Rashid Yussuff grew up playing for Charlton Athletic’s academy and England youth teams, even once replacing Danny Sturridge in an England U18 match. He then became a firm fan favourite for AFC Wimbledon so perhaps he didn’t expect to end up at the 45th ranked league in Europe at the age of 25 but his move to Malta kickstarted a career abroad he has so far thoroughly enjoyed. There has been some success along the way too.
“Malta was a great start for me,” says Yussuff. “I had a great opportunity to play abroad, which was one of my biggest goals to achieve, and with Żebbuġ, I was given a chance to start playing and adapting to a new lifestyle and playing culture.”
Yussuff’s move to Malta Premier League side Żebbuġ Rangers came at the start of 2015, a year after leaving AFC Wimbledon, a club he had represented with distinction over 150 times in a three-and-a-half year stint. Having left the Dons after helping them to promotion to League Two along the way, the midfielder had a spell in National League South with Hayes & Yeading but wanted a change. That’s where Malta came in.
Joining halfway through the season, he instantly became a regular in the side, starting all but one of the last 16 games of the season, scoring four times along the way. However, despite the Londoner’s impact, he could not prevent Żebbuġ from being relegated that season but he still enjoyed his stint with the side.
“Malta was a special place, I enjoyed it. The football wasn’t at the highest level, maybe because of their laid back culture and style, but it gave me a chance to adapt to a new environment and playing style, and I was only focused on how I could improve my game when I was out there.”
His short spell in Malta had done enough to convince onlookers and he was soon on the move to another country, this time to Polish second-tier side Arka Gdynia who were looking for promotion back to the top flight for the first time since 2011. Just like with his first move abroad, Yussuff was soon pleased with his decision and settled into life in his new home.
“Poland was a great move, in terms of intensity and challenges, both on and off the pitch. The pressure never leaves when you’re involved in this great game but over there I could honestly say I couldn’t feel much pressure.
“I think this was due to my attitude on the pitch and the fact that I was starting fresh.
“The language barrier was difficult off the pitch but on it, I let my ability do the talking.”
The former Wimbledon man made a good start to life in Poland, scoring twice in his early months with Arka Gdynia as he forced his way into the starting lineup. However, in the second half of the season, starts were harder to come by for Yussuff as he managed just one more goal. Despite that, he finished the season with nineteen appearances and helped his side achieve their goal of promotion at the first time of asking since his arrival. It was the second promotion he had achieved in recent years, following promotion with the Dons to the Football League for the first time in 2011.
“Both promotions were very special to me,” he says. “I couldn’t really compare the both of them, they were amazing achievements for myself and everyone involved.
“I believe that in the game winning promotions and titles are very important as you can look back and really appreciate how hard everyone has worked, and for me, it’s a real statement to show how much you can achieve if you’re fully focused on nothing but bettering your performances each time you step on the pitch.”
The following season, the midfielder would be playing top flight football in Poland just two years after having played sixth-tier football with Hayes & Yeading back at home. It was a very impressive climb from the former England youth international but unfortunately for him, he would not be given the chance to impress on the big stage as he saw his game time in the first half of the season limited to mostly substitute appearances.
“It was massive for myself [getting promoted to the top flight] but I felt that the chances came not as frequently as I would’ve wanted. That league is all about making a huge statement; that you belong there and are good enough to have an impact on every game, but unfortunately, my playing time was very limited and I couldn’t really push others in my position for a start in the team week in week out.
“But that’s the game, it’s either sink or swim so I have no regrets.”
After 12 appearances in the top flight, 11 as a substitute, Yussuff was on the move again after a year-and-a-half in Poland. His next move would see him remain in top flight football, albeit in a very different environment, as he joined Icelandic side Íþróttabandalag Akraness, better known as ÍA. The move saw him swap a city with a population of nearly 250,000 to a town with around 7,000 inhabitants, something which was a very different for the midfielder.
“Iceland was a totally new experience for myself, as the country itself is a very calm and unique place. It’s difficult to settle in this place but I found that it was easier for me because I kept evolving my game and my skills so there was never a time when I was out there were I was just sitting around and doing nothing. I was always on the training pitch or the gym, getting stronger, faster and quicker.”
He went on to make 17 appearances in the top flight for ÍA in tricky conditions, missing just five matches all season as his side were relegated in the 2017 season. Last year he was on the books of Icelandic second-tier side Víkingur Ólafsvík alongside former Newcastle United youngster Michael Newberry but injuries and off the field matters prevented the 29-year-old from appearing for his new club.
Looking into the future, the man known as Toks is still keen to carry on his playing career.
“My ambitions for the future are to keep fit and see what possibilities are out there for me. I’m still working on my game and we will see what the future holds for me.
“I love the game and love all it has given me. Every opportunity is a blessing in this game but you have got to be fit and ready for whatever is around the corner because this game never stands still, it’s always on the move.”
From his first experience of playing abroad in Malta to earning promotion in Poland, Rashid Yussuff still has a lot more to give in this game.