After Belgium’s 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2016 on Saturday, coach Marc Wilmots lashed out at critics who had questioned his leadership and the team’s quality, saying it was “manipulation” created by “negative people.”
In a prickly post-match news conference after the match, Wilmots said he “bluffed” the media into thinking he would drop Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. Many thought that both players had put in poor performances in Belgium’s 2-0 loss to Italy in their opening Group E match at the European Championship, and called for them to be replaced against Ireland.
Wilmots said he intentionally misled the media into thinking he would indeed leave them out.
“Yes, I bluffed. I bluffed,” Wilmots said. “The players were aware of this. They were all aware. We waited for the right time. We spoke about this privately.”
Lukaku scored twice against Ireland, and De Bruyne put in a strong performance in midfield. Wilmots made a point of embracing Lukaku after his first goal, saying he wanted to show the striker he still had faith in him.
“I think he scored four out of his four matches before Italy,” Wilmots said. “But when he didn’t score against Italy, they said it was different. I needed to explain things to him and that I trusted him.”
Wilmots said the team’s critics were fickle after the Italy defeat, forgetting about the national team’s past accomplishments. Belgium was ranked No 2 in the world at one point.
“After four years of success, when we get criticism the last four years disappear,” Wilmots said. “I think it’s manipulating the people, giving people the wrong ideas. I think the players give everything for the national team.”
The coach became sarcastic when describing his team’s tactics after Belgium’s first goal.
“When we’re winning 1-0, we have weapons at our disposal,” Wilmots said. “I wasn’t going to have the team sit back. Otherwise, you would be sacking me all over again. But don’t worry, I’m used to that.”
It was clear that Wilmots had taken the criticism personally and that it had angered him. But he said it wouldn’t let it affect him in the long run.
“Sometimes I think the criticism is just manipulation,” Wilmots said. “Besides death, I think I can live with anything else thrown my way. I’m 47. People being negative doesn’t interest me. I want to be with positive people.”