Roberto Martinez drops major hint over Belgium call-up for Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk

The Whites centre-back has a decision to make in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 4:42 pm
Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk in action against Everton at Elland Road. Pic: Getty

Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk is yet to decide his international future - but head coach Roberto Martinez has hinted it could be with Belgium.

The 21-year-old centre-back has featured 17 times under Marcelo Bielsa in the Premier League this season - scoring his first goal for the club against Arsenal in mid-February.

Struijk has been an important figure in the Whites' senior squad this term, having stepped in to plug gaps in defence or midfield when required amid injuries.

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His impressive top-flight form has attracted the attention of onlookers - with Struijk eligible to represent Belgium, Netherlands or Indonesia at international level.

Struijk was born in Deurne but moved to Holland from Belgium as a youngster and represented the Flying Dutchmen at Under-17s level during his time in the Ajax academy.

Reports emerged last month over interest from Martinez as to a potential call-up and Struijk has since applied for a passport with the country of his birth to keep his options open.

Martinez - who was appointed Belgian manager in 2016 - has admitted that the Whites defender is one of a number of new players on his radar for the upcoming international break later this month.

Struijk, though, has yet to confirm whether he will declare for the Red Devils.

"I was very impressed with his performance when he started playing for Leeds in the Championship," Martinez said.

"We have to look to the future. We don't have that kind of player - a left-footed central defender. He's a dynamic player, very present and who can play in different positions.

"We probably have the best pairing of world football with Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen but these are players who are over 30 years old.

"At the moment, he's one of the players we've seen who could fit that criteria. We will make a decision as camp approaches in March. With Pascal, there are still two or three players left that we try to attract, but I won't say the names.

"They play in positions where we need to develop young players faster than in other positions. I don't want us to end up in positions or situations where we lose one or two players and all of a sudden we panic and have to replace them urgently."

Competition at international level may yet prove to be a deciding factor with Belgium's ageing defence reaching the end of a cycle.

Martinez has highlighted Struijk as a potential successor to Jan Vertonghen or Thomas Vermaelen while the Netherlands boast an array of options - spearheaded by Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk - who are younger with more experience.

"We are talking about the best generation of footballers we have had in Belgium," Martinez added.

"I want them to have a big impact on the generations to come. So the sooner we can get young players to work with our old ones, the better it will be for them and the future of Belgian football.

"That's one of the reasons Pascal is a name that we very quickly tried to contact. I spoke with Pascal a long time ago. I like his character and I like what it is. But currently, we haven't made our decision yet.

"I have always said very clearly that our federation has to be proactive. We are not a federation which reacts under pressure. So we have to play a first role. I think with Pascal, that was the case."