A Wanderer no more? Youssouf Hersi would like to stay in the west and mentor young players. Photo: Brendan Esposito Hersi says he won’t settle for a one-year deal. Photo: Brendan Esposito
When former Dutch international Aron Winter took a teenaged Youssouf Hersi under his wing at the Ajax training ground some 14 years ago, he was not to know that his role as a mentor would be the biggest influence in his pupil’s potentially final career move.
The speculation surrounding Hersi’s future will go on for a few more weeks at least, but one thing is certain, the Western Sydney Wanderers star is motivated by a desire to leave a legacy with young players just as Winter did with him.
The 31-year-old remains tight-lipped when asked where he will be playing next season but revealed that his decision will be based on long term stability that will allow him to have a leading role in the development of young talent.
In what could be the final contract of his career, his motivation conflicts that of other players approaching the twilight of their playing days as he brushed aside the lure of winners’ medals or the promise of an extra zero at the end of his annual pay packet.
Instead, his reasoning will be based on his aim to continue following in the footsteps of the man he admired as a teenager. ”At the time, I had Aron Winter, he told me everything with what happened in his time in Italy, in the national team. I was with [Rafael] van der Vaart and [John] Heitinga as the young boys coming up and he supported us with what we do, how we handled games, it was good,” Hersi recalls.
The impact of Winter’s advice still affects Hersi, and as he approaches the age of his then-mentor, he believes it is time to follow suit. There are signs of a relationship of that kind already developing with the man many regard as Hersi’s long-term replacement on the right wing of the Wanderers first team, Kwabena Appiah. It has given the veteran a taste of valued leadership, one that he’s savoured as he makes one of the most crucial decisions of his career.
”The kids that are coming in, for example if it’s a young player that’s coming up at Western Sydney Wanderers like Kwabena, I can help him,” Hersi says. ”I can help him do things, and it’s different to when a coach tells you because there’s a bit of a distance between you [and the coach]. Even in the games with what you feel, how you feel when a lot of supporters are there and everything is coming together.”
Hersi has taken a philosophical approach to the latter years of his career, and the experience of being part of the Wanderers’ meteoric rise in their inaugural year has fuelled his ambition to help grow the game, one that goes beyond aiding in the development of players.
”For example, if it’s here [in Australia], the league is so young, so you can help them a lot and in different ways, even outside of the club you can do a lot of stuff maybe in the media, because you have a voice,” he says. ”If young players are looking up to you and you can achieve something like what Western Sydney have done today, the whole area wants to play football, they want to get involved.”
Although, if Hersi is to achieve these goals, he won’t be accepting any one-year offers. For the first time in nearly seven years, he wants the stability of a multi-year contract, and he feels that his performances and fitness deserve that, despite his advancing years. While he toyed with a hungry media pack at a media conference on Friday morning, almost teasing them by saying, ”I know a lot but the media don’t know yet,” he doesn’t actually enjoy the uncertainty over his future. He might have some fun with the situation but he does not want his on-field unpredictability to be mirrored in a transient lifestyle. Those around him suggest the Wanderers’ initial offer was only for one season, and other A-League clubs have attempted to pounce with bigger sums, but none enticed.
”[I want] at least two years, that’s for sure,” Hersi says. ”It’s a good way because you’re free in your head, you can focus on your game and you can focus on other things with what you’re going to do after your career.”
Iron-clad assurances of at least two seasons, not half-million dollar pay cheques, will draw the signature of one of the A-League’s genuine stars but it could be a small price to pay.
”I don’t want to be a regular player who is here for the money and then went away, I want to put in something,” he says. ”I’ve done that already with Western Sydney Wanderers, but I want to put in more.”