If selected against Cyprus this evening, our long-serving centre-back will overtake former striker Jan Ceulemans’ tally of 96 caps for the Red Devils, a record that has stood for 26 years.
Born in Sint-Niklaas, Jan had just come to the end of a loan spell at RKC Waalwijk, who were relegated from the Eredivisie, when, as a 20-year-old, he was thrown into Belgium’s starting line-up for his first senior appearance for his country in a European Championship qualifier against Portugal in Brussels in June, 2007.
He’s remained a regular figure in the squad ever since while playing for Ajax and Spurs at club level and is now poised to make history when Belgium, who have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia, host Cyprus.
“I’m very proud,” he told us. “I’ve always been watching the national team since I was very young and I wouldn’t have dreamed of playing for them. I never imagined it. I liked playing football but I never thought I was going to be as good as I have to be to play for the national team.
“Eventually I was and now, to have played so many games, to have played at tournaments with the national team and to hopefully break the record, it’s one of the proudest moments of my career.”
Below: Jan congratuated after scoring in WCQ against Greece in September
Reflecting on his Belgium debut back in 2007, in which he played the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 defeat to a Portugal side including ex-Spur Helder Postiga, Jan admitted: “I didn’t expect to play - I didn’t expect a call-up!
“I was playing for a small team at the time and I was very, very surprised to be there. The day before the game I remember I was doing the set-pieces with the starting XI and I was even more surprised!
“Portugal were a very good team at the time and I remember I played against Deco and Tiago - they were my two opponents. It was a tough game but I think I did well.”
Below: Jan Ceulemans in action at the 1986 World Cup
Now 30, Jan, who cites his winning goal against South Korea in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as his favourite moment in a Belgium shirt to date, closely followed by a victory in Croatia in October, 2013, that saw them qualify for that tournament, was introduced to current record-holder Ceulemans in London recently. Ceulemans scored 23 goals in his 96 appearances between 1977 and 1991.
“I wasn’t even born for much of his career,” added the defender. “I saw some footage of him and when I met him, it was a special moment. He’s a very nice guy. I think he always knew the record was going to be taken some day and I think he’s happy that it’s me.”