Zak Guerfi’s career was on an upward trajectory. After an impressive spell in Sweden where he helped his side achieve promotion, the midfielder earned his first senior call-up to the Tunisia national team and secured a move to Tunisian top-flight side US Monastir. It seemed like all the hard work and the risk of first making the gamble to play abroad was finally paying off for the former Stevenage man.
However, six months on from his dream move to Africa, he is without a club, without the money he is owed and back in the UK.
I have previously interviewed Zak for this blog so to find out more about his early career and the move to Sweden then click here. This article will focus on the unfair treatment that the 21-year-old has suffered since agreeing his move to Tunisia.
Reading through Zak’s answers I was shocked by the treatment he received was contract to Monastir, unpaid wages were just the tip of the iceberg. However, with the contract finally cancelled, the midfielder is free to find a new club and ready to return to doing what he loves most.
Before he finds his new club though, it’s time to reveal what really happened to the midfielder during his six month spell in the Tunisian top-flight. Prepare to read about broken promises, unfair treatment and down right illegal practices…
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Tunisia first come about and what tempted you to make the move?
Zak Guerfi: In June  I received a international call up for Tunisia’s senior squad in preparation for the African Cup of Nations. Whilst I was out there I knew there was interest in me, in Europe and also Tunisia, after the camp finished and I returned back to my club. My agent at the time had told me US Monastir was very interested in signing me. My club at the time also wanted a fee for me as I had some time left on my contract, USM were willing to meet the fee. I went out to Tunisia for a week to see the club and meet the owners and directors. After meeting them and hearing there plans for me it ticked all the boxes at the time and the move happened.
EPA: Did you find it easy living in Tunisia?
ZG: It was a bit of both. When I signed I was told I would be living in a suite in a hotel, in the first month I stayed in three different apartments and two different hotel rooms! So that made it difficult to settle, also it was in different locations and I didn’t speak the language so trying to get around using taxis was difficult. Then I was put in a nice room in a hotel which made things better. The food in the hotel wasn’t good and I had no cooking facilities so I was eating all my meals in restaurants which I know sounds nice, but eating every meal, every day in a restaurant for three months was difficult. Also I don’t speak arabic, and the coaching staff, who I was told all spoke English when I signed, didn’t speak English. I think I had one broken conversation with the coaching staff in my three months there. Also the players didn’t speak English. I did ask to do French lessons as that’s Tunisian’s second language and I wanted to respect the people and learn their language but the club said they couldn’t find me a teacher.
EPA: Did you feel joining Monastir was a big step up for you and that it would help your chances with the national team?
ZG: Yeah, that was the main reason in going. I was constantly told about young players that had been successful in Tunisia and moved on to big European clubs and I was told that was the plan for me, which I knew would require a lot of hard work but when a club is telling you they want to help you progress and give you a platform to move higher, it’s a big
positive. Also, the level was a lot higher than with Bodens [Guerfi’s team in Sweden] so It was a challenge I wanted to face. I also had in mind that if I was playing every week in Tunisia, and doing well, it would stand me in good stead with the national team which was a big part of me moving out there.
EPA: How did the standard and training compare to Sweden?
ZG: Football is much, much, much more physical in Tunisia. I found the speed of the game was a lot faster. Also the individual quality of the player was higher in Tunisia. One thing I will say is Tunisia have many many talented players that I know would do well in Europe given the opportunity. Training in Sweden was more possession, games and enjoyment based, whereas in Tunisia, everything was about getting the three points on a Saturday -which isn’t a bad thing. Training was more intense in Tunisia also. The coaching staff didn’t really think of the players, in a sense I have never seen players spoken to in a way I see in Tunisia. There’s no problem in telling a player when his wrong, or what he can do better, or giving him a telling off, I’m all for that. But I think there’s a line and I saw that line crossed many of times in Tunisia.
EPA: When did you realise that the move might not be everything it had promised?
ZG: About a week after being there! When everything with my housing was going wrong it started ringing alarm bells. But then when they changed the length of my contract three times, once without my consent, then big alarm bells started to ring. I was told I would complete my medical the first day I arrived, after being there for three weeks I still didn’t have my medical, so my concern was if I got injured during this time that would mean me failing the medical and the deal being off which made things even more difficult.
After the first month I didn’t receive my salary, I was told I’d receive it soon. Then I pulled my hamstring and was out for a few weeks but I was told I shouldn’t ask for my salary because I was injured! The second month went past and I had returned to full fitness but I still had not been in the squad for any of the league games, I was still asking for my salary but was being told by the staff as I wasn’t playing and had been injured, it would be rude of me to ask for my salary. I was then told by a member of staff that the reason I wasn’t being played is because my salary was too high and a director in the club wasn’t happy about it so they was trying to seclude me. I was then told to play under-23s games, which I have no problem with, I looked at as a chance to get some game time. But then when under-18s that had never trained with the first team were being played ahead of me in first team games I knew something was wrong, that wasn’t football related. The third month went past and it was now three months I hadn’t received any salary or hadn’t been in one squad for an official league game! That’s when I returned to England.
EPA: Your spell with the club ended on a sour note, why did you have to terminate your deal?
ZG: After being told by a member of staff that I wasn’t being played because my salary was to high, a salary that I wasn’t even being paid, I knew it was time to cancel my contract. I filed a complaint to FIFA about not receiving my salary in October. I was told that by December I would have a resolution but every time it went to court In Tunisia the case kept getting adjourned. I also had a big buy out clause in my contract so if another team wanted to sign me they would have to pay that fee. The club wasn’t willing to release me without receiving any money – which to me did not make sense, they were not paying me or playing me but still wanted money! After I said to the club I’d cancel my contract and cancel my complaint with FIFA so they didn’t have to pay me a penny they then finally agreed to cancel the contract.
EPA: Finally, what are your hopes for the future, where would you like to play next?
ZG: I still have big aspirations in football, it was only seven months ago I was sitting side by side with Champions League players on an international call-up feeling like I had the world at my feet. I’m currently back In England and I’m looking for a new club. I’m open to play in the UK or Europe. I look at the last seven months as a massive learning curve that can only make me stronger.