Former Club Brugge, Anderlecht, Sheffield Wednesday and PSV Eindhoven striker Marc Degryse thinks Belgium are going deep at the Euros and sees similarities between the Owls and Atletico Madrid.
Marc Degryse won no fewer than 13 trophies during a 19-year club career, also netting 23 times for his country and playing at two World Cups, but he remains best known in England for his one season at Sheffield Wednesday.
Still an avid follower of the Owls results, he relived that campaign in the following conversation with news.bwin.com, also touching upon the Wednesday’s chances of promotion and a bright future for the Belgium national team, which he expects to begin this summer at Euro 2016.
On his time at Sheffield Wednesday…
“It was nice to play in the Premier League but it was too short for me. I was restricted from moving away from Anderlecht by a Bosman case that was ongoing and it was only six months before the case came out that Anderlecht allowed me to leave.
“Unfortunately by this stage it was a bit late in my career and I was almost 30.
“I have great memories of Sheffield Wednesday. David Pleat was the manager and we had a great squad with the likes of Chris Waddle, David Hirst, Des Walker, Chris Wood and John Sheridan.
“One of the problems with our team at the time was that it was a little old and Pleat wanted us to play a more continental style of football, which I don’t think the squad was ready for.
“Overall it was a difficult season but I enjoyed playing in the team and the experience was fantastic.
“Looking back now I regret leaving the club, but at the time, when PSV came to me and offered me the chance to play for titles again, I wanted to go.
“The move turned out to be far from successful and if I stayed at Sheffield Wednesday for one or two more seasons, that would have been better in hindsight.
“Your first season in a new league and foreign country is always difficult but I thought mine wasn’t too bad considering we were struggling as a team. I cannot say a bad word about my one season in the Premier League or about Sheffield.”
On surviving relegation battles and his experience of doing so at Sheffield Wednesday
“I wasn’t used to it and it wasn’t my cup of tea particularly. I had always played for titles at previous clubs and during that particular season it didn’t feel like we would have to fight relegation because after all, we were quite comfortable for the majority of the season.
“We had guys in the team who could do something special in terms of engagement and go over the line, or close to it, and ultimately fight for their lives.
“At the end of the day, if you have a team who are ready for a fight and a few players who can make individual differences, it helps a lot.
“A player who can easily score goals helps a lot during a relegation battle. You can fight as hard as you can but if you don’t have someone special who can produce a bit of magic, then you won’t be able to survive.”
On Sheffield Wednesday and potential promotion to the Premier League…
“I always look at the results of the teams that I played for and, of course, that includes Sheffield Wednesday. They are really close to getting back to the Premier League and it has been a long time coming.
“A few months ago I was speaking to Waddle at the Arsenal v Barcelona match about the situation at the club. The impression I had was positive and that, with the new owner coming in, hopefully we can get back to the old days.
“If Sheffield Wednesday were back in the Premier League, I would go back to Sheffield for the weekend. It’s great to see the club in the hunt for promotion and I hope they succeed in the play-offs.”
On Fernando Forestieri and Carlos Carvahal…
“If you look at a lot of the top players in the world, Messi, Sanchez, Mahrez, they’re not tall, they have quick feet and they can spin and turn defenders and that is what Forestieri offers Wednesday.
“It’s not all about being big, tall and strong as these nimble players are very technical and great crowd-pleasers. He is performing well so far this season and will give the club the push it needs for promotion.
“Carlos has done a great job during his first stint in English football – he is getting the players playing as a team and implementing a good style of football.
“You often see nowadays with managers such as Simeone at Atletico Madrid that players are thinking and playing as a team and you can see similar trait in Wednesday’s team.
“Leicester are a great example of this type of mentality as they don’t have all the big names, they have cheap players but they play as a team.
“There’s a great synergy amongst the squad and players are fighting for each other, anticipating each other’s movements and playing to each other’s strengths. You’ve got to credit Ranieri who has put a system in place for these players to play at their best.
“When you have a manager who is able to get the most out of his players, they can then make the difference and I think this is happening at Sheffield Wednesday.”
On the Premier League this season…
“It’s been quite a story this season with Leicester. This season will be historic because Leicester will be Champions and they absolutely deserve it.
“Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been special players this year and have been complimented by the likes of Drinkwater and Ngolo Kante, who have both been selected for their respective national teams.
“It’s quite unbelievable to think about and if you’d said this to me at the beginning of the season, I would have assumed you were drunk!”
On the Premier League relegation battle…
“Newcastle have a squad which shouldn’t be stuck in a relegation battle. Despite the fact that they’ve been struggling all season, when you compare Newcastle’s squad to the other teams in the relegation fight, it’s just not acceptable.
“There are some Dutch and French players who are on the verge of, or playing, in their national teams and they have Mitrovic from Anderlecht who should be a better goal scorer than he has been.
“If you compare their team to Sunderland and the other teams who are fighting with them, Newcastle should easily be safe.”
On Eden Hazard’s struggles this season…
“Hazard’s pre-season preparation was not good, he wasn’t right physically. I think fitness was one of the main reasons why he started the season poorly and with the team also struggling, this was compounded.
“More than this, I could see he was not happy and not feeling good in the team but it’s difficult to explain why this was the case. The likelihood was that it was a mixture of a lack of fitness and he wasn’t mentally in the right frame of mind.
“Last season, when the team wasn’t playing particular well, Eden was making the difference and winning Chelsea points. This season his confidence has been low and he hasn’t been able to recapture the same sort of form.
“The lack of form coupled with the lofty expectations based on last season has seen him struggle. Eden is an emotional person and I don’t think it’s true that he’s not fighting for the club, but he’s keeping his feelings to himself.
“I’m almost 100% certain that PSG and Real Madrid’s interest in him has not affected his performances at all. He has felt consistently good at Chelsea, he loves the club and although this season has been difficult, he’s happy playing for the team.
“I’m worried that he might not ‘click’ for the Euros and recapture his form, but only he can make sure this happens.”
On Kevin De Bruyne…
“With three years in Germany and England, he is a shining star. He was the best player in Germany last year and he was up against great players in a brilliant competition.
“He was competing against the best players at Bayern Munich for the league’s best player, so I have no idea why Chelsea let him go.
“In my opinion Jose Mourinho is not a manager who puts his trust in young players, he plays very much in the now and he wants to play with complete players. Unfortunately it was a similar situation with Lukaku at Chelsea, they were never given the chance to shine.
“De Bruyne is now a key player for the national team because of how efficient he is with and without the ball. He’s always thinking about the most quick and effective way to score goal and his turn of pace and dribbling makes him a fantastic player for any team.”
On the Euros and expectation for Belgium…
“Belgium [11/1 to win Euro 2016] are rightly considered strong candidates in my opinion as you look to the names we have and how they have performed this season, but one thing we have to worry about is fitness.
“We have several players who have all struggled to find fitness this season with Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke and Divock Origi all missing parts of the season due to injury.
“We also have several players who are playing without a position, such as Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld. If Kompany is fit, Alderweireld can play right back but if Kompany isn’t fit, then we have to put Toby in the centre.
“To do that we’d have to move a couple of players around and that may mean we’d struggle a little with playing certain players out of position.
“However, we have had a lot of players who have been very impressive for their clubs this season. Alderweireld and Vertonghen is a pretty good pairing at the heart of the defence as they have been for Spurs all season.
“Thibaut Courtois is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Romelu Lukaku is only 22 and has had his best season yet for Everton.
“Kevin De Bruyne is coming back to good form after a prolonged absence, so we’ve got a very dangerous squad. In four or five years, if this team stays together, it could be the start of something special.
“I think for the first time in a while, England could do very well in the tournament. There are similarities between Belgium and England in that there is often a lot of expectation but it doesn’t quite come off for either.
“This England squad is one of the best in recent times with Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli having great seasons.”
On whether the physical nature of the Premier League will hinder Belgium’s chances…
“I’m not sure that the ‘hard’ nature of the Premier League season will affect the team that much. If you look to Germany and Spain, with Bayern, Barcelona and Real Madrid, those competitions aren’t easy.
“I agree that a January break might help the Premier League players but you shouldn’t overstate the impact of the Premier League’s structure.
“The managers have significant medical assistance and players’ lives are so controlled that, in 2016, these sorts of things shouldn’t be an issue.”
On lesser known Belgian players who could make a massive difference…
“Yannick Carrasco at Atletico Madrid is a young guy who can definitely add something to the Red Devils.
“He’s performing really well for his club, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the new star for the National team. Once he has found his position in the team and his game time increases, he will be one to watch for the future.”
Marc’s predictions for the Euros and Belgium…
“Belgium should be aiming to reach the semi-finals, but this will come with some luck along the way. In tournament football, you can go on a run and do very well but of course it will be difficult.
“One thing’s for certain is that if we don’t reach the semi-finals, it will be a disappointment as the ambition in this team now is to win.
“Unlike the Dutch, we’re not used to winning things so naturally our expectations are more reserved, but I think now the confidence in the team and amongst the fans is high.”
Key Player: Kevin De Bruyne