The cosmopolitan municipality of Genk, nestled in the province of Limburg near Hasselt some 51 miles north-east of Brussels, is one of the most important industrial cities in the Flanders region.
The former mining centre and Ford Motor Company base has transitioned into a new cultural centre in the post-industrial era – home to creative companies, design centres and innovative start-ups.
At the Luminus Arena in the northern reaches of the city, Genk’s major football club, KRC Genk, boast an impressive production line of their own.
The four-time Belgian champions, who were only formed in 1988 after the merger of Waterschei Thor with KFC Winterslag, have a long list of notable alumni.
Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke, Yannick Carrasco, Steven Defour, Wilfried Ndidi and Sergej Milinković-Savić all played in the blue and white of Genk.
Their illustrious list of graduates have gone onto play for Europe’s elite clubs, but only one boasts a Champions League winners medal: Divock Origi.
The 24-year-old joined Genk’s academy in 2001 when his Kenyan-born father Mike was a crucial first team player for the club. He spent nine years there before signing for Lille at the age of 15 in May 2010.
Liverpool signed Origi for £10m in July 2014 after he impressed for Belgium in the 2014 World Cup and with the exception of season-loan spells at Lille and Wolfsburg, the versatile marksman has plied his trade at Anfield ever since.
He made an immediate impression for the Reds in his (and Jurgen Klopp’s) first season, scoring 10 goals and providing three assists.
But a horror tackle by Everton’s Ramiro Funes Mori in April 2016 ruled him out for the rest of the season and he was loaned to Bundesliga club Wolfsburg in the summer.
“I never forgot the situation in the Everton game, to be honest, when there was that harsh tackle and a red card for Funes Mori,” recalls Klopp.
“Divock was in the best shape of his life and everybody was so positive about his future, and then things like this happen in football.
“We always know something like this can happen but when you see it and see the influence it has on a career, it’s just a sad story because he struggled really long with the ankle and stuff like that [and when] he came back the team was flying pretty much.”
Liverpool’s latent attacking force became one of the most feared in Europe in Origi’s absence.
In the 2017-18 season alone, Sadio Mane scored 26 goals, Mohamed Salah notched 27 and Roberto Firmino got 16.
The fearsome attacking triumvirate continued in a similar vein last season – but Origi, Klopp’s de facto standby, seized every opportunity to feature with both hands.
He capitalised on a terrible mistake by Everton’s Jordan Pickford to secure all three points for Liverpool in the 232nd Merseyside derby against old adversaries Everton.
The England goalkeeper spilled a routine catch into the path of Origi who bundled the ball into the net, sparking jubilant scenes in Anfield.
He was also integral in Liverpool’s successful Champions League campaign, scoring twice in the stunning 4-0 semi-final second-leg win against Barcelona which set up an all-English final against Tottenham in Madrid.
Origi then sealed Liverpool’s sixth European Cup in Madrid with Liverpool’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Spurs, becoming only the second Belgian player to score in a Champions League final after fellow ex-Genk star Carrasco for Atletico against Real Madrid in 2016.
In a remarkable personal turnaround after being written off in some quarters early on in his Anfield career, the former Genk starlet penned a long-term contract at Liverpool in July.
“I’m pretty sure he always felt that he is really important in that team and all that stuff, so it’s brilliant. It’s just a nice story and probably nobody could have imagined it a year ago, and here we are,” gushed Klopp after Origi put pen to paper.
“I think age-wise it’s an important contract for him and for us, it’s an important role which he will have in the next season.”
Origi’s newfound status as a reliable deputy, coupled with Salah’s ongoing ankle problems, means the red-hot forward has every chance of marking his return to Belgium with a place in Klopp’s starting eleven.
He didn’t preside over a meteoric rise to stardom like some of his fellow Genk alumni, but has become one of the most decorated.
For Genk, their latest raft of prodigious young talent shows their production line is not relenting.
Sander Berge, the latest big talent on their books, will be among those looking to stop Origi and co. and condemn Liverpool to a second successive Champions League defeat on the road.
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