sports gazette

EXCLUSIVE: Tea time with Kristof Terreur, the Belgian spy in the Premier League

Published: 6 Dec 2016

Kristof Terreur, the Premier League correspondent for the Belgian newspaper HLN, talked over a pot of tea to the Sports Gazette about superstars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, the Champions League, pizza on the Chelsea team bus and the Conte diet.

In the season Eden Hazard moved to Chelsea, Terreur followed the Belgian superstar and hung up his hat in London to cover the growing number of Belgians in the English top flight. Surprisingly he said no one really wanted the job: "it required a lot of sacrifice. I did ask for a week to think about it, but I knew it was something I really wanted to do."

He became the first Belgian sports journalist to settle permanently in London, which gave him a head start with the players, especially with the ones he had not come across in Belgium: “In some relationships I had to invest more. Eden Hazard for example I didn’t know before I came to London,” Terreur said.

Belgian superstars

Hazard spent his formative years in Lille, just across the border in France, but other stars of the Belgian golden generation did make their professional debuts in their home country. Terreur covered the Belgian Club Genk for over eight years and he build up relations with, at the time, young talents Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke and Kevin De Bruyne.

“My bond with those guys is different, I have followed them through several stages of their careers, which gives it this little extra. I remember the first time I interviewed Kevin [De Bruyne], I visited him at his foster parents’ house when he was only 17. It is pretty impressive to see where he is now,” he said.

De Bruyne’s career has been uncommon, especially his half-season at Mourinho’s Chelsea, which is a subject of much discussion. Terreur is, however, not sure whether the fuss was justified.

“If I look at the squad Mourinho had at his disposal at the time, I am not convinced De Bruyne had already earned himself a spot,” he said. “With competition such as Oscar, Mata, Willian and Schurrle, all carrying more impressive résumés, De Bruyne, back from a seasonlong loan at Bundesliga relegation candidate Werder Bremen, felt rather light.”

De Bruyne has come a long way since then. "In a way, we have to thank Mourinho. I don't think Kevin would have been where he is now if it weren't for his time at Wolfsburg," Terreur said.

After his big money move to Manchester City, the Bundesliga Star des Jahres 2015 proved he could match the level of his national team mate and English PFA player of the year 2015, Hazard.

"In the last five or so Premier League seasons, I have seen only two players really rise above the pack and both moved on to succeed at the very highest level. What Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale did in England to get there, Hazard and De Bruyne still have to prove," Terreur said.

Both Belgians are closing in on a fortune. Suarez shone at the age of 26 and Bale was even younger when he clinched his record-breaking move to the Spanish capital. For Hazard and De Bruyne, both 25, time is ticking and the next two seasons will be crucial to their careers.

Champions League questions

To make it into the top five of the Ballon D'or, players need to play, and win, Champions League finals. Although De Bruyne had his first experience at the the top table in City's last UCL campaign, the Manchester side are 10 to 1 to win the highest club competition in the world this year.

"Premier League clubs' performances in the Champions League have always been worrying. Although I do believe the pace, intensity and multitude of matches in England are a factor, I think the financial exploits of the English competition dampen the clubs' aspirations for European silverware," he said. "Why spend millions to broaden your squad to handle midweek games, when the home league TV contracts bring in more than Europe can offer?"

Pep and Conte put a pin in pizza time

According to Terreur, English clubs still have much to learn on several levels of the game. Nutrition for example. "I remember I could not believe my eyes when I saw the pizzas rolling up in the Manchester City dressing room after a game, or when I heard of players going through the McDonald's drive-in post-match," he said.

He added: "At a time when players in Belgium were already getting a recuperation meal, pizza slices were being passed from hand to hand on the Chelsea team bus."

Both clubs required the influence of fresh foreign managers to change their approach to something so crucial to physical performance.

Terreur says Guardiola insists the players sit together after a game and have a light meal with lots of vegetables and, according to him, the Chelsea players are now on the Conte Diet, eating an Italian style of food, not including post-match Domino's!

Chelsea and City clashed spectaculary over the weekend not only providing drama but also quality football. They manage to stick around the top of the table, and maybe the reason for that may be found not only on a tactical clipboard or on the training pitch, but also on the players' plates.

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