Players looking to further their football careers at a young age generally seek out a top-flight club near their hometown. This proved to be a lesson in overcoming boundaries for Belgian trio Dante Rigo, Lennerd Daneels and Matthias Verreth a few years ago – specifically the national border they had to cross to train and play for their club.
Despite being born in Belgium, these three promising youngsters opted to sign for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven for one simple reason: it was the closest club to where they lived. As U-17 national coach Bob Browaeys explained to FIFA.com with a wink, Eindhoven is practically part of Belgium anyway, lying less than 18 kilometres beyond the state boundary. This proximity means that the club provides their neighbouring national team with tremendous support.
“I stay with a host family during the week,” Rigo told FIFA.com in an interview. In this respect he is one step ahead of his two fellow countrymen, who still live at home and have to make the journey across the border several times a week but are soon hoping to make this trek a thing of the past. “I’m currently looking for a flat in Eindhoven,” revealed Verreth. When asked whether he could share an apartment with Daneels, the striker replied: “Why not? If the club allows it then I’ve got nothing against the idea. We go to school together, train together and generally spend lots of time together. When you do that, friendships are bound to develop.”
Always ready with a quip
While Daneels has so far only featured in his country’s group stage defeat by Ecuador, Rigo and Verreth are permanent fixtures in the starting line up. Having already tasted success in the knockout stage, both players are now hoping to go further. They are also united about how they want their careers to pan out, with both striving to make PSV’s first team before securing a move to one of Europe’s top leagues. Ideally they would end up in the English Premier League, where compatriots and idols Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Liverpool striker Christian Benteke have long since made a name for themselves.
The Belgian trio are by no means the only overseas talents in Eindhoven’s youth system. While players from Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Italy complete PSV’s international line-up, Daneels, Rigo and Verreth have a particularly special relationship with the Dutch. Their rivalry might not be quite so heated as that between Germany and England or Argentina and Brazil, but the two countries are always quick to exchange witty retorts whenever their old adversaries lose.
The Red Devils currently have the upper hand over their neighbours at every level, with the young Oranje missing out on the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 while their senior counterparts recently failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2016. “Although we’ve had very few reasons to celebrate for such a long time, happily that’s changed in the recent past,” said a smiling Verreth, adding: “The Dutch talk a lot. They’re very direct and aren’t afraid to tell you exactly what they think. I’d say we’re a little different in that respect.”
Making national team history
Nevertheless, the trio’s Eindhoven team-mates wished them well for the World Cup in Chile, “even though they were naturally a little bit jealous when we set off,” explained Daneels.
On Monday Les Diablotins (The Little Devils) face Costa Rica to battle it out for a coveted semi-final spot. The Belgians have never reached the last four and even made history by securing their quarter-final place. “Naturally we’re all pleased with what we’ve achieved,” said Verreth. “No-one expected us to get this far.” Rigo added: “Our families are supporting us from home and cheering in front of their televisions. Costa Rica are definitely formidable opponents – they beat one of the favourites, France, after all – but we’re nowhere near finished yet.”
If they get their way, the next time they cross a national border on their way back to Belgium from Chile their bags will be carrying a World Cup winners’ medal nestled next to the Eindhoven kit.