We have to go back 25 years to the 1998-1999 season. A certain Branko Strupar, a Belgian-Croatian striker of 1m90, was having a fine season in Belgian football. Together with Souleymane Oulare, he formed a deadly combination in the attacking compartment at KRC Genk. That season, the duo led KRC Genk to its first national title since the merger between Thor Waterschei and KFC Winterslag. The team’s top scorer in ‘98 was good for 22 assists that season. Since 1998, no one has ever done better than Strupar. Franck Berrier (2008-2009) and Moubarak Boussoufa (2009-2010) have come closest to Strupar's record with 17 assists. But in the end, everyone came up short in trying to match the league record of the affable Croatian. And then along came Mike...

Under the wings of Wouter Vrancken, Mike Trésor has really exploded on the Belgium’s pitches this season. Coming in from the left, he has already managed to find the goal eight times, but even more impressive, no less than 23 (!) times he has set up one of his teammates for a goal, surpassing the 25-year-old record of the former Genkie.

Before the winter mercato, 'Magic Mike' managed to set up Paul Onuachu six times. He has also assisted Joseph Paintsil four times and Ally Samatta three times. Further down the table come Bryan Heynen, Patrik Hrosovsky and Yira Sor, all of whom he has assisted twice. He has also set up Daniel Muñoz and in the last five games he has assisted on three of the four goals scored by “Air” Mark McKenzie.

But what makes the club’s assist leader in Belgian football so special? We took the guesswork out of this by speaking with a few people who have witnessed his development up close.

The Knuckleball

“First of all, we have to address Mike's exceptional kicking technique” says Michel Ribeiro. The team’s technical coach starts working with the attacking players two days before each match. “He is one of the few players who has mastered the knuckleball. It’s the special kicking technique that put Cristiano Ronaldo on the map. It’s a way you can hit a ball hard and still have it drop sufficiently at the right time. He works hard on himself every week in training to further refine that technique. In addition, he has quick feet. Passing the ball correctly is one thing, but we often work together in training in using small spaces, to be able to beat a marker first through a one-on-one skill or in combination with his teammates. This sense for combination explains his excellent statistics for me,” said Ribeiro.

“He is just a very pleasant guy to work with,” adds coach Wouter Vrancken. “He is eager to learn, wants to get better every training session and picks things up quickly. In addition to his good feet, he also has wonderful vision. More than anyone else, he sees his teammates making runs and manages to put one of his teammates into a scoring position with the right pass at the right time. His unique statistics speak volumes,” said Vrancken.

Top internationally as well

Also internationally, Trésor tops the list of players who have managed to provide the most assists in Europe. International stars like Lionel Messi (16) come up short, and even if Cody Gakpo, Kevin Debruyne and Dusan Tadic come close with 18 assists, they are all short of our 'Magic Mike'.

His decisive assist, which set the record, was delivered by our king of assists in a vital home game against Union. It is few players who can shine just when the pressure is greatest. While the greatest athletes in the world can succumb to the pressure at crucial moments, the pressure on Mike Trésor does not seem to have the slightest impact.

“From the first week of preseason, he has started challenging himself to grow as an individual and to improve as a player,” says mental coach Stijn Quanten. “And as soon as he reaches and completes a challenge, he pushes his limits again and starts looking for the 'next level'. An additional advantage is that it is very difficult to knock him out of his mentality. Mike is Mike everywhere. He can handle the pressure like playing in the Playoffs very well, but also setbacks like we had last season. The best part is that Mike keeps taking steps and keeps looking for that one extra percent to be even more decisive. It is a real pleasure to work with him. He deserves all the praise that is due to him,” concluded Quanten.