SIMON Mignolet says Sunderland players not involved in Euro 2012 will return to pre-season training keener than ever after missing out on the showpiece competition.
The 24-year-old was desperate to be involved in the first major tournament of his senior international career but the Belgians were squeezed out of qualification in a group completely dominated by Germany.
And Mignolet has been a frustrated spectator as one of the most attractive footballing competitions of recent years has unfolded before a worldwide audience.
Now he has his eyes on a return to pre-season training a week on Wednesday and the chance to resume his involvement in the glory game.
He told the Echo: “You know that players watching the Euros will only want to get back sooner, to get going again – I know that I’m like that.
“I would gladly have given up the close-season rest to have been involved in the competition because you always want to play at as high a level as you can in the game and representing your country in a major tournament is as high as you can get.
“Players look forward to the summer break after a long, hard season but if there’s a big football tournament on, it just whets your appetite to get back into things.”
Mignolet has spent time back in Belgium since the end of Sunderland’s 2011-12 campaign and enjoyed a break but says he is one of those players who always looks forward to pre-season.
“I’m ready by the time it comes around,” he shrugged.
“You need a little bit of a break to freshen yourself up.
“I think that every players needs that. But after a while I find myself itching to get back.
“You keep yourself fit but after a few weeks you want to see the ball again and enjoy the feeling of training and having games to look forward to.”
Even though Mignolet’s Belgium missed out on the Euros, the Sunderland goalkeeper believes the country could become fixtures in major tournaments for years to come – Belgium has a rare crop of young talent that could go on to be at the top of their game for years to come.
As a country, Belgium’s finest international years came in the 1980s when they reached the final of the 1980 European Cup and the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup.
But many believe the country is on the verge of a new golden generation and Mignolet agrees.
He said: “When you look at us, we have some very good players who are genuinely top class footballers.
“You look at the likes of Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Mouassa Dembele and Eden Hazard and other players in the side and you know we have the capacity to compete with anyone.”