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New coach Tedesco wants ‘happy, motivated’ Belgium after World Cup flop

Domenico Tedesco said he wants to make Belgium’s players “happy and motivated” after taking over as head coach on Wednesday.

The Belgian football federation (RBFA) said the 37-year-old Tedesco would succeed Roberto Martinez, who stepped down after Belgium failed to qualify for the knockout stage at the 2022 World Cup.

The Belgians were hampered by reported disagreements within the squad in Qatar as the “golden generation” scored only one goal in three games.

Star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne often cut a forlorn figure and said in an interview during the tournament that the team were “too old” to win the World Cup.

“De Bruyne was not smiling at the World Cup? If you say so, then it’s clear that we have to talk with the players to make them happy, but above all motivated,” Tedesco told a press conference on Wednesday.

Former captain Eden Hazard retired from international football following the group-stage exit and key defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are 33 and 35 years old respectively.

“For me, age is not an important issue. What the players are able to do on the pitch is what interests me,” added Tedesco.

The appointment had been expected since late January. The delay led to suspicion that Tedesco was considering the vacant Hoffenheim job. Barely 15 minutes after the RBFA announcement, the Bundesliga club tweeted they had hired Pellegrino Matarazzo.

The closest to a title a Belgium squad containing De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Vertonghen and Hazard, among others, came under Martinez was third place at the 2018 World Cup.

Martinez was appointed Portugal coach on January 9.

Belgium were linked with an impressive list of potential candidates, including former assistant Thierry Henry, who the players reportedly supported but who did not apply.

Tedesco does not match the criteria laid out by the RBFA in an advertisement on their website in December when they said they were seeking a coach with “the necessary international experience at top level” who was a “serial winner”.

Former Belgium and Schalke coach Marc Wilmots was less than impressed when Tedesco was first linked with the job.

“He is a coach/computer. You have a suit and a laptop and it worked well. He finished second in the championship with Schalke, which is quite remarkable,” Wilmots told Belgian television at the end of January.

“Be careful, he is a club coach. National teams are not the same thing. He won’t have time to prepare his matches as he does at the club.”

Tedesco attempted to play down Wilmots’ comments.

“That’s not the most important thing for me, compared to the human relationship with the players. I don’t sleep with my laptop,” he said.

Industrial engineering

Tedesco was born in Calabria and arrived in Germany at the age of two.

He speaks Italian, German, Russian, English, French and Spanish and has a degree in industrial engineering. 

He graduated top of the coaching class, ahead of Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann, from the Hennes Weisweiler Academy, until last year the German football association’s central training facility.

His first head coaching appointment was at Erzgebirge Aue in 2017 and saved the club from relegation from Bundesliga 2 and moved up a division to Schalke.

He led the club to second in the Bundesliga in 2018 but was sacked in March 2019 after a 7-0 loss at Manchester City, and 10-2 on aggregate, in the Champions League last 16, and with the club on a seven-match losing run.

He joined Spartak Moscow in October 2019 and led the club to a second-place finish in the Russian Premier League in 2021 but then opted to leave the club.

He took over at RB Leipzig, winning the German Cup last season, before being fired after a disappointing start to the current campaign.

Tedesco will be supported by former Belgium midfielder Franky Vercauteren, who was appointed director of football.

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