably won their World Cup qualifying game in Wales recently, of whom Tottenham's new centre-half Jan Vertonghen had to play out of position at left-back to accommodate the outstanding defensive pairing of Manchester City's Vincent Kompany and Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen.
Yet any temptation to send a FA delegation rushing over to Brussels and Antwerp to study the way forward should be resisted, according to Vertonghen. Like Vermaelen and his Belgian club-mate, Mousa Dembélé, he himself spent little time at a Belgian club and regards himself as having been moulded on the production line of the famed Ajax academy in Holland, whose coach, Denis Bergkamp, was unable to persuade him to act on Arsenal's late interest in signing him. "I don't think there is really a system like there is in Holland or with Ajax," he said. "It's just that we're good players with the right mentality [so] the teams here have confidence in us.
"I just think we have a good squad at the moment and we have played together for two or three years. Now we have to try to make it to a World Cup because none of us have played at a big tournament. Then everything is possible. You already see that our opponents are playing differently against us."
He noticed that in the deferential attitude of Croatia, who were happy to leave Brussels with a 1-1 draw last Tuesday. The same game provided a source of regret for Vertonghen in the performance of Croatia's Luka Modric, now sporting the white of Real Madrid rather than of Tottenham. Well aware, too, of the talent of a former Ajax team-mate, Rafael van der Vaart, he has to compensate by admiring instead Spurs' two recruits from Fulham, compatriot Dembélé and Clint Dempsey. "Clint scored 15 or 16 goals at Fulham. I have played with Mousa since I was very young and since then he was an amazing player. He played as a striker then and he is not a real goalscorer, that's why the big teams didn't see him before. But he will convince everybody. He can take over from Modric. Everybody in Belgium and every player that has played with him is convinced about his qualities."
The White Hart Lane crowd who saw the way Dembélé took a goal on his debut as a substitute against Norwich were favourably impressed; if less so with the way Spurs conceded a late equaliser for the second time at home. As a result there is already talk of pressure on Andre Villas-Boas in his new position going into today's game at the Madejski Stadium.
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