A nightmare start for Martinez
New Belgium manager's attacking principles painfully exposed by Spain
(David Silva 34, 62-pen)
The Belgians are expected to reach the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia. Their new coach may not.
Roberto Martinez appears to be treading water after a single game and the sharks are circling.
Defeats by Spain, particularly in friendlies, are not unusual, but the confused manner of the 2-0 loss yesterday morning (Singapore time) had alarm bells ringing.
They sounded a lot like boos. They were boos.
The King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels gave a royal thumbs down to the new man in the dugout.
Martinez looked anything but gladiatorial after a largely gutless performance. He looked out of his league.
The affable Spaniard needed a convincing performance in his first game to allay concerns that he was a misjudged appointment.
After Marc Wilmots failed to translate his talismanic influence as a captain into tactical nous as a coach, there was a sense that Belgium required more brain and less brawn.
The second-ranked nation in the world were hoping not for another Batman, but a Bruce Wayne, a more studied, cerebral tactical approach.
The trouble is they might have ended up with Alfred the Butler.
At Wigan and Everton, Martinez had already suggested that nice guys do not actually finish last. They don't really finish at all.
Belgium began the Martinez era in similar fashion, not only sustaining his dreadful run - the Spaniard has now won only one of his last 11 matches as manager - but also confirming the suspicion that his sides are too brittle.
Martinez's teams are pretty, but in a Powerpuff Girls kind of way, where defensive solidity is sacrificed in favour of indulgent swashbuckling.
David Silva enjoyed one of his finest performances in a Spain jersey, scoring both goals, but he was as penetrative as his opponents were poor.
Belgium right back Thomas Meunier was pushed high and wide, leaving too many defensive gaps for the resurgent Silva to exploit.
Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan displayed the uncertainty of a dithering Brexit voter, unsure whether to stay or go. Quite often, they did neither, drifting through no-man's land, allowing Silva and Vitolo to forage in pockets of space.
Even Belgium's basic formation was a shot in the dark, vaguely resembling a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-1-4-1 at different times, exhibiting a lack of direction that the crowd sensed early on.
IMPRESSIVE FIRST 11
The Belgians are blessed with a squad capable of sending out an impressive first 11 and still have Moussa Dembele, Michy Batshuayi, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke on the bench. And yet, they didn't know what they were doing.
Martinez's deployment of Divock Origi was particularly perplexing.
After the game, the coach claimed that Spain's possession game ensured that quick counter-attacks, via wide men Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco, would allow Belgium to slip balls between centre backs towards Origi.
Instead, the Belgians were overwhelmed in midfield, effectively isolating Origi, a striker who currently sits on Liverpool's bench, unable to supplant a forward playing out of position.
But it's Martinez's incurable Achilles' heel that may handicap his progress once more.
By the time of his Everton departure, the Toffees' defence was in a shambolic state, a broken back four little different to the one left behind at Wigan.
His defensive mantra is at least consistent.
If it ain't fixed, hope the midfield can do something not to break it further.
But his attacking principles were painfully exposed by the Spaniards, who pursued Thibaut Courtois as if he were a Pokemon Go character.
Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen demonstrated that their club cohesiveness at Tottenham has yet to replicate itself at international level, but it was the ease with which the Spaniards slipped through Belgium's blurred lines that was more telling.
At the 2014 World Cup, the Belgians were a constellation of emerging superstars in search of a team ethic.
At Euro 2016, Wilmots fostered a collective spirit, but was accused of tactical naivety and Belgium succumbed to defensive indiscipline.
Against Spain, they were all of the above.
The team were disjointed, bedraggled and showed the defensive disorganisation of Martinez's Wigan on a wet Wednesday night.
Coaches are seldom booed after their first game, but Belgium are rarely this bad.
Any result other than a decent victory against Cyprus in their World Cup qualifier next Wednesday morning and the wisdom of the Spaniard's appointment will be questioned.
After Euro 2016, the Belgians believed they had the right players but the wrong man in the dugout, so they appointed Martinez.
They expect a new day, not Groundhog Day.
BY THE NUMBERS
New Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has won only one of his last 11 matches in charge of the Red Devils and Everton.
"Obviously it was not a fine spectacle for the fans. No one wants such a defeat, but it can also be a starting point. The talent is there, everybody knows that. We especially need to improve a lot mentally and work hard every day."
— Martinez on his Belgium team