On the 13th of September 2013 I wrote about the remarkable rise of the Belgian football team. Following defeat in the Second Round of the 2002 World Cup, the Belgians were not seen again at a major competition until last summer in Brazil. Today they boast a who's who of some of the worlds top club players, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne all part of their squad.
The previous post plotted the FIFA World Ranking from their exit at the 2002 World Cup up to September 2013, and compared their fortunates to that of the Irish national side. The illustration below is an update of this, with the additional FIFA World Ranking positions from October 2013 to next month (for Belgium only) included.
Irish supporters should draw comfort from this. The Republic of Ireland have been between 55th to 70th over the past two years. The record lowt of 70th in the world (one better off than Belgium were in 2007!) was reached in the summer of 2014. Improvement since has not been unlike Belgium during late 2007.
What can this teach us?
Decline is not inevitable. We need to look at the Belgian model and replicate it. It is possible for Ireland to produce a Hazard, Kompany or De Bruyne. Just because we haven't done it recently does not mean it's impossible. It took Belgium just over eight years to go from 71st to 1st. That's generation of players almost, and with a population of just over 11 million, proves what can be done with a relatively small stock of players.
Can Ireland be world number one by early 2023? It's possible and reminds me of the Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey quote "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!"