Words: Tiago Marques
“I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know
Everything that’s shine ain’t always gonna be gold
I’ll be fine once I get it, get it in, I’ll be good”
Kid Cudi – Pursuit Of Happiness ft. MGMT
Kid Cudi’s hit song chorus brings us to a metaphor that can be easily seen in the Victor Wegnez path. Life wasn’t always good, life was never easy, but the Belgian international is a self made man, stronger after each obstacle. In a nice and chilled conversation with Self-Pass, Wegnez told us more about himself.
The Royal Daring Hockey Club was the starting point at the age of five due to an intelligent decision for Wegnez mother: “My mother didn’t want me to play football because she didn’t like the atmosphere surrounding the football field. My older brother’s best friend was playing hockey so, my two brothers and I followed him”.
Leaving Royal Daring this summer for the Belgians giants, KHC Dragons, was one of the hardest things in this young talent life: “I played for this club since I was five. My house is 10 minutes walking away. Of course it was my hardest decision ever, but I also feel that it was something I had to do to keep growing as a person and a hockey player”.
Getting the EHL ticket and also getting to the final four of the EHL are the best memories from Royal Daring and that’s something that will never be forgotten, even if the future gets Victor Wegnez to other levels. The present is with KHC Dragons, but could be different: “I could have gone to other clubs, including some that were offering me much more money, but I don’t know if it would be better for me sports wise. Dragons are my decision because they have a very ambitious project, including the EHL. Besides that, I’m now playing with a lot of players from the National Team. I was also thinking on the Red Lions”.
Nevertheless, the Dutch league is also on the former U21 capitan horizon: “Of course I want to play in The Netherlands one day. The Hoofdklasse looks very exciting, but I’m only 21 years old, and Dragons are for me better than 80% of the Dutch clubs so far. In The Netherlands they have big stadiums and so on, but I want to do it step by step. I couldn’t play with Arthur van Doren, Florent Van Aubel and Felix Denayer if I had decided to go to the Dutch league”.
So far so good. Adapting to the new reality came easy as Victor Wegnez knew almost everyone from the national teams, but there were some particularities that he had to adapt to: “The intensity of the trainings are 10 times harder than at Daring, and there is more team play and more common goals here at Dragons then when I was at Royal Daring, but I know a lot of things changed at Daring with the arrival of the new coach. Adapting here was very easy since I knew 95% of the group from the U21 or the national team”.
“I will never give up during a game or even outside the pitch. I’m born with this adrenaline!”
Success is a pretty obvious word to define Wegnez path, but nothing was given to the former Royal Daring player: “I was only introduced to the national youth teams when I was 17 years old. From 13 to 17 I was very weak physically and very small. I started doing some gym at home, push ups, «abs», every day for at least two years. I played in the second division from my 14 until 16, something that I think really helped my evolution”. The key factor was “the mentality”, as Victor Wegnez never gave up on his dream of becoming a Red Lion. The 21 years old defines himself as a fighter, something you can see in the pitch, but also in his life: “I will never give up during a game or even outside the pitch. I’m born with this adrenaline!
I had to defend myself from my father when I was younger. Obviously, I would have preferred to have a normal dad, but if my father wasn’t beating me when I was young, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this interview now (smiles). Apart from that, and maybe due to the fact that I lived in Molembeek, I used to fight a lot on the pitch when I was younger. I also used to fight on the streets and maybe one thing was leading to the other. Anyway, I had always a lot of cards and problems with the umpires but I knew that I wanted to play for the national team and I did everything to get there”.
“Shane (McLeod) helps the young players a lot. He is a bit like a father for me, always helping me when he can”
Before getting into the first team with the National Team, Wegnez was the captain in the U21. They got close to the gold in Lucknow, India, in 2016 but they lost the final against the home team: “December 18th is a date I will never forget. It was my first final, for three years I said to everybody that we would win this tournament. For three years we trained very hard, but we just missed the last step. Playing in front of such an amazing crowd was definitely the factor that made India win. We played against them five times and lost only one, in the final of the Junior World Cup. It was such a nice experience to play this tournament with friends, but I personally have some regrets about the way we lost the final. Being captain was an absolute honour for me, it was something I was really proud about, to represent such an amazing team and such a beautiful country”.
A little after another step up, getting to the senior team: “It was a massive step. It’s always like that from the U21 to a senior team, but in the Belgium national team more. In the last five years they had the same players. There was not much space to young players in the first team and physically it’s another level”. It looks that things are different by now. Some young players, like Wegnez, are getting into the Belgium’s first team and the future is bright: ”In the European Cup Final there were three of us: Myself, Augustin Meurmans and Arthur Desloover. But there I also Antoine Kina and others. Kina is, for me, the most talented young player in Belgium and will play his first tournament with Red Lions soon”. In this process, Shane McLeod had, and still has, an important role: “Shane helps younger players a lot. He is a bit like a father to me, always helping me when he can, talking a lot to me. He was the one that introduced me to the senior squad during the Olympics year”.
“The way that Kemperman scored the goal changed everything. It was an absolute rocket that woke up the stadium”
After losing the final against India in their home, during the Junior World Cup, Wegnez was part of the Red Lions squad that lost the European Cup in The Netherlands against…The Netherlands. Playing against hosts and home crowd doesn’t seem to come easy for the 21 years old prospect: “The loss in The Netherlands was really hard to accept as we were leading 2-0. Even if The Netherlands were better than us, we can’t lose the game, the final, from the moment we are leading by two. The way that Kemperman scored the goal changed everything. It was an absolute rocket that woke up the stadium”.
Anyway, Victor Wegnez will not give up. He keeps fighting for his dream on “winning the World Cup in 2018, the European Cup in 2019 and getting a medal at the Olympics”.
The young Red Lion still has time to look to the other side and praise opponents: “I’m really impressed by Stanzel, from Austria. If he was German, everybody would say that he is the best player in the world. Matz Grambusch is also really good and Simon Gougnard (higher midfield) is the best at his position. I don’t know a higher midfielder better than him”.
– How do you define yourself as a player?
As a hockey player, I’m fast, love to track with the ball and love the contacts and to escape from 2-3 pressing players. I have to improve my long balls, pre scanning and balance between carrying the ball and running with it, being a leader in the senior level.
– Best hockey moment?
The best moment was to beat the German team in the semi final of the Junior World Cup in the shoot out. The second one was to win against Germany in the semi final of the Euro Nations Cup.
– Worst hockey moment?
The worst moment was to lose the final of the Junior World Cup.
– What would you do if you weren’t a hockey player? Or if hockey didn’t exist?
I would play football or become a journalist (ahahah)
– Indoor or outdoor? Why?
I prefer outdoor because I need a lot of space to run and also you can lift the ball outsider.
– Who is your hockey idol? And why?
I don’t actually have an idol, but I get really impressed with Arthur Van Doren.
– What are your future plans as a player and in hockey?
My future plans go as far as getting to the World Cup and Olympic Games and win both.
– What do you think of hockey nowadays? You support the way the game has been changing and developing?
I love how hockey has been changing. I just hope that we can attract more fans and players.
– What do you think is lacking hockey to get into even more audiences worldwide?
I think that it is lacking real media attention. We need more moments on tv. In The Nederlands, the home team won the European Cup, but everybody was talking about the bad results in football. Same here in Belgium. Red Lions are getting results in hockey while the football national team is not…
– Do you think that social media are important for that?
– What do you like the most about hockey?
I really love to play with my friends and to just be on a hockey field! That’s where I’m feeling relaxed and being myself.
– What do you like less about hockey?
We are missing infrastructures and stadiums like we see in football. There is too much difference between football and hockey. We can just live with our salary and in The Netherlands you can live a good life but the difference is still huge.
– Would you change something in hockey? What?
It would be nice to have all the time full stadiums for a hockey match, like in the final of the Euro Nations Cup.