Europe

From rough diamond to hockey star: The rise of Victor Wegnez

Hockey needs characters for the sport to thrive, says Belgium coach

Hockey is ‘too tame’ and Belgium’s Victor Wegnez could be just the individual character needed to make the sport roar, Red Lions coach Shane McLeod told The Hockey Paper after the home nation won last summer’s EuroHockey title.

Wegnez sent Belgium to the final with a standout performance in one of the sport’s greatest matches against Germany before being awarded player of the tournament as the Red Lions won their first European title.

McLeod told THP: “He’s a special kid. Every group has their players who add flavour but this guy is full of everything. He’s so energetic and is really good for our game. People come to watch him play and react when he reacts.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve and people love that.”

With the team element in hockey, McLeod believes that hockey needs more characters like the Racing Club de Bruxelles midfielder to raise the profile of the sport.

The Kiwi said: “They’re never heard. You don’t want your whole team full of them as you will get volatile and it will be hard to do a team talk. But this guy lives and breathes hockey and he would run through a brick wall for you and not think twice about it.

“Our sport is a bit too tame in that regard. Victor has such a large character that people love to watch him. And it’s done in a really positive way. He’s always deflecting the praise on to other people.

“He’s a real character and people love the way he loves the game. And that’s attractive for people in any sport.”

Belgium’s EuroHockey win was their second major title in eight months after landing the World Cup for the first time. Now, their mission is to win the Olympics after finishing with silver at Rio 2016.

Wegnez, 24, is one of the few Belgian players to force their way into McLeod’s star-studded side, many of whom have played together since successful junior days. And McLeod believes he had the right attributes from when McLeod first saw him and picked Wegnez before the Rio Games.

He added: “It’s a nice human story. He was a bit of a rough diamond. He’s just worked so hard at his game and you see he has become a world class player – speed, power, can score goals when needed and he loves the pressure. As the pressure grows he grows.

“He is genuine. Being in our environment is quite demanding. We have senior players who have come in with over 300 caps and you come in and can’t muck around. He’s always been a good trainer but everything you put in front of him he climbs over.”

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