Zak Guerfi: From Uncle Ben’s rice in Sweden to playing for Tunisia

Boden, Sweden. A town in the northernmost county of Sweden. The county is so northern, in fact, that part of it lies within the Arctic Circle.  What usually brings Swedish people here is the military stronghold and the chance to join the army. What usually brings foreigners to Boden is the chance to experience the Northern Lights or a snowmobile safari. Zak Guerfi does not fit either of these categories. He is here to play football.

“The standard of football out here is really good,” he says. “Every team tries to play football the right way. Compared to academy football in England it’s similar but compared to non-league, it’s the complete opposite – it’s a lot less physical!”

Guerfi, a 19-year-old midfielder started his career with Stevenage but after his release was looking for a return to full-time football at the start of the year, he made the move through the LFE player placement programme and now six months on, he is a big advocate of the scheme which has seen many English players move to Scandinavia.

“I would recommend it [the LFE scheme] massively. I speak to a few young players who have asked me about coming out to Sweden and I only have positives to say about it.”

Guerfi’s side Bodens BK play in the fourth tier of Swedish football but all initial expectations of the standard of football were quickly forgotten on his arrival.

Guerfi (third from the left) with his Bodens teammates

“I arrived Friday night and went straight into a three-day tournament. I was on the bench for the first game and I was very, very impressed with the standard out here.

“I then started in the final and we managed to win the tournament, which was good.”

The former Stevenage man, who has also played for Bedford Town and Bishops Stortford, had been thrown straight into the deep end on the pitch but it was off the pitch where he had to adjust the most. Fortunately, he is now used to his new surroundings and thanks his new teammates at the time for helping him to make the change.

“It’s been easy to settle in as I’m in an apartment with quite a few of the lads, some who have been out here for a few years, so it has made it easier for me.

“When I first arrived here though, I was living off cooked chicken and Uncle Ben’s rice for the first two weeks! Now I’m cooking full meals so that’s one thing I’ve learnt.

“I’ve also learnt a bit of Swedish, which helps me along the way.”

Bodens currently sit sixth in the 14 team Division 2 Norrland, a league with plenty of English influence with several other of the LFE’s favoured sides, such as Ytterhogdal, also in the division. There are several more Brits in the Bodens team, including flatmate Jack Serrant-Green who has 16 goals so far this season. Guerfi himself has picked up several assists this season as he reaps the benefits of regular game time in his midfield position.

“I’ve been playing as a holding midfielder over here so I would like to think I can win my individual battles,” he says. “I also enjoy getting on the ball and try to link the play.

“I don’t like comparing myself to other players though but a player I’ve been studying a lot recently has been Miralem Pjanić who plays for Juventus. I like his style.”

With nine matches still to go, the 19-year-old still has a lot more to offer this season but he has been in his new surroundings for over half a year now and can reflect on some of his best memories so far.

“My favourite memory has to been signing my first professional contract but apart from that it has been a real positive time in my life, I am really enjoying it!

“Obviously you have the ups and downs in football but overall I am really happy here.”

There is also an additional string to Guerfi’s bow which not many of his peers can say to have. The holding midfielder has also represented Tunisia at under-18 level through his parentage having represented the nation in 2016 against Egypt and it is something he is keen to do again.

“I’m hoping I can get a call up towards the end of this season or early next season. I’ve stayed in touch with the Tunisian Football Federation and they’ve been tracking how I’m doing. I’m hoping I will make the next under-21 squad.”

His goals do not stop there though and the 19-year-old, whose middle name is Zidane, is aiming for to reach the top, just like his namesake did.

“I have ambitions to play at the highest level possible,” he says. “I don’t like putting a cap on things and saying I want to play in this league or that league. I’m going to continue to train and work very hard and hopefully I can fulfil my potential too, wherever it takes me!”

Guerfi is yet another success story to come from the LFE’s programme but he has made the experience his own through hard work on and off the pitch and at 19, he has a lot left to look forward to judging from his first season abroad.

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