New Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne said he never thought about quitting the national team even after his country flopped at last year’s FIFA World Cup -- following which his predecessor Eden Hazard announced his international retirement.
The 31-year-old Manchester City kingpin was named as skipper by new coach Domenico Tedesco, who replaced Roberto Martinez after the highly-rated Belgians were bundled out in the first round in Qatar last year.
Toby Alderweireld and back-up goalkeeper Simon Mignolet also quit international football since Qatar while regulars Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel have been dropped.
De Bruyne said he has found the first days under Tedesco and a new-look squad as “an introduction to new class mates at a new school”.
“It is different, but I see a lot of energy. For many young players. it is an opportunity to play and it is time for them to grab it too,” he told reporters on the eve of their opening Euro 2024 qualifier against Sweden in Stockholm on Friday.
“It feels fresh, but it was still a shock. Half of the usual squad is no longer there. But the newcomers want their chance as we used to want our chances.”
Asked whether he had thought about quitting after the World Cup, De Bruyne said, “I did not think about stopping, not even for a second, actually.”
On the captaincy, De Bruyne said he would follow the example set by Vincent Kompany, who was the Belgian skipper from 2010-2018, and be direct with his teammates.
“Everyone knows that I don’t beat around the bush but any criticism I have is always with good intentions, to help everyone do better,” he said.
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“It is an honour to be selected as captain. I hope to lay a good foundation for the future. I will try to lead by example. If I have to speak, I will. If I don’t have to, then I won’t. I don’t want to intrude. Everyone should feel comfortable and if I can help, I will try.”
De Bruyne, who has 97 caps, also said an improvement after the World Cup was much needed from Belgium, who spent much of the last four years on top of the FIFA rankings.
“We have to accept that it wasn’t good enough in Qatar. As a team, our level has simply dropped a bit in the last year and a half. Hopefully, now, it’s a new start,” he added.
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