Doha, 21 November 2018. During a guided tour through Aspire Academy on Tuesday afternoon, Tottenham Hotspur FC midfielder and Belgian international, Mousa Dembélé, shared his explanation about the successful run of Belgium at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and explained what mattered the most when he was starting out as a young player.
After visiting Aspire and hearing firsthand about the Academy’s philosophy from Football Performance & Science Director Di Salvo, what is your impression of this place?
Dembélé: I am very impressed. It’s like an attraction park for athletes where they have everything they can think of. It’s amazing and I am sure that they can benefit a lot from these opportunities and they have an environment to become the best in whatever sport they do. One of the things I also really like about Aspire is that they work a lot on the mental aspect, which is one of the most important things when it comes to develop young athletes and that’s crucial to reach a certain level.
From your experience when you were a young player, what differentiated you from other youngsters, that did not make it to professional football?
Dembélé: Where I am from, we had a very good academy, that worked together with Ajax Amsterdam. Personally, I was inspired by football and was very passionate about it. I just loved playing all the time, I analyzed it for myself and I think that helped me to become a professional. But I believe there are many different paths to get there and I think every young player deals with it in a different way.
You have been playing football at the highest level, recently at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where you finished third with Belgium. Do you consider this achievement as the highlight of your career so far?
Dembélé: Yes. Every footballer dreams of playing at the World Cup and reaching the third place is a very good achievement. Obviously you always want to achieve more, but that is something we can be very proud of.
What do you think was the main reason that the Belgian national team performed so strong in Russia?
Dembélé: This is one of the most difficult questions, that I always get. It’s not easy to answer. I think that we have a lot of talented young players in Belgium that are challenging each other from early childhood on. That starts as soon as you play football in the streets as kids. In Russia, we were a group of players with a great passion for the sport and we kept challenging us all the time and maybe that’s one of the reasons we got this far.
The stronger the competition, the better for the development of young players?
Dembélé: Being in an environment with a lot of good players around you is definitely a plus. I think you can learn from every player and you will take from them what you think benefits yourself in order to become better.
For those young Qatari players, what are going to play their first World Cup in four years, could you describe what kind of feeling it is for a player to play at such an event?
Dembélé: I think that every player experiences it differently. At the event itself, you are so focused on achieving something that sometimes it’s a bit difficult to understand what’s really happening around you. You are in a certain vibe and mainly focus on training and playing your games as good as possible. Only after the World Cup was over, I had time to sit down to reflect what we had just achieved. Overall, it was an amazing experience.