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Brazilian-born Emerson given Italy call


Leekens faces anger over Belgium boast

Former Belgium manager Georges Leekens has defended his claim that he is the “builder of probably the best A-national team” the country has seen after incurring the wrath of Red Devils fans.

Georges Leekens had led Belgium to the 1998 World Cup during his first stint in charge.
Georges Leekens had led Belgium to the 1998 World Cup during his first stint in charge.

Van Walle: Lukaku's struggles

The comment, which was first published on Leekens’ personal website several months ago, prompted major discussion in the country after it came to public attention this week.

Following a 2-0 victory over Scotland on Friday night, Belgium -- now led by Marc Wilmots -- are currently five points clear of second-placed Croatia in their World Cup qualification group and are set to confirm their place in Brazil.

Leekens, however, had failed to lead Belgium to Euro 2012 and then frustrated his country's football association when he unexpectedly walked out on the team in May last year to take charge of Club Brugge.

At that time, he had said: “I understand the FA’s disappointment but I feel that 90% of my work with the Red Devils is done. Just the finishing touch -- qualification for the 2014 World Cup -- is missing, but I am sure my players will be successful.”

Those remarks generated a further backlash, and Leekens then said he had merely been clumsy with his choice of words, adding: “It was meant figuratively. I think the basis is there and that the players can go on without me. The percentage of what has been done is not important.”

Leekens -- who was dismissed as Club Brugge manager less than six months after taking charge -- remains an unpopular figure among many Red Devils fans and this latest controversy has done little to improve public perception.

However, the 64-year-old told Canvas' Reyers Laat programme on Monday evening that he was “surprised about the fuss”.

He added: “It isn’t on the home page and it has been there for some months. I don’t mean to beat my own drum. The website is a tool to sell myself abroad.”

He said Wilmots, his former assistant, deserved the credit should Belgium reach their first World Cup since 2002.

“Wilmots is the right man in the right place,” he said. “He is the one who helped Belgium qualify for the World Cup, not me. But I did -- along with my predecessor, Dick Advocaat -- make the Belgian FA more professional. I helped create a framework that makes today’s performances possible. I see myself as an architect but an architect doesn’t build the house. I am really proud of Wilmots’, and the Red Devils’, performance.”

Leekens added, though, that Wilmots was using the formation that he had implemented and was relying on many players he had first introduced to the national team.

Belgium face their closest rivals in Group A on October 11 looking to cement their place at the World Cup and Leekens said: “This team is going to Croatia to win. There is no reason to worry. If you think you will get a flat tire, you are certain to get one.”

He added: “Don’t forget this team has seen the other side when they didn’t qualify for Euro 2012. But this group has matured. When I said we would be in the top 20, everybody laughed, but I saw the potential.”


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