LAURENT DEPOITRE’S realisation that he had settled into English life did not come a fortnight ago with his first Premier League goal.
Nor did it when the Belgian striker marked his Huddersfield Town debut by winning a penalty against Rotherham United that helped smooth a safe passage to the Carabao Cup third round.
No, the moment when Depoitre found himself having truly gone native came, ironically, on his first visit back home during the last international break – and it could have had nasty consequences.
“Driving is the thing I have found that is most different in England,” said the 28-year-old to The Yorkshire Post when asked about how his life has changed following a £3.5m summer move from Porto.
“In my first days here, that was difficult. It was not natural and I had to think all the time. But now I am used to driving on this side of the road. Maybe I am too used to it.
“I have not driven on the wrong side here, but when I was last in Belgium, I was on the wrong side at the start. I had to change very quickly.”
It does affect the confidence when not playing games. At every club I played at in Belgium, I was always in the starting XI. But that was not how it was in Portugal.Laurent Depoitre
Depoitre’s quick-thinking back on home soil was timely. So, too, was his first strike in English football, against Leicester City, as it proved that Huddersfield could cope with the loss of £11.5m record signing Steve Mounie.
A heel injury sustained by Mounie against West Ham United, in what has so far been Town’s only league defeat, together with Nahki Wells having been sold to Burnley shortly before the window closed meant all eyes were on the Belgian.
Depoitre’s strike, therefore, was one that delighted supporters – not least because he got the better of both Harry Maguire and Kasper Schmeichel, two of the top flight’s most consistent performers over the past year, to find the net.
It was also an ideal way to mark a full debut in the Premier League for a striker who had struggled for opportunities last season at Porto.
“It was a difficult time for me in Portugal last year,” said Depoitre, who netted twice in 13 appearances for the Portuguese club. “I did not play so much. The coach (Nuno Espírito Santo, now in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers) did not trust me.
“I played one or two good games, but then I played a bad game. Then, I didn’t play so much after this. That is the choice of the coach, but I feel a lot better here than in Portugal.
“It does affect the confidence when not playing games. At every club I played at in Belgium, I was always in the starting XI. But that was not how it was in Portugal.
“Being on the bench was different for me. Only being able to play for 20 minutes makes it more difficult for a striker to build confidence. I would come into games where things were difficult. In 20 minutes, it is hard to show yourself and make a difference.
“Confidence is important to a striker and that is why in Portugal things were not so easy.”
For a striker whose £5m move to Porto had continued a career trajectory that had risen with each passing season, those struggles came as a jolt to the system. Having started out with hometown amateur club RFC Tournai, the forward boasts winner’s medals in all of Belgium’s top three divisions.
His first title came with Eendracht Aalst in 2011, a success he followed two years later by netting 14 goals as Oostende finished top of the second tier. A move to Gent then brought a Pro League title triumph in 2015, the first won by the Flanders club in their history.
This brought Champions League football and it was a goal from Depoitre that helped beat Zenit St Petersburg to clinch qualification to the knockout stage. By then, he had not only been capped at international level, but also netted his first goal in a qualifying win over Andorra.
No wonder, therefore, his struggles in Portugal came as such a shock and why he was so keen on making a clean break last summer when Huddersfield’s interest became known.
“I wanted to move from there because I wanted to play,” he added. “It is difficult for a football player to stay on the bench. Plus, I always wanted to play in England.
“Portugal was a good opportunity, but England was always my first choice. When I heard Huddersfield were interested, I said I wanted to be there.
“I like English football. The style is good for me. It suits me better than Portuguese football, in my opinion. I feel better here on the pitch, and there are a lot of Belgian players here.”
Depoitre, with Mounie still out with a heel problem, is likely to face one of his compatriots today. Jan Vertonghen was in the Belgium side when Depoitre marked his international bow with a goal, though the Town striker did not consult the Spurs defender or anyone else about a possible move to the Premier League.
“I knew already what to expect when I arrived here because I had seen the Belgian players in the Premier League,” he added. “I am happy with my decision and how it is going.”
Depoitre’s only previous visit to England before his summer move to the John Smith’s Stadium was a few days seeing the sights of the capital as a tourist.
“I had been to London for a few days with my girlfriend,” said the Terriers striker. “But that was the only time I had been to England before signing for Huddersfield.
“We did some shopping, saw a few of the attractions, but not much else. Not the football clubs or stadiums, just a lot of shopping.
“London was very different to Huddersfield. I find it quiet, but that is good for a football player. Tournai (his hometown) is not so quiet, but not a big city like some in Belgium. A bit between the two.
“But I live here in Huddersfield now and I like it. I have also visited some places. I have been to Harrogate, when my mother came. I have also been to York. That was very nice, with the big cathedral in the middle.
“Life in England has had a few other surprises. Not too many, though when I go to the restaurant sometimes there are people drinking in the streets at 10pm. That does not happen in Belgium and I find it funny. This and the driving are the surprises.”