Leander Dendoncker has made 46 appearances for Wolves in all competitions this season
From balancing football with farming to chasing Champions League qualification in the Premier League – the hard work continues for Leander Dendoncker, though now in a rather different form.
Having had his childhood dreams assisted by a father prepared to sacrifice valuable land for a makeshift pitch, the importance of hard work and dedication are deeply ingrained in the Belgium midfielder as he helps Wolves chase their ambitions.
In an interview, which you can listen to on BBC Radio 5 Live Premier League Sunday on 15 March, he discusses his childhood and life in the Premier League.
The ‘crazy’ decision that set him on his path
The 24-year-old midfielder, who joined Wolves on a permanent deal last summer following a year on loan from Anderlecht, owes much to his father for setting the wheels in motion for an eventual move to the Premier League.
Growing up on his family farm in the village of Passchendaele, near Ypres, the Belgian says that over time he came to understand the significance of the history of the nearby Tyne Cot Cemetery – the burial ground of nearly 12,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.
A young Dendoncker often had to lend a hand on the farm – the hard work leaving him with enormous respect for the dedication of his father.
“It’s very nice, I think, for a child to be able to grow up on a farm. There’s a lot of space to play with my brothers and I had to help my father quite often,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I saw what he was doing every day, it was really tough for him so I have a lot of respect for what he did.
“We used to clean the pigs’ house. They leave behind the same stuff as us but we do it in a toilet and it disappears. That was the worst thing.”
The Belgium international is very grateful for what fellow farmers felt was “crazy” behaviour from his father, who took the decision to transform an area into a football pitch for Dendoncker and his two brothers.
“He transformed a square into a football field for us to play. I think that’s the best thing he’s ever done in his life,” he said.
“Once it was finished I think I was there every day with my brothers playing and having fun and I think that’s the place where I spent most of my time back home.
“That area was meant to be food for the pigs so [the neighbours] told him he was crazy and they thought he was throwing money away. Of course, in a way, he was, but he did it for us, for his children, so he can be proud of what he did.”
Match of the Day and ‘the move that made me’
Leander Dendoncker played for local sides FC Passendale and Roeselare before moving to Anderlecht in 2009
Watching Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp on television served as the inspiration for what would be recreated on the field outside.
“We used to watch Match of the Day every Sunday morning, that was a tradition,” said Dendoncker.
“It was really early, we had to be up at about eight o’clock in the morning because the best games were the first ones, so that’s what we used to do.”
In 2009, at the age 14, Dendoncker joined Anderlecht from local side Roeselare.
He would go on to make 171 senior appearances for the club following his debut in July 2013, scoring 11 times and providing four assists, but the move to the outskirts of the Belgian capital Brussels initially proved challenging for the boy from rural Passendale.
“I was a mother’s child, the most of the three brothers, so it was tough for me to leave at 14 to the big city. Brussels was totally different to what I was used to,” Dendoncker said.
“It was really tough, especially at the beginning. I cried a lot. I think I called my parents three times a day just to hear their voices.
“I think it made me who I am today and it made me independent, so in a way I’m really happy I did it and, in another way, it’s sad because I had to leave my parents and my brothers – but it was for the best.”
Wolves’ marathon season ‘getting tougher’
Now in his second season at Molineux, Dendoncker has already made nearly 50 appearances for Wolves in a marathon campaign that began in July with Europa League qualifying.
The midfielder could, in theory, end the season having played 60 club matches should Wolves go the distance in Europe, before a summer that might yet, coronavirus permitting, involve a European Championship.
Asked how Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have kept going, Dendoncker said: “It is getting tougher to recover from all these games but we really have professional medical and technical staff who know what they are doing and get us into the best way possible for the coming games. They have material I have never seen in my life before to recover.”
Dendoncker, who has won nine caps for Belgium, draws parallels between his father and current manager Nuno when it comes to their approaches to getting the best out of him on the pitch.
“My dad was really demanding when I was a kid, after every game he would tell me what was not good instead of what was good,” he said.
“Our manager now is doing the same. He is getting the best out of us, or trying to get the best out of us, and I think he manages quite well.”