Belgium boss Martinez on Barcelona speculation: It's difficult for me to talk about rumours

By Sports Desk October 10, 2021

Roberto Martinez said it is "difficult for me to talk about rumours" after addressing speculation he could replace Ronald Koeman as Barcelona boss.

Martinez saw his Belgium side defeated 2-1 by Italy in Sunday's Nations League third-place play-off, having lost to the Azzurri by the same scoreline in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

Speaking after Sunday's game, Martinez was asked about links to Barca, with Koeman's position under threat after an indifferent start in LaLiga this season and back-to-back 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League.

"It's difficult for me to talk about rumours. I've been working with this team for five years and am fully concentrated on this role," Martinez told reporters post-match.

"We came to the Nations League to win it and did not manage that, but now we prepare for World Cup qualifying. I have nothing more to add."

Nicolo Barella's goal and a Domenico Berardi penalty were enough for Italy to defeat Belgium, for whom Charles De Ketelaere's first international goal was not enough to mount a comeback.

It marked the first time Belgium have suffered back-to-back competitive defeats since September 2010 and Martinez, whose team let a two-goal lead slip against France in the semi-final on Thursday, was left frustrated.

"The penalty was a debatable decision and one that frankly I do not agree with. I try to be respectful with the referee, but you need experience at a tournament of this level," he added.

"We are very frustrated by VAR intervening against France, saying referees ought to be given responsibility for their decisions, but why didn't the VAR intervene today when the referee needed help? The frustration grew as the game wore on."

Substitute Kevin de Bruyne, who assisted De Ketelaere's late consolation goal, was also disappointed but felt the experience has been good for some of Belgium's younger squad members.

"We did well at times against some top teams and had many new faces who did more than a decent job today," De Bruyne told Belgian outlet HNL.

"It's a good experience for them to be able to play against opponents of this calibre, but unfortunately we lost twice.

"With all due respect, playing against Estonia is not the same thing and these challenges are necessary for us to grow, both as individuals and as a team.

"We are 'just' Belgium. It's a new generation, we were missing Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard today, so we have to be realistic about the team we have.

"Italy, France and Spain have 22 top players to choose from and we do not."

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    Lukaku completed a season-long move back to San Siro on Wednesday less than a year after leaving the Nerazzurri to become Chelsea's record signing for a fee of £97.5million.

    The Belgium striker only scored eight goals in 26 Premier League appearances for the London club in the 2021-22 campaign.

    Lukaku found the back of the net 64 times in 95 games during his first spell with Inter, winning the Serie A title last year before signing for Chelsea for a second time.

    The 29-year-old, who has picked 90 as his new shirt number, had made no secret of his desire to play for Inter again and feels he is back where he belongs.

    He told the club's official website: "It's like coming home. My family and I were so happy here thanks to the people, the fans and my team-mates. From the first day I arrived here, everyone helped me settle in.

    "I'm very happy. I kept my home here when I went to England, so that means something. I'm pleased to be back and now I can't wait to get out there with my team-mates."

    Belgium's record goalscorer is determined to put a miserable season with Chelsea behind him.

    He added: "It's an amazing feeling. What we achieved here a year ago was fantastic. That goes for the team, the fans and also me personally.

    "Inter have given me so much and I hope to do even better than last time. It's now time to work hard as a squad and hopefully do even better than before."

    Lukaku also expressed his gratitude to Inter president Steven Zhang for getting the deal done.

    "We spoke about so many things and how it seemed impossible for me to come back here, but we managed it and I'm grateful to him for the way he kept pushing and believing it was possible," he said. "We managed to do it in the end and I'm delighted to be back."

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    Romelu Lukaku has returned to Inter on loan after a disappointing first season back at Chelsea.

    The Belgium striker only scored eight goals in 26 Premier League appearances after his club-record £97.5million move back to Stamford Bridge last August.

    Lukaku's second spell at Chelsea took another turn for the worse when he said stated in an interview with Sky Italia late last year that he was not happy with his role at the London club.

    The  29-year-old declared: "I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy."

    He has now got his wish, sealing a switch back to San Siro for the 2022-23 season less than a year after leaving for a huge fee.

    "We're back baby. I'm very happy, thanks for the compliments. Remember three years ago, we were here? We're back," he said in a social media video alongside Inter chairman Steven Zhang.

    Asked by Zhang whether he promises to 'score lots of goals at San Siro', he added: "That's what we're here for. I keep my promises."

     

    Lukaku will try and help Inter wrestle back the Serie A title from city rivals Milan after he played a huge part in their Scudetto triumph in the 2020-21 season, scoring 24 goals in 32 league games.

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    However, despite considerable competition, Martinez's agent Alejandro Camano has made it clear his client will remain at the Nerazzurri and is delighted to reunite with Lukaku.

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    "Lautaro is happy in Milan, he feels like he's at the centre of things, he's loved.

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    Martinez was Inter's leading scorer in Serie A last season, when they finished second behind rivals Milan, and his tally of 21 goals was only bettered in the division by Lazio's Ciro Immobile (27) and Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic (24), who joined from Fiorentina in January.

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