Leandro Trossard is able to laugh now but part of him is still puzzling at his failure to score after twice crossing swords with Manchester United recently without any joy. In midweek the Brighton winger had a rasping strike destined for the bottom corner scrambled to safety by Dean Henderson, five days on from becoming the first player since Cristiano Ronaldo to rattle the woodwork three times in a Premier League match. Unluckiest player in the world? “I do feel a bit like that,” he says, smiling. “The ball didn’t want to go in.”
The finishing touch may have eluded Trossard then but, while at home in Genk during lockdown, he had no such problems, devoting a week – a few hours each day – to building a Lego replica of the Taj Mahal, painstakingly assembling all 5,923 pieces to complete a labour of love, which now has pride of place.
“It’s still in Belgium where everyone can see it if they come into my home, so it has a good spot at the moment,” he says. “I was thinking: ‘What can I do to pass the time?’ so I went to search some Lego things and came up with that. It was quite fun, to be honest. It was a big thing so it filled a lot of hours to build it. I like to go to different countries and get the culture a bit so maybe I will go there in the future. We will see. At the moment it is quite busy but I think maybe if I have some more time, I will try to do another piece.”
Does he have more famous landmarks in mind? “I need to search some things up, to see if it’s possible to build and we’ll see what can happen.”
Such an outlook is shared at Brighton, who are determined to better last season’s tally of 41 points – their best in the Premier League – under Graham Potter. They blew away Newcastle at St James’ Park and impressed in defeats by Chelsea and United. “I think it helps that this is our second season together with the gaffer. Last season it was a bit of preparation to adapt to new players and things like that and now we are playing really well, trying to create chances … But the only thing is it is three points out of nine and I think it could have been more and we should have had more.”
They have augmented a talented squad with a touch of class in Adam Lallana, and the return of Ben White from a near-flawless loan at Leeds has added sheen to a smart defence. But it is the January recruit Tariq Lamptey, a £3m signing from Chelsea, who has arguably been Brighton’s biggest boon. Asked how best to halt Brighton’s roadrunner in training, Trossard’s tiny pause says everything about the challenge facing Everton’s defenders at Goodison Park on Saturday.
“Erm,” he replies. “He is so, so quick, really low to the ground so he can turn and speed up quickly. To stop him you need to be close to him and get him in a duel otherwise he’s past you. If you can give the ball in behind for him to run he is unstoppable. It’s a big strength for us. With the wing-backs we are doing really well, creating a lot of opportunities to come between the lines and create space.”
For Trossard, things have been going well for club and country, with the 25-year-old making his senior Belgium debut last month. For Genk, from whom Trossard joined Brighton for about £18m in the summer of 2019, that substitute appearance in the victory over Denmark represented another proud moment for a club who have developed players including Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Divock Origi, Christian Benteke, Timothy Castagne, Wilfred Ndidi and Dennis Praet. So, what is the secret behind Genk’s production line?
“They like to get young players through the academy to the first team,” says Trossard. “They search for so many young talented players and Genk is a good environment for everything: school, football, the whole package is a good thing there. They take care of you and you don’t have to think about the external stuff.”
For Trossard, who could face England when Belgium visit Wembley in the Nations League next Sunday, former idols are now international teammates.
“When I came through, Kevin De Bruyne was in the first team with Benteke and some other players, so you want to follow their path and get through to the first team as well and maybe get a chance to play in the biggest leagues in the world,” he says. “We have had so many good players come through at Genk.”