024. Jan Ceulemans
Jan Ceulemans, born in Lierse, is regarded as one of the best players in Europe of his generation. Having started with his local club, he moved to Club Bruges in 1978 where he stayed for thirteen years until he retired. In the meantime he won three league championships and was voted Belgian Player of the Year three times as well.
He made his debut for the national team in 1977 and three years later he was impressive when Belgium became runners-up to West Germany in the European Championship. Ceulemans was a workhorse and his tireless running in midfield combined with his long legs made him able to cover lots of ground. He could run fast with the ball at his feet and was good in the air as well. He was very skillful despite being tall (6’3”/191cm) and scored many goals after beating a man or two.
Belgium reached the second phase in the World Cup of 1982 and Ceulemans is remembered by many for running 80 yards with the ball before passing to a teammate who scored against Hungary in the first round. However, it was not until four years later in Mexico that Jan really shone on soccer’s greatest stage. He captained Belgium to the semifinals where Maradona and Argentina proved to be too strong. Ceulemans had a great tournament and scored three goals. His diving header in the quarterfinal against Spain was a beauty.
At 33, he appeared in his third and last World Cup in Italy in 1990. Neither Jan nor the Belgian team reached the level of 1986, but their exit could have been easier to deal with than David Platt’s 119th minute extra-time winner in the second round match against England. Ceulemans said farewell to the national team and retired from professional soccer the following year having won a Belgian record of 96 caps.