This picture is taken 5 years later, age 11. I am proudly wearing the purple and white jersey of Anderlecht. Looking back, I realize it was a big thing. Look, I was a kid from a vibrant neighborhood, where football meant everything.
Out on the street, you could always expect the unexpected. I guess that part of my life has not changed. Being able to say: ‘I am an Anderlecht player’, it really made a difference. People respected me because of that. I had three great years in Anderlecht, but something just felt off; others were getting more attention. I felt I was not a priority player there.
Then one day, Dylan, one of my best friends, told me about a trial at the JMG Academy. I heard they were practising four hours each day. It fascinated me, so I went to their trial days. The training site was situated in an isolated place out in the woods. The idea was to pull players out of the regular club competition, to train barefoot and to focus on developing technique by practicing long hours. Players were never allowed to stop putting pressure on the opponent. One mistake on the pitch and they would take you off.
While defending, we could hear the coach counting out loud, motivating us to steal back the ball within seconds. When attacking, we had to play possession at all cost, think and act super fast. On the last of those four trial days at the academy, I was completely exhausted. I remember the JMG coach coming up to me saying: ‘We believe you could become a great defender’. At the time I thought: ‘What is he thinking? I am an attacker’. Now I realize he was right.
In the four years I lived and trained there, I became a fearless player, discovered how full control of the ball is crucial in football. I grew into a man.