Zak Guerfi is a 19-year old midfielder who started his career at Stevenage before dropping down to non-league.
Now playing in Sweden with Boden BK, Zak talks to us about almost signing for Brentford, playing for Tunisia Under-18’s and what it’s like training with a non-league side.
What position do you play?
Central midfield, I usually play either as a number 8 or a holding midfielder.
What’s your style of play?
I like to dictate the tempo off the game, I think I’ve got a good eye for a pass and like to create opportunities. I’m also a tough tackler who likes to break play up and work hard for the team.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
I feel my strengths are my passing and reading of the game, I’m good at breaking the play up and starting attacks. I think my weakness is that I need to add more goals to my game.
You started your career at Stevenage, can you tell us about your time there?
I spent 7 years at Stevenage, I got signed as an Under-12. Towards the end of Under-14s season, I was given the chance to play Under-18s football and as an Under-15s, I was either with the 16s or the 18s.
I had many ups and downs at Stevenage but from a young age I was exposed to an intense environment which looking back I feel has now benefited me.
Your form earned you a call up to the Tunisia Under-18’s, what was that experience like?
I was buzzing when the letter came through to the club from Tunisia saying I had been called up to the national team.
It was a great experience and we played a very good Egypt team. I hope I’ll get called up again in the near future.
You were close to joining Brentford in 2017?
We played Brentford in a Under-23 game and I performed well. The next day I got a call to say Brentford wanted to take me on trial.
It was tough as I played a game for Stevenage against Leyton Orient on the Saturday, then went straight in and trained with Brentford on Sunday and then Monday then started against Crystal Palace on Tuesday.
I was disappointed the deal didn’t go through, but this is football.
This then lead to you being released from Stevenage?
It was a weird one. I had a good season at Stevenage and been performing well for the 18s/23s. After returning from Brentford, I thought I still had a good chance at Stevenage but it turned out Stevenage had signed a central midfielder from Brentford just as I returned.
It was a bit of a shock but again football’s a weird business sometimes!
You then dropped down to Non-league for game time, what was that like for a young player?
Coming into non-league for me was very tough.
I remember my first session at my non league club was in the middle of a park, we were trying to do a passing drill and kept having dogs running into the pitch trying to get the ball.
Non league is very cutthroat and there’s not a lot of loyalty, especially towards young players.
I spent time at 4 different clubs, the main thing I learnt from my time in non-league is that you have to be mentally tough. It was hard enough tying to get the chance to play; one bad game and you were gone.
The style of football is also very different. I trained a lot by myself to make sure I was prepared for any chance I was given.
You have now moved to Sweden, what has that been like?
Moving to Sweden and playing football out here has been a very positive decision.
The standard is very good, the lifestyle is also very good. It’s great for me to be back playing full time football and most importantly I’m back to playing football with a smile on my face!
The players and management have helped me settle in really well.
What advice would you give to any player that found themselves in the position you did?
My advice to young players would be enjoy every single moment you can in full time/pro football.
Dropping down to non-league was very tough and for me going from training full time to only two hours a week was tough and made me really appreciate what I did have as a full time player.
If you do find yourself having to drop down to non-league, never give up and keep working hard because you never know what’s around the corner.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In 5 years time I see myself playing professional football at a good level, whether it’s back home in England or here in Sweden or elsewhere; I don’t know. I have long term goals which I feel I’m on track to meet.
Interview conducted by Football Wonderkids
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