No waffling from impressive Phoenix recruit

Last updated 05:00 21/09/2012
Stein Huysegems
BREAKTHROUGH YEAR: Belgian striker Stein Huysegems certainly has the pedigree after 15 full international caps.

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The Phoenix have purchased plenty of pedigree but minimal ego in former Belgium striker Stein Huysegems.

A resume including 15 internationals, stints with several top Dutch clubs and Champions League football against Arsenal, would warrant some swagger.

But while Huysegems rocked up to his Wellington unveiling in a leather jacket, you get the feeling he will be sighted more frequently at his children's English language school than the city's nightspots during his two-year contract.

The easygoing 30-year-old's overcome a few hiccups during his first week in Wellington and already has a nickname from his new team-mates.

"Some guys are already calling me Waffles, like the Belgian waffles. So I don't know if it's going to be my name for the rest of the season, but maybe. It's no problem; if it's not a stupid name, then it's OK," Huysegems grinned after training at Newtown Park yesterday.

"I went out for a little bit of shopping but the first couple of days my credit cards were not working. I called the bank in Belgium and now I have money to eat something."

Huysegems was born in the Flemish city of Diest and his talent was quickly identified by the local football authorities.

He represented Belgium at every age-group and made his first-team debut for Lierse as a 16-year-old, scoring 32 goals in 117 games between 1998 and 2003.

At 21, he signed with Dutch powerhouse AZ and made his national debut, before going on to add Feyenoord, Twente, Racing Genk and Roda JC to his CV.

Huysegems played his last international in 2009 as Belgium enjoy the fruits of a golden generation of footballers.

Ranked 40 in the world, Belgium are expected to qualify for the 2014 World Cup with a side including English Premier League stars Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele and Thomas Vermaelen.

"The pressure is really high at the moment, to go to Rio," Huysegems said. "There are a lot of quality players at the moment in England and also in Germany. A lot of big clubs come to Belgium and take players at 12, 13-years-old."

Huysegems had a lucrative offer from a club in the Ukraine but, after talking with former team-mate Archie Thompson, opted for the A-League.

Wife Natalie, daughter Roose (5) and son Lex (2) are due to join him next week.

"That made my choice a little bit easier, and also when you see that Wellington is a great city, then it's easy to come over here. My kids are still young and it's good to go to another country, learn other things and another culture."

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A pressing issue for Phoenix fans is how quickly Huysegems will adapt to the football culture Down Under. A friendly game on Tuesday was his first action in four months and he rates himself as "60-70 per cent" at present.

Huysegems will again partner Jeremy Brockie up front against Western Sydney Wanderers in Christchurch on Sunday and, with Manawatu also on the pre-season schedule, he vows to be ready for the October 6 season opener.

"Hopefully after the two games I can be between 90 and 100 per cent. I've been running a lot but haven't trained with the ball for four months. The most important thing is we win the first game and I can improve my level each game. My new team-mates have to know I like to play one-two, fast touches. But if I have to change, play one-on-one, make the action and score the goal, then I can also do that."

- The Dominion Post

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