Belgium manager Roberto Martinez has announced he is stepping down from his role on the back of a woeful group-stage exit at the World Cup.
Martinez announced his contract would not be renewed after Belgium’s 0-0 draw with Croatia confirmed their early elimination, but said he had “not resigned”.
In a statement, the Belgian FA thanked Martinez for his six years of service but said the country had “failed and let down” the people of Belgium with their performances in Qatar.
Martinez had previously guided Belgium to their best ever World Cup, a third-placed finish at Russia in 2018. They ended the tournament as top scorers with what has been considered a ‘golden generation’ for the country including Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard in their prime.
However, they failed to build on that success and were knocked out of Euro 2020 in the quarter-finals by Italy.
They arrived in Qatar second in the FIFA rankings but a shock defeat to Morocco and a goalless draw against Croatia saw them eliminated in the group stages for the first time since 1998, having scored just one goal.
That defeat to Morocco, which remains one of the shocks of this World Cup, was further marred by riots in Brussels and Antwerp which forced police to seal off parts of the cities.
Reports of infighting also dogged them in Qatar, with De Bruyne involved in a heated on-field exchange with Jan Vertonghen before telling reporters the team was “too old” to challenge for the tournament.
Vertonghen later made headlines himself when he sarcastically used the same criticism to explain why Belgium’s attacking players – including De Bruyne – had performed poorly in front of goal during the tournament.
Reflecting on his tenure, Martinez looked back on the positives but said he “had to accept” his time as manager was over.
“Yes, that was my last game. It has been six years,” he told reporters. “I arrived with the clear idea of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Then we became so engaged with the project and won a bronze medal. I’m so proud of these players. It has been amazing.
“It has been six years where we’ve been able to do everything you want to do. The team has played and given people real joy. But this is the time for me to accept [it is over]. I don’t resign. It’s the end of my contract.
“Since 2018 I had many opportunities to leave and take jobs at club level, but I wanted to stay loyal.”
A statement released by the Belgian FA an hour after their World Cup exit paid tribute to the departing manager but laid bare their disappointment with their performance in Qatar.
It read: “We are extremely disappointed after the early exit of our national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar because we have failed and thereby let down the people of Belgium who supported our team all the way through.
“An era and a cycle have come to an end. Today the ways of our coach Roberto Martinez and the Royal Belgian FA will part.
“We are very grateful and proud that we have worked with Roberto Martinez for more than six years.”