Any England players hoping that Belgium will take it easy during Saturday's friendly at Wembley should be aware that the visitors' manager, Marc Wilmots, is nicknamed "War Pig". Not because of any devotion to Black Sabbath, rather because of his insatiable lust for battle.
Fans of Schalke first assigned him the sobriquet, and it was at the German club that Wilmots's appetite for destruction first slashed Roy Hodgson's hopes, as the then combative midfielder scored a goal and then the decisive penalty in the shoot-out as the German team beat the Englishman's Internazionale in the 1997 Uefa Cup final. Against England at Wembley on Saturday, Wilmots will be hell-bent on victory.
Wilmots's natural belligerence will be boosted by the knowledge that a win could earn him the full-time job. At the moment he is only an interim manager, having stepped up from the assistant manager's role earlier this month when the erstwhile main man, Georges Leekens, walked out to take up a more lucrative position at Club Brugge. Leekens was lambasted for that perceived treachery, although Wilmots wisely did not make too big a deal of it, aware that he himself was accused of letting people down in a similar fashion when, in 2005, he aborted a fledgling career as a reformist Belgian senator to abandon politics and return to football.
Wilmots's main task is to use his warrior tendencies to ensure Belgium pick the right targets. Too often in recent years the team has been torpedoed by in-fighting. Rivalries between some French- and Flemish-speaking players were complicated by strife between young players and older ones, plus straight-up ego clashes.
A nadir was reached in the last World Cup qualifying campaign, with various players making headlines for nightclub punch-ups, refusing to train, forgetting to bring their boots to a match and losing to Estonia and Armenia. After the campaign the team's medical staff, who had been with the national side for decades, resigned in protest at certain players they accused of having "the sick attitude of spoilt brats". The then manager, Franky Vercauteren, resigned a short time later.
Leekens, a renowned disciplinarian, mostly managed to keep a lid on any tensions and the mood in the camp improved throughout their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, although there were still odd flare-ups, including a costly one instigated by Leekens himself.
The manager's excessively dictatorial handling of Eden Hazard led to a spectacular falling out with the young star, who had so little respect for the manager that, after being substituted during the home draw with Turkey last June, he stormed straight out of the stadium to munch on a hamburger. His three-match ban for that strop was overturned after a lengthy meeting with the manager, and there were few public outbreaks of dissent for the rest of the campaign even though Hazard continued to be dissatisfied with the wide position he was asked to play for the team, whose tactics Leekens never quite got right.
Since taking charge, Wilmots has given Hazard a more obvious playmaker role and announced his intention to build the side around the artist for whom Chelsea are prepared to pay £32m. Hazard performed well in Wilmots's first match at the helm – against Montenegro last week – although Belgium failed to win because of another of the factors that contributed to them not qualifying for Euro 2012: unforced basic errors. Montenegro's first goal in the 2-2 draw came courtesy of the same sort of ludicrous mistake that led to Belgium drawing 4-4 at home with Austria in the qualifiers and drawing 1-1 in Azerbaijan. Disputes may have dissipated, but clearly the Belgian players still have trouble concentrating.
Belgium have a better bunch of players than many of the teams who have qualified for this summer's championship. Of the teams who have not made it, only Switzerland can say they have anywhere near as much talent at their disposal.
The Belgians may have been unlucky to be cast into a qualifying group with Germany, who beat them twice in entertainingly chaotic encounters, but they should certainly have finished ahead of Turkey, to whom they dropped four points.
Any team that can field Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen in defence and players such as Hazard, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembélé, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku further forward should currently be limbering up for a summer in Poland and Ukraine rather than helping England go through their paces.
Fellaini, indeed, has declared that his country can win the next World Cup. A win at Wembley would probably give Wilmots the chance to guide them there. Or give up en route.