For Roberto Martinez every moment is a learning experience.
The former Swansea, Wigan Athletic and Everton boss sat down with Maxime Dupuis of Eurosport France ahead of the Nations league finals. He discussed near misses as Belgium boss, Italy's brilliance at the Euros and how Thierry Henry has helped develop Romelu Lukaku into a more aware forward and a leader for the next generation of Red Devils' players.


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Under Martinez, Belgium finished third at the 2018 World Cup, and reached the quarter-finals in the two European Championships either side of that tournament. But that is not enough for those who deem this Belgium squad more than capable of winning something. He will get that chance now having reached the UEFA Nations League finals, where they will face France in their semi-final.

Roberto Martinez was tight-lipped on the Bracelona rumours

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It is a repeat of the 2018 match-up, where Didier Deschamps' side emerged victorious before going on to win the World Cup for a second time. What did Martinez learn from that game?
“For us we had to improve. Whenever you are in a tournament and whenever you lose, things need to be analysed. It was important to get a team or squad that was more balanced. That was the biggest lesson.
“Against France we went into the game with one of our wing backs [Thomas Meunier] suspended and I felt that it disrupted [our flow] too much. Since 2018 we’ve developed more players for that wingback role, which is so unique and we have a bigger pool of players who can play the way we want them to play. Since 2018 that’s been accelerated - more younger players have come to the national team.
Also, we’ve learned to be ready for big games.You have to learn to be resilient in those games, and I think that loss helped us a lot in that respect.


If Belgium beat France, they could face Italy in the final, who face Spain in the other semi-final. The Azzurri knocked them out at the quarter-final stage of Euro 2020. Again Belgium were beaten by the eventual winners. But why?

Belgium's Spanish coach Roberto Martinez reacts on the touchline during the UEFA EURO 2020 quarter-final football match between Belgium and Italy at the Allianz Arena in Munich on July 2, 2021

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“The difference was the first half we were not ourselves [against Italy]," Martinez says.
“It was a difficult start for us. For the first 45 minutes we did not perform as we can. We feel a little bit sad about it because when you go into a major tournament you have to be yourself, but Italy had incredible momentum, they hadn’t lost for a long time and they adapted to the game better.
"The second half was better, we were taking control of the game, we created enough chances to score, but football is a low-scoring sport and unless you take the chances, you can't show you deserve to win or not.
We were more mature in that game but clearly we faced an opponent that deserved to win the Euros.
Has Belgium's moment passed? The list of players into their 30s is long. Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard just in this squad alone. Thomas Vermaelen, Nacer Chadli and Dries Mertens all missed out on selection for varying reasons.

Roberto Martinez et Eden Hazard

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There are bright hopes, though. Youri Tielemans, Alexis Saelemaekers, Dodi Lukebakio, Charles De Ketelaere, Zinho Vanheusden, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Yari Verschaeren and Jeremy Doku are all 25 or under.
So where does Martinez feel the team is at in its cycle?
“I think it’s in the middle. Every individual is on a different route. I would consider players over 30, they are in the peak of their careers.
“Others are still growing. What’s important is we don’t work with one generation, we use one generation to prepare the next, which is why we called 31 players [in September]. We played three games in seven days, there’s a lot of matchday-plus-one training sessions.
A player could have that experience to be with the golden generation, and that’s part of their development, they don’t need to play the games.
“The older players want to pass their experience to the next generation. I want them to have that role now to help younger players, to help them feel what to do to be the number one in the world, and then be coaches for the next 20 years”


And what about Lukaku? At 28 he’s a few years younger than some of the older players and is one of the key figures for this team both now and in the future.

Lukaku en discussion avec Martinez

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“I think my relationship with Romelu Lukaku goes a long way,” Martinez says of the player he first worked with at Everton.
“At 19 I worked with him at club level and we ended up spending a record fee to bring him to the club. He had to grow, at 16 he was scoring for Anderlecht and got a massive move. As a young player he had to grow under the main lights, and didn't have a period to just progress without the attention of the world. He always had big transfer fees and big numbers.
“Romelu is an exceptional goalscorer. And now we see a player in the peak of his career who has added part of his game: hold-up play, well-timed runs, taking responsibility in dead ball situations in both boxes. It affects players around him.
“He did huge things in the Premier League and the move to Italy came at the right time with the right coach and right challenge.
He took his awareness to another level - we’ve seen the relationship between Thierry Henry and Romelu Lukaku.
“Romelu can get that bit of advice [from Henry] or share thoughts with someone who was expected to make the final pass of the ball into the net, and the expectations that come along. It’s helpful in key moments of your career, especially when representing your national team.”
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