FC Halifax Town: “I like to compete, I don’t back out” - Belehouan eager to get stuck in at The Shay

He might have the name of a French fashion designer, but Jean Leroy-Belehouan possesses the background, attitude and voice of a tough-tackling Mancunian.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:46 am
Jean Belehouan. Photo: Marcus Branston

And it is with that get-stuck-in mentality that the 20-year-old is approaching his loan at The Shay, having joined from Sheffield United for the rest of the season.

“I’ll bring my attributes to the team in terms of my pace, my defending one v one, reading the game, and I’d say scoring as well,” he said.

“I’ve scored for the under 23’s, but just doing the basics well.

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“I like to compete, I don’t back out, I like the physical game. I can rely on my pace in-behind but I like to get tight to players and get stuck in.

“And I think talking is one of my biggest assets, I don’t care who’s around me, I’ll always talk because talking’s the most important thing in the game, especially where I play.

“Being a leader and talking is so vital, giving good information to people.”

Belehouan is relishing the prospect of playing competitive football rather than the more cosseted environment of academy football.

“It was kind of a relief,” he said of the move. “I did my first session and I literally said ‘this is a relief’ in terms of just being in and around a first-team environment.

“Halifax are looking to push on for promotion and you could tell once you walked in that you were in a good first-team environment with a good bunch of lads.

“They made me feel welcome and I feel like I’ve fitted in well. I’m really happy being at Halifax.

“Sometimes in the under 23s there can be games where you’re just cruising through it and you want a challenge, and coming to Halifax, I know I’m in a challenge.

“The gaffer’s good, they’re good people, he has faith in youngsters.”

Belehouan was playing for a team in his native Salford when he was scouted by his boyhood club Manchester United.

He had been a midfielder before joining The Red Devils, where he started playing as a right-back, before a growth spurt at 15 saw him convert into a centre-half.

“I was doing a range of sports when I was a kid, and I came across a little team called Parkwyddn in Eccles,” he said.

“I was around six, but I played with a lot of older lads, and from there I kicked on. I think it really helped playing with older boys.

“When the rules said I had to play with my own age group, I went back to my own age group and I found it easier.

“From there I started taking it more seriously, because back then I just did it as a hobby.

“That’s when teams were scouting me. Back then I didn’t have an idea of what was going on, I just played it for fun.

“City and Man U came to scout me and I took the Man U route because that was the team I supported.

“I was there from under nines to under 16s.

“I loved it, just the buzz of being part of it, the environment, the facilities.

“As a kid, you dream those things so being there it came as a shock, especially coming from where I’m from, I was quite stunned by it.

“Being in the environment for a while, I got used to being there.

“In terms of the demands, the demands were high, even at a young age they were expecting a lot.

“I learned a lot coming away from Man United, with Man United it’s more the pretty football, but when I came to Sheffield United I learned a lot about the physical aspect more than just playing with the ball.

“I don’t miss too much because I’m a better player from when I was there, 100 per cent, and I think stepping away from there made me the player I am now.”

Belehouan was in the same age group as Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams, James Garner, Ethan Laird and Dylan Levitt at United, with Greenwood’s talent obvious from an early age.

“He was always good from a young age,” he said, “both footed, scored with either foot. He was just class.

“You just knew he was always going to go all the way.”

Belehouan admits he was shocked when United offered him terms after his trial period.

“I was playing with these kids who were elite at their age and I just didn’t imagine myself fitting in, so when they said ‘we’ll give you a schoolboy contract’ I was literally in tears, I rang my mum screaming,” he said.

“When I went there, I had my trial and I remember going in and having the first session and I was like ‘wow, I can’t keep up with this’, everything was just so quick.

“This was only when I was young. I’ve just come from playing Saturday League football to this and I’m just like ‘I should not be here’.

“I said that to my mum, but she said ‘no, you’re here for a reason’ and I just went ‘let’s just go for it’.

“I was there for six weeks on trial and you make friends, you get used to the environment and used to playing.”

Belehouan was philosophical about having to leave United, despite them being so close to his heart.

“They have a scheme where a lot of the kids they think have the potential get put into a school they’re connected with,” he said.

“We had a big squad but we got segregated in terms of boys who went into that school and boys who didn’t, which I was one of, we kind of had our own groups.

“All the boys who went to the school would be with each other all the time, and then all the boys who didn’t would be with each other all the time.

“So United kind of made it clear in a way who they were trying to push on.

“They kept me there longer to try and find out if they wanted to give me a contract, but I was kind of prepared (to be released) and I had a lot of clubs come in for me before that happened.

“I was like ‘if it doesn’t work out, I’m prepared to leave anyway’, so when they told me I was like ‘I’ve kind of seen it coming’ so I took it on the chin and thought ‘where’s my next step, I ain’t going to stop after this’.”

The defender joined Sheffield United in 2016, which he admits took some getting used to.

“It was tough,” he said of the transition from one United to the other. “I remember first going there, I had match against Sheffield Wednesday, which obviously meant a lot to the lads, and I played and they wanted to sign me.

“But I remember my mum sitting down with me and she was like ‘we’ve gone from Man U to this’.

“The transition’s quite significant in terms of facilities and stuff.

“When I signed there as a scholar, it was tough in my first year, I was getting homesick. I had to stay in digs.

“There were times where I didn’t want to be there. The training was different, we’ve had a lot of coaches coming in and out.

“You’ll have coaches you get on with but there were coaches who didn’t get on with there. I had to go there because it was job but deep down I was like ‘here we go again’, it was hard.

“But after that first year, I just thought ‘I need to man up and get on with things’ and I got that mentality where I don’t care about anyone’s opinions, I’m just going to do my thing and express myself.

“When a lot of our coaches left I grew and expressed myself more, and I’m the player I am today because of that.

“Coaches leaving benefited me because I could have been trapped in my abilities. I felt I was a bit hidden away, I didn’t want to do things because I thought maybe they didn’t like it, but I learned a lot at Sheffield United from when I started to where I am now.”

Belehouan says his mum Aimee has played a huge role in his career so far.

“She’s a single mother, it’s just me a her, and she’s made a lot of sacrifices for me to be where I am, taking me to training, taking me to Sheffield before I went into digs,” he said.

“She’s done a lot for me, she’s impacted so much. She’s a massive motivation. I do everything for her now, that’s how I see it.”

Belehouan made his Town debut in the 1-1 draw at King’s Lynn on January 9, and feels his time at The Shay will be good for his development.

“I’m playing against men. I’m only 20 but when I’m playing under 23s, I’m playing against a lot of young boys, but now I’ve come into this environment I’m a young kid going to play against men where it’s more physical,” he said.

“It’s demanding, and we’re also playing for three points, which mean everything.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how we play. For the under 23s, three points might not matter as much but the way we play will help our development.

“But this is an environment where three points matters a lot. We might not have the best of games but those three points might send us up.

“Being in an environment like that is very good for me.

“I just want to get experience and games under my belt.

“Having that experience will help me when I go back to my parent club to push on, help me toughen up as a player.

“The feedback I get off the lads and the gaffer, I can bring that to the lads at Sheffield United and tell them my experiences.”

Belehouan may have been rejected by Man United, but that hasn’t dimmed his hunger for success in the sport.

“I always look high, my expectations are high all the time,” he said. “They have to be.

“I’ve always got to think high, it’ll make me a better player if I do that because I’ll push myself more and more.

“I never doubt my abilities. I’m still young, I’m still learning. It’s all part of the process, but I do look at that all the time.

“I push myself as much as I can and try to play with no regrets.”