Trossard's Remarkable Journey to Becoming a Belgium Star

Trossard's Remarkable Journey to Becoming a Belgium Star
By: Gordon from statstriker.com

Flair, pace, and ice-cold composure.

With Leandro Trossard, Belgium and Arsenal are blessed with a world-class forward.

He is also an anomaly; a late bloomer. At 29, he has only recently become a regular for his national team.

Talk to those who knew him as a teenager, and a consistent theme emerges.

Yes, he was “gifted on the ball,” and yes, he made defenders “go crazy with his technique.” But at 16, he was a small boy playing at a small academy in an even smaller league.

To go from there to where he is now, 13 years later—essentially Eden Hazard’s replacement in Belgium’s starting XI—is almost unbelievable.

'On the pitch he was different'

Trossard ended last season, his second with Arsenal, in brilliant form, netting six goals across his final 10 matches—games played during a heated title race.

Those who grew up with him are not surprised by his late, rapid rise. At 14, with his grandfather by his side, Trossard signed for Bocholter VV, a club on the Dutch border in the nation’s third division under-15 pyramid.

“He was so small and without any sort of ego, but on the pitch, he was different,” remembered Bocholter’s current goalkeeper Stijn Wertelaers, Trossard’s former teammate and friend.

“His first season was totally mad, and that year he directly made us champions. It was crazy what he could do with the ball, and his scoring level was incredible.”

After two seasons, Bocholter tried to convince 15-year-old Trossard to stay by offering him a spot on the first team. Instead, with seemingly half the Belgian Pro League after his signature, the forward turned to the region’s biggest club, Genk.

Wertelaers would reunite with his friend in 2010 as a backup goalkeeper in Genk’s youth team behind Thibaut Courtois.

In training, Wertelaers faced shots from Kevin de Bruyne and Christian Benteke. And there, in that all-star squad, Trossard held his own.

“At that age, my friends and I wanted to drink beer and experience our first parties,” added Wertelaers. “Trossard wasn’t that interested. He was always so focused on football.

“It was frustrating facing him as a goalkeeper because he was already so gifted with the ball.”

While De Bruyne and Courtois headed to Chelsea, Trossard stayed and at age 24, captained Genk to their first league title in eight seasons.

He joined Brighton in 2019 and spent four seasons with the Seagulls before switching to Arsenal in January 2023 in a deal worth up to £27m.

At moments last season, he looked ludicrously talented, beating players with his low center of gravity and superb dribbling skills.

He scored 17 goals, including a crucial goal against Porto in Arsenal’s Champions League last-16 win and another in the first leg of their quarter-final against Bayern Munich.

“That’s the story of his whole career—you don't think he will reach the next level, but he hits the top every time,” added Wertelaers.

“I played with all those players, De Bruyne and Courtois, but Leandro’s path from the third division at 16 to Arsenal now is the craziest I’ve seen.”

It feels like Trossard’s journey is one celebrated by the entire municipality of Bocholt, tucked away in the northeast corner of Belgium.

“He is almost impossible for us to comprehend,” said Bocholter VV board member Chris Kwanten.

“We’re a pretty small club in a small country. Genk and Anderlecht are a huge level for us.

“We can barely picture the size of a club like Arsenal. Seeing him play for the national team against the very best teams in the world, we are very, very proud of that.”

Like Trossard, the Belgium team has also undergone significant transformation over the past two decades.

The Red Devils struggled, being held to draws by Kazakhstan in 2006 and 2007. However, they ended a 12-year absence from major tournaments when they reached the World Cup in 2014.

Now, there is a palpable expectation. Belgium has reached the quarter-finals of the past two European Championships. They were semi-finalists in the 2018 World Cup, and disappointingly, were eliminated in the group stage in Qatar.

Roberto Martinez was the manager then. The federation is now placing its hopes on former RB Leipzig boss Domenico Tedesco.

Trossard, who was part of Belgium's last Euros squad, is very much a key player under Tedesco, having started four of their past five matches.

So, will Hazard’s heir apparent and his teammates finally bring home silverware to a nation of 12 million?

“I’ll be watching the games with my friends who also played with Trossard at Bocholter,” said Wertelaers.

“When he scores the winner, it will be incredible. Not just for him or for Belgium, but for all of us.”