Rafik Belghali is quickly becoming a household name in both Algerian and Belgian football. The 20-year old full-back, born in the small Belgian town of Leuven to Algerian parents, has been ipmressive this season for Lommel in the Belgian Challenger Pro League. Belghali also made his Algeria U23 debut in the past year.
We caught up with Rafik Belghali for an interview.
For starters, can you introduce yourself to our readers. My name is Rafik Belghali, I’m 20 years old and I play in the second division in Belgium for Lommel SK, which is owned by the City Group. My position is right-back but I can also play as right-wing and right-midfield but my preferred position is right-back because that’s where I’ve mostly played since turning pro.
Tell us a bit about your career so far. I played one season with Sint-Truidense before joining PSV Eindhoven where I stayed for one year. After that, I returned to Belgium and played with Lierse SK for two seasons before joining the Zulte-Waregem academy, Essevee Soccer School, where we learned to play barefoot. I spent five seasons there but then suffered an injury that kept me away from football for one year before signging with Lommel SK. It’s now my third season here and my second with the pros.
Where are you from in Algeria and what does Algeria represent for you? My mom is from Aïn Sefra and my dad is from Chlef. Algeria means a lot to me, it’s my country, the country of my parents and the country of all my family. I feel more Algerian than I do Belgian. When you play for Algeria the entire country supports you and it makes my family both in Algeria and here in Belgium really proud.
Last year you got your first ever call-up to the Algeria under-23 national team. What was your reaction when you found out you’ve been called up? Before getting called up, I had had a bit of contact with the Algerian Football Federation. I was not sure if I would be called up, so I was just waiting. It was almost the international break and it was the first training camp for the under 23 national team. When I finally got the letter, it was amazing. As soon as the club told me, I called my mom and my brother, and everyone was so proud. My mom started calling all our family in Algeria to tell them and they were all very proud. You get goosebumps when you’re called up for the first time.
This year you were having a fantastic season before unfortuntely getting injured, what has been the key to your success? The key to my success has been to do all the extras in the offseason, to train on things that you can do better and improve on. That’s why I have been doing in the summer with the FDP Academy. Last year, my statistics were not that good and I knew that I could improve on that if I worked on certain things during the summer and since the beginning of the season we directly saw that improvement. Also, God helps you a lot when you don’t forget him. God always helps with things you want to achieve, that’s also been a big key to my success.
You recently got injured and underwent surgery, how’s your recovery coming along? It’s been two weeks since I had my surgery. I’ve already been through a serious injury when I was younger so I already know what I have to do to recover. Everything is going well, I’m just working hard to come back stronger and as quick as possible.
You’re still just 20 years old and have your whole career ahead of you. What’s your objective? What do you hope to accomplish in your playing career? First of all, I want to play in the first division in Belgium or Netherlands. After that, I would like to go to a top 5 league and play in the Champions League and the World Cup. Another thing I want to accomplish is to get called up to the Algeria A national team, that’s a big goal that I want to achieve in my career.
Is there a certain player that you look up to or model your style of play after? A player that I like is Achraf Hakimi, he’s a really offensive right-back. The way he plays with PSG is really attractive as a full-back.
Your older brother Mohamed is a former footballer who came up through the youth ranks of KRC Genk. What kind of advice does he give you and how important has he been in your progression as a player? He’s really important for me, in my growth as a player and in my career, like when I had my big ACL injury. He always helps me to stay grounded, keep my two feet on the ground and to stay focused and keep working hard, not just to “fly” like we say in Belgium. He always advises me, so he’s a really important for me. He also comes to all my games so when I do something wrong he tells me what I can improve on, so he’s like a mentor for me to do things right.
Interview: Walid Ziani