In soccer, there are many paths that a player can take in pursuit of glory. For some, they pop out as ready-made stars where you know that they have the “it factor” from day one, but other times a player can need someone to keep track of their development and steer it in the right direction to ensure that they end up on the right path. For Leandro Trossard and Kevin de Bruyne, while they will be opponents as Manchester City and Arsenal meet in a clash that could decide the Premier League title on Wednesday, the Belgian internationals both share a common development ground in the academy of KRC Genk in Belgium.
The club, currently leading the Belgian Pro League, is a unique place in the global landscape of soccer as a non-profit team that has to sell players on to survive. By investing funds into their academy, the club is able to ensure that they can stay competitive by helping players reach their potential but de Bruyne and Trossard are becoming models of their process as they’re reaching the highest levels of the game.
“One of the first games where de Brunye came on the pitch, it was a friendly, and it was like he had eyes on his back. And he immediately, at the age of 17, he was pinging balls from one side to the other, 40-45 meters. Immediately you saw that he was different than the other ones,” Genk technical director Dimitri de Conde told CBS Sports.
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And different he was. While de Bruyne reached global stardom almost immediately due to his vision, passing range and shooting ability, he still is able to wow people who watch him play each day. It’s a testament to the work done in Belgium to foster that spacial awareness in players while also a testament to de Bruyne’s own ability and work rate that has seen him return to his best for City when they need him most despite suffering from injuries earlier in the season. While he was 17 when de Conde knew that he had something special on his hands, de Bruyne was already doing things that have become trademarks of his play now at 31.
Coming through the Genk academy after de Bruyne, Trossard is someone who even surprised de Conde with his development. A player who was overlooked by other clubs due to being smaller than most kids when younger, when scouting Trossard his talent stood out to Genk.
“About Leandro in particular, we saw him playing at the age of 15 at a small club against the biggest clubs and he was just a very small kid and he killed everyone,” de Conde said. “He was playing with a small team against Anderlecht, Genk, and the biggest clubs as a striker, and he was killing everything just due to his technical skills.”
But even with those technical skills, it took multiple loan moves across Belgium before Trossard broke into Genk’s first team at 21, earning a move to Brighton before landing at Arsenal. And while he’s not a nailed-on starter in Mikel Arteta’s side at Arsenal, Trossard’s impact on the first team has been significant since joining in January with one goal and seven assists in all competitions.
“At the next step, Leandro [Trossard] even surprised us,” de Conde said. “He was so talented that I think he didn’t need to go further in the Belgian level to be one of the best so he surprised us in England by making the next step [from Brighton to Arsenal].”
At some clubs, a player like Trossard may have been sold off after going out on loan but Genk ensured that he got the appropriate care to flourish as a player. Waiting longer than most teams before making decisions on if players will be cut from the side can pay dividends for more technical players like Trossard, and fast forwarding to now, Belgium and Genk’s fingerprints will be over one of the biggest league games of the season.
It’s a story that can be used in recruiting pitches for new academy scholars at Genk because tangible examples always make it easier to sell a vision as a team. But it’s not just young Belgians who can watch on and learn from this as it’s a story that can apply to anyone in the world of soccer. Physicality isn’t the end all be all as there are multiple ways to make an impact on the pitch and due to their academy vision, Genk will potentially play a little role in deciding the Premier League title with these two playmakers looking to guide their team to victory.
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Publish Date:2023-04-26 07:14:28