THE best thing about Shaun Maloney’s jo, is putting in the miles and going across Europe to see first-hand the wealth of talent that Belgium have at their disposal.

Spain, Germany, Italy, France and England offer a packed itinerary for the Scot who is now trusted with a valuable role in helping the Red Devils secure progress to Euro 2020.

The former Scotland and Celtic midfielder now earns his living as assistant to manager Roberto Martinez, an intriguing sub-plot when Maloney’s old country encounter his new one in Brussels on Tuesday night.

Maloney’s thirst for knowledge has seen him watch hundreds of matches last season to assess Martinez’s remarkable cast-list. Along the way, a few old faces in Maloney’s own past crept onto the horizon. When Maloney went to Borussia Moenchengladbach to see Thorgan Hazard, who was there but the club’s president, Rainer Bonhof, who was once Maloney’s Scotland under-21 manager.


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Hazard has just made a £50m transfer to Borussia Dortmund, just as his older brother, Eden, has swapped Chelsea for Real Madrid. Regardless of whether the language is Flemish of French, the thing that unites Belgian footballers is talent and hard work, according to Maloney.

Another Red Devil on the move is Dedryck Boyata, who has just joined Hertha Berlin from Celtic. The defender misses Tuesday’s game because of the groin injury he sustained when Celtic defeated Rangers 2-1 at the end of March but it was the man whose goal sealed the title for the champions that day, James Forrest, who really caught Maloney’s eye.

Maloney has identified Forrest as the man who could put a dent in Belgium’s ambitions of enjoying a smooth passage to the finals. Belgium already lead Group I with a perfect record after opening with two victories, 3-1 at home to Russia and 2-0 in Cyprus, while Scotland’s toils saw manager Alex McLeish jettisoned for Steve Clarke.

Maloney played with Forrest at Celtic for two seasons when the latter was just a teenager and watched with deep pride as Forrest has flourished, even following in Maloney’s footsteps by becoming Scottish PFA player of the year. Forrest made a clean sweep of all the player of the year awards for his key role in Celtic’s Treble success.


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Forrest’s 17 goals for the champions were also matched by five for Scotland in his best-ever campaign in a dark blue shirt and Maloney insists that 27-year-old Forrest is as good as anyone in Europe.

“I am not surprised about how much James has developed,” said Maloney, who won 47 caps for Scotland before hanging up his boots in 2016. “He is not just fast but a really good passer of the ball, too. He is now getting the recognition he deserves.

“I actually don’t think James really got the credit before that his play deserved. James has had an amazing season for club and country. A really talented player.”

Forrest’s breakthough season for Celtic in 2010-11 ended with a Scottish Cup win over Motherwell and his Scotland debut before Maloney moved to Wigan.


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The man who lured Maloney away from Parkhead was Martinez, and apart from winning the FA Cup with Wigan together in 2013, the pair stayed in touch and Martinez had only one man in mind when Thierry Henry quit his Belgian assistant post to manage Monaco.

Martinez has valued shrewd Maloney’s football brain for some time. At 36, Maloney had a year coaching Celtic’s youth side but the chance to step up with Belgium was impossible to resist.

Maloney has had a whirlwind nine months, starting with a 4-0 friendly thrashing of Scotland at Hampden, and sits alongside Martinez in the technical area. Not that his reponsibilities end there; Maloney also oversees training for Belgium’s stellar cast list, which includes new Real Madrid man Eden Hazard and Manchester City’s Treble winner Kevin De Bruyne.

“We have such a great depth of squad, but the things the player all have in common is that they are not just superb technical players, they all work really hard for the team,” said Maloney.

“For the Russia and Cyprus games we had a really tough month with injuries but that gave an opportunity for different players to start and that was one of the pleasing aspects of the Russia win, such a big game to start the group, and to have players come in who had not started as many matches lately for Belgium, and were at a different point in their international career and the way they played was really pleasing.


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“We used Thorgan Harard in a key position against Russia and that was pleasing. He’s had an amazing season with Borussia Moenchengladbach, he has got into double figures in both goals and assists. He was their main player before his move to Dortmund. I went to see him and spoke to Rainer Bonhof. Thorgan’s a great passer. He was excellent for us in the last matches. Great to work with.

“But when you look back at the game some of the performances of the younger players was really good. Just below that, we have the under-21s [which includes Hibernian midfielder, Stephen Omeonga] who have really talented players and they have their own Euro finals this summer too. So, Roberto has no issue about playing younger ones.”

The seismic shifts at Hampden Park , which saw Clarke replace McLeish, have certainly added a new dimension to the Brussels match. However, Maloney insists Belgium have never diluted their respect for Scotland.


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“We never underestimated Scotland at any time. Not even before the change in manager. How can you when Scotland have Andy Robertson who has just won the Champions League with Liverpool, or a player of the year like James?

“When Scotland changed their manager it did change our preparation slightly,” he said. “We then had to wait until a manager was appointed and that changed the process of preparation. It makes it harder because Steve Clarke does not have any previous Scotland matches for us to go on but they have Cyprus before us.

“I absolutely loved playing for Scotland. It was a bit strange when the national anthems played the last time at Hampden and I was on the Belgium bench. But this is my job now and this is where my loyalty is now."