I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and
I remember the exact moment I knew we were broke. I can still picture my mum at the refrigerator and the look on her face.
II was six years old, and I came home for lunch during our break at school. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk.
When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. But I guess that’s what we could afford. Then this one day I came home, and I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my mum at the refrigerator with the box of milk, like normal.
But this time she was mixing something in with it. She was shaking it all up, you know? I didn’t understand what was going on.
Then she brought my lunch over to me, and she was smiling like everything was cool. But I realized right away what was going on.She was mixing water in with the milk.
We didn’t have enough money to make it last the whole week. We were broke. Not just poor, but broke.
My father had been a pro footballer, but he was at the end of his career and the money was all gone.
The first thing to go was the cable TV. No more football. No more Match of the Day. No signal.
Then I’d come home at night and the lights would be shut off. No electricity for two, three weeks at a time. Then I’d want to take a bath, and there would be no hot water. My mum would heat up a kettle on the stove, and I’d stand in the shower splashing the warm water on top of my head with a cup.
There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.I knew we were struggling. But when she was mixing in water with the milk, I realized it was over, you know what I mean? This was our life
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want her to stress. I just ate my lunch. But I swear to God, I made a promise to myself that day. It was like somebody snapped their fingers and woke me up. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do.
I couldn’t see my mother living like that. Nah, nah, nah. I couldn’t have that.
People in football love to talk about mental strength. Well, I’m the strongest dude you’re ever going to meet. Because I remember sitting in the dark with my brother and my mom, saying our prayers, and thinking, believing, knowing … it’s going to happen.
I kept my promise to myself for a while. But then some days I’d come home from school and find my mum crying. So I finally told her one day, “Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.”
I was six.
I asked my father, “When can you start playing professional football?”
He said, “Sixteen.”
I said, “O.K., sixteen then.”
It was going to happen. Period.
Let me tell you something — every game I ever played was a Final. When I played in the park, it was a Final. When I played during break in kindergarten, it was a Final. I’m dead-ass serious. I used to try to tear the cover off the ball every time I shot it. Full power. We weren’t hitting R1, bro. No finesse shot. I didn’t have the new FIFA. I didn’t have a Playstation. I wasn’t playing around. I was trying to kill you.
When I started growing taller, some of the teachers and the parents would be stressing me. I’ll never forget the first time I heard one of the adults say, “Hey, how old are you? What year were you born?”
I’m like, What? Are you serious?
When I was 11 years old, I was playing for the Lièrse youth team, and one of the parents from the other team literally tried to stop me from going on the pitch. He was like, “How old is this kid? Where is his I.D.? Where is he from?”
I thought, Where am I from? What? I was born in Antwerp. I’m from Belgium.
My dad wasn’t there, because he didn’t have a car to drive to my away games. I was all alone, and I had to stand up for myself. I went and got my I.D. from my bag and showed it to all the parents, and they were passing it around inspecting it, and I remember the blood just rushing through me … and I thought, “Oh, I’m gonna kill your son even more now. I was already going to kill him, but now I’m gonna destroy him. You’re gonna drive the boy home crying now.”
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Professor organisation al behavioural leadership at IE Business School Clinical Hypnotherapist/psychotherapist Executive Coach