. . and with that Georges Leekens walked out on potentially the greatest international team Belgium has ever produced.
There are few sides making an impact quite like them right now, a country of some 11 million people that seemingly can not stop churning out players of the highest calibre.
They will almost certainly qualify for the World Cup finals in two years but that is only the half of it. If this relatively youthful group – the majority of whom are still in their early to mid-20s – continues to improve and develop then they will surely arrive in Brazil among the favourites.
For a country that has not been at a major finals since the 2002 World Cup it is quite a transformation. Perhaps it is just typical Scottish misfortune to be bracketed in a qualifying group with a nation on the cusp of something quite special, for the Belgians are ubiquitous these days. Barely a day seemed to pass over the summer without someone from Brussels, Bruges or Antwerp completing a multimillion-pound transfer. It started to get a bit silly. If there weren't Belgians being snapped up in their droves by Barclays Premier League clubs, they were moving to Russia for £35m or winning the UEFA Super Cup. Such is the depth of the talent pool it was almost as if Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer had crisscrossed Belgium a quarter of a century ago, siring an entire generation of world-class footballers as they went.
Belgian football fans have suffered like their Scottish counterparts in recent times, but it was not always so. The teams that reached the final of the 1980 European Championship then the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup are remembered fondly, as are footballing titans such as Jan Ceulemans, Enzo Scifo and Franky van der Elst. None of those sides from the past, however, boasted so many potentially world-class players all seemingly coming to the boil at the same time.
"This team can be better than all of those that went before," is Leekens' view. "At this moment they are at a high level but in two years' time they will be even better. We're just a little country but this is the best team I've ever seen at international level. Small country, big ambition."
Leekens should know. The 63-year-old has been about a bit, earning three caps for Belgium before embarking on something of a wandering coaching career in which he has changed jobs 19 times. He has twice managed his country, taking them to the 1998 World Cup, and then again from 2010 for two years after succeeding Dick Advocaat.
That second stint came to an abrupt end in May when, with expectations rising after a promising but ultimately unsuccessfully attempt to qualify for Euro 2012, he decided to leave the national team to once more take charge of Club Brugge. It was a shock move, and he was heavily criticised for it in some quarters, but he has no regrets.
"That was the hardest decision I ever made in my life," he admitted. "I knew that the national team would be successful and I could have stayed. But it was my old team where I played before and was coach before and it was like going home. I knew I was leaving the national team in very good shape. This group was ready to go on. They didn't need me any more."
Leekens handed over the reins to Marc Wilmots, who played for him at France '98, and who was his assistant during that second stint with the national team. Wilmots, a talented player, most notably with Schalke in Germany, and later a not-so-talented politician in the Belgian Senate, has built solidly on the foundations laid by Leekens. Belgium are three games unbeaten into their World Cup qualifying campaign, winning away in Wales and Serbia, and are widely expected to improve their position when a morale-sapped Scotland stumble into town tomorrow night. Leekens was viewed by the Belgian public as something of a father figure to his young charges in the national team and it is an apt description. He speaks with a quiet sense of satisfaction about the players he has left behind in the same way a proud father might casually drop into conversation his son or daughter's exemplary exam results. Leekens gave international debuts to Thibaut Courtois, the young Chelsea goalkeeper on loan at Atletico Madrid, and Nacer Chadli, the FC Twente winger, during his two years in charge but is effusive in his praise for all those he helped nurture.
"They made good progress in the time that I worked them," he said. "They were always very talented but they added efficiency, thinking of the result but still playing good football. They are very hungry to have success. The spirit is very good throughout the team and that has grown a lot in the past year and a half. They have improved in so many ways. It has not always been sunshine over the past two years. But sometimes you also need a bit of rain to have a nice garden."
Like a child trying to figure out a conjuror's trick, the rest of the world is looking at Belgium and wondering just how they have pulled this off. Did something happen five, 10 or even 15 years ago that led them to this point? Was it the construction of better training facilities? Improvements in youth development? More advanced coaching methods? If there is one particular factor behind the renaissance of Belgian football? Leekens either doesn't know or isn't saying. What can be stated for certain is that there will be other small to medium-sized nations, Scotland among them, hoping to copy the Belgian template and achieve similar results.
"The success is down to a little bit of everything I would say," Leekens said. "Most of the players are playing abroad in big leagues but they are still a young team, growing together. We don't have to be a copy of Spain or Germany. We can be unique in our own way. The pain is over. We are ready to go for it now."
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