The modern era has seen a stark upturn in fortunes for Belgian football on the whole. Although the often lauded Belgian national team are yet to truly assert their projected dominance upon the global stage, many have set their expectations decidedly aloft for this latest generation of Belgian talents.
But this isn’t the first time the rest of world football has been widely captivated by Belgium’s growing potential upon the international scene. Far from it in fact. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, this small – but proud footballing nation served to unearth one of the most technically gifted midfielders Europe has ever produced.
He was never quite placed among the same lofty bracket as fellow 80s superstars such as Michel Platini or Marco van Basten – but that doesn’t mean that the former Belgian favourite isn’t worthy of a solid reputation as one of the standout playmakers of his generation.
With the likes of Eden Hazard & co. looking to propel their nation to even further heights at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there can be no greater source of inspiration than Enzo Scifo; Belgium’s very own ‘Little Pele’.
Classic player, classic shirt – Enzo Scifo for Belgium pic.twitter.com/oAFVUEA9d2
— Classic Football CFS (@classicshirts) September 9, 2016
The former Belgian midfielder was labelled in such a way on the back of his impressive goalscoring prowess as an emerging youth talent. Scifo’s goal record as a junior makes for incredible reading, but it’s his defining role among the 1986 World Cup that really gets people talking.
After setting the international scene alight with a string of electrifying performances that saw Belgium make it all the way through to the semi-final – a hard-fought fixture they’d ultimately lose to eventual tournament winners, Argentina – Enzo Scifo saw his name develop into a source of great excitement. The ‘Little Pele’ became synonymous with undoubted raw talent and dynamic natural ability, with blossoming potential to really take the footballing world by storm.
Yet despite achieving his big money move to Inter Milan among the spectacularly competitive and highly demanding Italian top flight, Belgium’s up and coming young talent saw his fortunes change largely overnight.
No longer was he seen as one of the greatest midfielders of his time – and after moving to France with Bordeaux and failing once more to implement his once unquestionable skill set among the wider public eye, it seemed as if the good times had already come and gone for young Enzo Scifo.
But thankfully, this was not the case; the former Belgian talisman enjoyed a partial resurrection of his career under Guy Roux at Auxerre, which paved the way for subsequent influential spells at both Torino and AS Monaco in the early 90s. The ‘Little Pele’ was finally back to his best, going on to represent his nation at four separate World Cup finals and becoming one of few Belgian players to achieve such an accolade.
Enzo Scifo may have endured something of an inconsistent and disjointed club career, but those who watched the skilled Belgian star among his fine array of playing days would each tell you the exact same notion – that this was one player capable of achieving great things, whether or not fate ultimately had other plans in mind.
In terms of wowing his respective onlookers with daring skill and silky quick feet inside the final third, Scifo was a wizard. When it came to providing the rest of his teammates with excellent vision all across the park – again, Scifo was more than competent.
On the back of his incredible dribbling ability, immense passing accuracy and confident eye for goal inside the opposition’s half, the ‘Little Pele’ rarely served to disappoint. From delicate nutmegs and swift free-kicks, to his intelligent movement and exquisite balance in tight situations – Scifo could do it all.
“Guy Roux made more of a mark on me than anyone else. He had real authority and yet was very close to his players at the same time.”
The Belgian No.10 seemingly marked his return to form with a wonderfully struck attempt against Uruguay at Italia 90, yet even though the marauding midfield maverick was once again back among the big time, Scifo’s doubters had ceased to give up on their original cause.
Certain football fans labelled the creative midfielder as something of a temperamental type, prone to acts of selfishness and alarming self-indulgence. Scifo’s defensive work-rate was also heavily criticised on occasion, highlighting a certain unorthodoxy within his game that some could fail to ignore.
Yet in the eyes of others, such a portrayal only served to add to the overall mystique and complexity of this once great player. There can be no two ways about it, for Enzo Scifo was most certainly a giant of his day – a player few top-flight faring sides wouldn’t love to call their own.
If the likes of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin de Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco can eventually lift their team far from footballing obscurity and into the bright lights of the grand international stage, then the nation of Belgium will finally have some deserving new stars worthy of following in the footsteps of the great Enzo Scifo.