Browaeys big ambitions for Little Devils

Bob Browaeys has not travelled to Chile hell-bent on taking the U-17 FIFA World Cup trophy back home to Belgium. That is not to say that he is devoid of ambition, however. Far from it: he simply judges his success on more than silverware.

As he put it: "My focus is on being more of an educator than a coach." Having spent the last 17 years polishing Belgian football's uncut diamonds from U-15 through to U-17 level, development is his be-all and end-all. "I'm not interested in saying I won this or that cup or justifying that I'm a good coach based on such results," he explained. "What I'm interested in is identifying the qualities to develop in players and honing their skills. That's why I take great satisfaction in seeing them rising to the highest level, becoming professionals and featuring in the World Cup."

"I find watching the Belgium first team really satisfying, more so than winning youth tournaments," said Browaeys, whose side kick off their campaign in Chile against Mali. "It's true that this is a good experience that you learn a lot from, but for me there isn't a huge amount of difference between contesting any old U-16 cup and a World Cup. First and foremost, I want my players to develop. Being here is amazing for them, but it's just another stepping stone in their education."

Browaeys' methodology leans heavily on the idea of independent progression: "Players have to take ownership over their learning, I just strive to provide an environment in which they have the opportunity to develop. I speak to them a lot; I hold one-on-one talks with them in which I ask them to set themselves goals. I try to nurture their creativity and their ability to make things happen individually while never losing sight of the collective spirit. I put a lot of emphasis on decision-making and give them responsibility."

In Hazard's footsteps "Belgian values" are another thing that Browaeys seeks to instil in his charges. "When you're called up to represent Belgium, first of all you have to be modest and work hard. They are talented players but talent alone is not enough. That's why I'm always happy when I see a player move up to the senior side. I tell myself that I've done a good job and fulfilled my role as an educator."

On this note, the youth coach could not have been prouder during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, even if the Red Devils could be forgiven for harbouring some regret about their quarter-final elimination at the hands of Argentina. Unsurprisingly, Browaeys is well acquainted with the bulk of the senior squad, including one of the stars.

"Eden Hazard was a key player in my team," he reminisced, looking back to Korea 2007, his first experience with the Diablotins (Little Devils) on the world stage. "But he was coming back from injury and wasn't 100 per cent. He had a good tournament but wasn't as decisive as he had been in qualifying , when he had shone. That said, he was up against players who were mostly a year older than him. He had the same qualities then as he does now, that acceleration, turn of pace and technique that allow him to leave opponents for dead."

With Hazard firing on all cylinders, the young Belgians might have gone further. "We finished bottom of our group, behind Tajikistan and USA, with the same number of points but a worse goal difference. It was a good experience, but even so I was a little disappointed because we were capable of reaching the next round," the 47-year-old said.

Eight years on, Belgium's latest crop of youngsters, about whom Browaeys picked out their "team spirit, mindset and winning mentality", are back at the global showpiece after doing "really well in 11 matches across the qualifying campaign, while Eden Hazard's generation only had to play three games to get to the World Cup in 2007".

The coach is hopeful that his side can better Hazard and Co's exploits and progress deep into the competition on Chilean soil. However, whether they go on to taste glory in the final on 8 November or not, Browaeys' big ambitions will remain undimmed.