No one is a prophet in his own country. The adage fits perfectly with the tortuous journeys of Xavier Mercier and Thomas Henry, aged 31 and 26 respectively. The two French met in Beauvais between 2012 and 2014, at the time of the CFA (ex-National 2), but they had to wait for their passage across Quiévrain to reveal themselves. Since the start of the season, they have scored 9 of 19 goals for Leuven, promoted to Jupiler Pro League – the Belgian first division -, while delivering 10 assists between them. These impressive statistics allow, for the moment, their team to position themselves in eighth place, just five points behind the leader, Club Brugge.
For the two accomplices, the arrival in Belgium propelled a career struggling to take off on the other side of the border. Henry has, of course, evolved in National, in Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël then in Chambly. He even played two ends of Ligue 1 matches with FC Nantes, where he signed pro in 2015. But his “total explosion”, in his own words, coincided with his signing in Tubize, in the Belgian second division in January 2019, six months before a transfer to Leuven.
“I was replaced as a leading attacker, my basic position. In France, I was on the left or on the right, confides the Francilien, born in Argenteuil (Val-d’Oise). I found my bearings and that changed everything, including in my head. I was also trusted, giving me the keys to the truck, and it worked right away. Here, I changed my status, I imposed myself. Coming to a place where no one knew me, where I no longer had a label, made me feel a lot better. For this, I will be eternally grateful to Belgium. “
A football culture carried forward
Xavier Mercier had emigrated three years before his teammate. He thus evolved in Courtrai, then in Cercle Bruges, boarders of Jupiler League, before joining Louvain six months after Henry. And, despite seven Ligue 2 matches with Guingamp in 2011-2012, then a remarkable stint of a year and a half in Boulogne-sur-Mer (National), he also had to change country to settle at the top level. “I was given confidence and they believed in me. It has never really been the case in France, considers the native of Alès. Everything went well at Boulogne, but I did not have any offers from Ligue 1 or 2. Here, I was taken with my qualities and my faults. “
“My atypical profile of old-fashioned playmaker has, perhaps, also played, continues the attacking midfielder, with the medium size (1.74 m, 73 kg). There are few in France, where I have sometimes been criticized for my physical deficit. In Belgium, my strengths were seen more. “Because, at Le Plat Pays, immortalized by the voice of Jacques Brel, the two former Beauvaisiens have also discovered another approach to football. “The Belgians insist much more on the collective and tactical aspect, assures Thomas Henry. There is also a greater willingness to score goals. We see a lot more river scores than in France. Even small teams do not seek 0-0, and there is never any instruction in this direction. “
The two men have also, more generally, discovered a new culture. Particularly in Louvain, a student city in Flanders with 100,000 inhabitants, located thirty kilometers east of Brussels. “The Flemings are hard-working, they offer themselves all the means to succeed and that makes you want to do more, breathes Xavier Mercier. Moreover, almost all of them speak three languages, Flemish, English and French. The coach even does his talks in English. We have, it is true, 14 nationalities in the locker room … “
A return to France does not even touch the spirit of the two Frenchies today, totally in tune with their Belgian history. “I feel super happy, in football and outside, concludes Henry. Coming here has been the best choice in my life. There is more of the human, family side than in France. The supporters are respectful and friendly, they come to sing and drink beers. There is no stress, even our leaders do not put pressure on us… ”
Article original de: www.leparisien.fr