It is easy to form the impression that Dedryck Boyata has experienced some sort of Lazarus-like return to the Celtic side after finding himself rigidly entombed in the shadows. The 26-year-old isn’t so encased in the footballing bubble to believe that he was experiencing true hardships in life, just because it looked like he might have to find another club to pay him thousands of pounds a week in order to play at senior level.
Boyata will admit he wasn’t the best company for his partner. She, though, never wavered in her support. Everything could get better, she encouraged, as did team-mate Kolo Toure, whom he has known since his days as a youngster at Manchester City. That transformation has arrived in stunning fashion, with the central defender proving the pivot in Brendan Rodgers’ backline since the new year – in contrast to having earned only one start across the previous six months of the Irishman’s tenure.
Yet, even if Boyata had not turned around his Celtic career he would still appreciate his lot. “I’m a very religious person. I can compare my situation with people I grew up with and my situation is totally different. My life is way better than theirs,” he said. “I have friends who are not in football. But it’s maybe better to compare my life with others who were in football.
“I moved with a group of people to Manchester and, while I wasn’t playing recently, I was in the national team, at Celtic and still in a stable position. I told myself there are others worse off than me. I told myself that if it doesn’t happen now it might happen later. I have that chance and I’m in a good position.
“There are people I went to City with who are not in football and are doing nothing. I have talked with players and we know that we have a good life in football. Some people have families and kids – I don’t have kids and I’m getting married soon. But there are things around football that can help you not to think about difficulties.”
The Belgian international sees his ability to carve out a successful football career – and that is what it is, regardless of what happens in future – as an against-the-odds triumph. “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t play football,” added Boyata. “I started football late. When I was 13 [because] playing football meant you needed to pay for the equipment or whatever. My situation wasn’t the best when I was younger.
“My father used to play football in Belgium as well [for Union Saint-Gilloise and Stade Leuven] but I just played for a community team and around school. Even growing up, I was playing for a team in the First Division for their under-17s and 18s. I only had three evening sessions a week. And if I had too much homework then my father wouldn’t allow me to go and train.
“When I went to England, it seemed crazy. I remember speaking to my father and saying I wanted to go back. It was training at 9.30am, lunch, weights at 1pm, another training session at 2.30pm and school at 5pm. You would get home at 7pm. And I was going home to digs where everyone spoke English.
“It was hard but there are no regrets. Today, I love my life. I feel blessed. My father pushed me to get through it when times were difficult. He is a football lover. I’m 26 now and some of my friends are still studying and working hard to get where they want.
“If I compare my position with my friends, some are married with families and jobs. Stable. Others are still living with their parents.
“When I went to England, I had a little sister who was only three at the time. Today she is 14. I see her today and she is a grown lady. At the time, I could only see her every six months. I would come back and be speaking English. I was mature because living in the digs had given me freedom. I went to an apartment and then you have to learn to look after your money and save.
“You can then compare your situation with someone else at your stage who has nothing to do. Your friends want to go and party but you want to rest because you know you have a game. There is some negativity at the time, but there is really positivity because it makes you grow up. You feel like a man, an adult.
“But my family, my sisters and my mum and dad are always behind me. My sisters, Melissa and Glorien, even though they are younger than me, they always helped push me on.”
Boyata appears to have always had the best driving forces.