Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan has been omitted from Belgium’s squad for this summer’s World Cup.
The 30-year-old has played a key role in the Red Devils’ resurgence in recent years but has struggled to fully establish himself under new manager Roberto Martinez.
He was left out of two squads at the start of the current season, with reports claiming his bad-boy image was to blame for his absence.
Martinez was insistent the decision was merely tactical, and Nainggolan’s hopes of representing his country in Russia were boosted when he was recalled for friendlies against Mexico and Japan in November as well as Saudi Arabia in March.
But those have now been extinguished following the announcement of Martinez’s final selection on Monday, with Nainggolan missing out despite playing a key role in the Giallorossi’s run to the Champions League semi-finals.
“First and foremost, we all know Radja is a top player, there is no question about that,” the coach told a news conference.
“It is a tactical reason. In the last two years, the team has worked in an offensive way, in a very specific manner.
“In the case of Radja, we all know he has a very important role at club level and I don’t think we can give him that in the national team.
“I travelled to see him yesterday in Rome and we had a very good conversation. The decision is not an easy one, I understand how popular the player is, but we have to create the team to try to become a winning team.
“It is purely a tactical decision.”
Martinez has named a 28-man provisional squad for the tournament, meaning there are places for the likes of Christian Benteke and Nacer Chadli, despite disappointing campaigns in the Premier League for Crystal Palace and West Brom respectively.
Michy Batshuayi is also included, despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury while in action for Borussia Dortmund in April.
Belgium head into the tournament as one of the favourites given the strength in depth which Martinez is able to call upon.
Thibaut Courtois is likely to start in goal ahead of Simon Mignolet while the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen battling for places in defence.
Mousa Dembele, Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini are in contention for midfield places while Romelu Lukaku is likely to lead the line, supported by Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco.
The full squad:
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Matz Sels (Newcastle);
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles FC), Christian Kabasele (Watford), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jordan Lukaku (Lazio), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham);
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian);
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli).