Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Stein keen to make his mark for the Phoenix

Stein Huysegems believes in his ability to deliver the goods.
Photo / Getty Images
Stein Huysegems believes in his ability to deliver the goods. Photo / Getty Images

The Phoenix aren't renowned for their shopping success on the world stage but hope that might all change with Belgian striker Stein Huysegems.

The Wellington club have struggled to find foreign players who fit, both in attitude and ability, especially attacking players.

Paul Ifill and Chris Greenacre have been great overseas acquisitions but they are the exceptions. There is a long list of foreign players whose performance did not live up to their reputation.

Think of the South American duo Adrian Caceres and Oscar Roberto Cornejo or hapless Chinese pair Leilei Gao and Jiang Chen. Then there was Ahmad Elrich and Royce Brownlie, while Mirjan Pavlovic has so far done little to fire the imagination.

Former Belgian international Huysegems, 30, who is being touted as the "most highly rated overseas player" to join the Phoenix, accepts the pressure that comes with such a tag.

"There is always pressure whenever you join a new club," says Huysegems. "It's all part of the sport. You have to prove yourself but I believe in my ability and know I can do a job for this team."

Huysegems has never been a prolific striker but has a steady scoring record over more than a decade in the Belgian and Dutch leagues, both of which are of a higher standard than the A-League. He has a strong shot off either foot and is adept at creating chances for his team-mates. He is tall at 1.86m but not a typical target man, with a slighter build that emphasises speed and technique.

"I think [he is a] player whose experience and ability to score goals will add a lot to the team," says Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert. "You don't play for clubs such as Feyenoord, AZ and FC Twente unless you have ability. He has a good presence and will add a different dimension to the side."

Finding the back of the net has been one of the consistent Achilles heels of the Phoenix. They are renowned for their stingy defence but have struggled to carve out chances, especially on the road. In their first season, the Phoenix scored just 25 goals (1.19 per game), dipping to 21 (1.09) the next year. The 2009-10 season stands out with 37 goals (1.37 per match), while the last two campaigns have seen 39 goals (1.30 per match) and 34 (1.26) respectively.

If they want to be in the hunt for the title, goals will have to flow and that responsibility will fall on Huysegems, along with Ifill, Jeremy Brockie and Benji Totori.

"Of course like any striker, I want to score a lot of goals," says Huysegems. "But the main thing is for the team to win games. That comes above everything else. If we play well and the team wins, then it doesn't matter who scores."

Huysegems announced himself on the European stage with Belgian club Lierse, where he scored 32 goals in 117 games. Those displays attracted the attention of AZ Alkmaar, and he moved to the Dutch first division club in 2003. From there, he made his debut for the Belgium national side, going on to make 15 appearances for his country, though he didn't score an international goal. He was part of the AZ team that was seconds away from reaching the 2005 UEFA Cup final but was beaten by Sporting Lisbon.

He isn't old enough to have many memories of the fantastic Belgium side of the mid-1980s, where men such as Eric Gerets, Nico Claesen, Enzo Scifo and Jan Ceulemans inspired the team to fourth place at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico but says he was mostly inspired by watching Brazilian striker Ronaldo as a teenager.

The Phoenix almost missed out on Huysegems - he had been negotiating with a club in Ukraine but decided the former Soviet nation wasn't suitable for his young family.

"From the moment I landed there, I knew I didn't want to live there," says Huysegems. "It was a different culture and not my kind of place. Coming down to this part of the world is an adventure and a good choice at this stage of my career. Wellington seems beautiful so far, though you have a very heavy wind here."

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed the Phoenix will return to Eden Park this season, with their round 19 game against Perth Glory to be played there on Saturday, February 2.

- Herald on Sunday

- Herald on Sunday

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