2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs: Schalke, Sint-Truiden
When Marc Wilmots was appointed as Belgium national team coach on a permanent basis in June 2012, he inherited a side ranked 54th in the FIFA rankings, below the likes of Gabon, Iran and Panama -- still reeling from the disappointment of failing to qualify for a fifth consecutive international tournament.
In fact, it was Wilmots himself who scored the Red Devils' last goal in a major international competition -- at the 2002 World Cup where he notched in each of Belgium's three group matches before their infamous 2-0 defeat to Brazil in the round of 16. The attacking midfielder had a "goal" controversially disallowed when the scores were level and Belgium were eliminated. That result signalled the end of Wilmots' international career, as he finished as Belgium's record goalscorer in World Cup history and a total haul of 28 goals in 70 caps.
As a player, he had been nicknamed the "Fighting Boar" and he has certainly brought a similar passion and determination to his role as Belgium coach, guiding the national team to their first World Cup in 12 years, and achieving it in such an impressive manner that it led to Belgium earning a top seed in the draw with their all-time highest world ranking of fifth.
However despite his decorated playing career, which saw him win the Belgian League title and UEFA Super Cup for Mechelen, the Belgian Cup for Standard Liege and the DFB-Pokal and UEFA Cup for Schalke, Wilmot's coaching record has been rather less spectacular.
His first foray into football coaching began in 2003 at Schalke, the club at which he had made a name for himself as a player, scoring the decisive penalty kick in the 1997 UEFA Cup win over Inter Milan. He succeeded Frank Neubarth in March but only won one of his 10 matches, accumulating a meagre 10 points and was unsurprisingly dismissed by die Koenigsblauen at the season's conclusion.
After a year in politics, Wilmots was then handed a second chance by another former club -- this time by Belgian side Sint-Truiden where he signed his first professional contract. However, after eight months in charge, he was sacked on his 36th birthday after suffering a 1-0 defeat to relegation rivals Ostende, which left Sint-Truiden languishing just two points above the bottom two.
It seemed as though the step up from player to coach was one that Wilmots would not conquer and he took several years out of management before being appointed in 2009 as Dick Advocaat's assistant for the Belgium national side. A failed World Cup 2010 qualification campaign saw Advocaat jump ship to Russia but Wilmots remained, though Advocaat's successor Georges Leekens suffered the same fate as Belgium's Euro 2012 qualification also proved unsuccessful.
Leekens' dismissal signalled a low point for Belgian football and the days of Belgium's run to the 1986 World Cup semifinals, inspired by the likes Jan Ceulemans, Jean-Marie Pfaff and Enzo Scifo, seemed a distant memory. The Belgian FA were reluctant to spend money on a foreign coach and the players pledged their support for Wilmots, an idol for many of them growing up as aspiring young footballers and a coach who had earned their respect as assistant. While his appointment was scorned by the Belgian fans, Wilmots was offered the role on an interim basis but encouraging friendly performances against Montenegro and England saw him awarded the post permanently in May 2012.
The decision has proved to be a masterstroke and he has restored national pride as Belgium qualified for the 2014 World Cup without losing a single fixture. Perhaps even more impressively, the Red Devils conceded only four goals in ten matches, in a difficult group which contained the likes of Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales.
Wilmots has of course been aided by the emergence of Belgium's so-called "Golden Generation," with the rise of talents such as Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne -- but his effect on the team is clear for all to see. He has instilled a confidence and a unity amongst the players whilst turning Belgium into one of the most organised units who can shift from defence to attack in an instant.
While some may argue that Belgium are yet to prove themselves against the footballing elite, they are quickly becoming a powerhouse and are considered many people's darkhorses for the World Cup in Brazil.
Strengths: Wilmot has succeeded in managing a number of young talents, egos and players from different political and cultural backgrounds into a winning, tight-knit unit. His strong work ethic, discipline and tactical nous has ensured Belgium are one of the hardest European sides to break down.
Weaknesses: He certainly seems to be better suited to international management after unsuccessful spells at Schalke and Sint-Truiden. While his Belgium side have looked impressive in qualifying, they are yet to prove themselves at the highest level and against the top sides.
Career High: Heading into the 2014 World Cup, he is yet to lose a competitive match and possesses the best win percentage of any Belgium coach in the nation's history. He has successfully silenced those cynics who believed he was not worthy of the job.
Career Low: In his 30 games in club management, he has a rather mediocre record, winning only six matches in his spells at Schalke and Sint-Truiden.
Tactics: Wilmots prefers to utilise a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation but he is willing to adapt his formation to help get the best out of his players. As he says himself: "A huge amount of background work goes into analysing how each player plays for his club, where he is most comfortable and how to put him in his best possible position for the national team, while respecting the overall balance of the side."
Quotes: "He [Wilmots] is the one who built it. We were missing a soul, a desire to do well and he has transferred his determination to win on to us." Eden Hazard praises the way Wilmots has transformed the national side into a unified winning side.
Trivia: Wilmots ventured into politics after hanging up his boots but it was not considered a successful career path as he controversially resigned after two years of being a senator for the Mouvement Réformateur.
Words: Max Bentley