Western Sydney Wanderers' Dutch import Youssouf Hersi has revealed he almost quit football as he sank into a pit of despair during almost two years on the sidelines after a broken leg and serious knee problems.
Reborn since taking the risk of leaving the Netherlands for the Wanderers, the 30 year old still takes painkillers for his knee but has vowed to be even more damaging to opponents next season as his fitness levels rise.
Hersi, whose parents escaped war-ravaged Ethiopia for a new life in the Netherlands, has been one of many revelations for the Premier's Plate-winning side this season with his craft, elusiveness and speed often leaving defenders in a daze.
A product of the famed Ajax system, he cut his teeth with the Amsterdam giant and also had spells with NAC Breda, NEC, Heerenveen, Vitesse, Twente and AEK Athens before suffering a leg break in the colours of De Graafschap.
The road back seemed like a cul-de-sac for Hersi, as he also battled serious knee-ligament issues and a knee infection which put him in hospital.
He said: "There was a time when I was ready to give up because there were so many setbacks.
“But I had some great people around, like the coach at De Graafschap, Darije Kalezic [the Swiss coach who was lined up to be Guus Hiddink’s No.2 at Chelsea before Turkey refused to release him from his contract back in 2011].
"He told me not to give up and gave me the encouragement and belief to continue when it seemed to me that maybe I had no future.
"I was working from eight in the morning to eight at night on my rehabilitation.
"The lowest point was five months after having surgery on my leg break they found some swelling on the knee, which turned out to be a bacterial infection.
"I had surgery to clean it out and spent three weeks in hospital. It was like having to start all over again. This is football’s dark side."
After 10 clubs in 12 years, he is "living in the moment" with the Wanderers and is grateful simply to be playing again.
After a detour via Cyprus, which saw him quit Alki Lanarca after two months because the club failed to pay his wages, close confidante Kalezic’s connection with Melbourne-based agent Dragan Jetvic saw Hersi enter the orbit of the fledging Wanderers for what became a whirlwind romance.
"“I had a few clubs in Holland who were interested because people know me there and know what I can do, but I am a risk taker, and when the opportunity arrived to join Wanderers I was excited," said Hersi.
"I still take anti-inflammatories to play and I had no proper pre-season but now I am staying for a second year in Sydney I hope to get stronger and be fitter and even more effective next season."
That statement won’t sit well with rivals who have found Hersi hard enough to stop as it is during Western Sydney’s joyride to the Premier's Plate.
He knows the job is not done yet, and is not bothered who his side takes on in the grand final qualifier at Parramatta Stadium on 12 April. It will face either Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar or Adelaide United.
"“We all want to see how far we can go," he said. "Whoever it is we play, I say bring them on. We don’t care. We are unbeaten in 12 games and we have made success a habit. It’s been an amazing year for this club and it’s not over yet."
Fuelled by emotion, Hersi plays on the edge with eight yellows this season and a red card the downside to his dynamism.
"I am a winner and sometimes I get to too caught up in the moment and I have a little of a fight with the referees," he said.
"I always apologise afterwards but in the heat of a game it’s difficult to control your feelings sometimes."
Hersi says coach Tony Popovic is the perfect antidote to the players getting carried away by success.
"“He has the ability to bring us back to earth. He’s an outstanding coach and he’s done it as a player and knows how to keep us in check.
"This club has had great success but there is also a flip side in football and our real test may come in future when things don’t go our way and it will be important that we handle that properly, too."
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