Harley Willard: ‘Iceland’s a very good area just to pay attention for your soccer’
Harley Willard made one of those sliding-doors decisions that could flip all people’s existence round ultimate December. He had arrived at Heathrow airport, packed and ready for the 14-hour slog returned to Phnom Penh, and at that factor every other season on the Cambodian club Svay Rieng felt like a exchange-off he should pretty much stomach. The football there offered few real prospects but he had loved the lifestyle and, after such an unsure yr and a 1/2 for the reason that leaving Southampton, absolutely his happiness become the maximum crucial element.
But some thing did now not quite feel right. Doubts had crept in all through three weeks back home. “I need to development in my profession” became a thought he could not shake and it grew more potent as he sat inside the terminal, the vision of the bumpy, sandy pitches and iffy facilities in south-east Asia looking less appealing through the minute. He rang his agent, then rang him time and again. “must i get that on that aircraft?” turned into the routine query and whilst the answer came it was the one that, deep down, he desired to listen.
Now Willard is on his submit-season damage after eight months spent with the Icelandic second department club Víkingur Ólafsvíok, that is a world away from the steam and bustle of his old home. “It’s most effective were given just beneath 1,000 people but, you know what, i love it,” he says of the village, out on a limb in Iceland’s a long way west, wherein he has quietly begun getting things returned on course. “It’s a terrific region simply to pay attention on your soccer, no distractions, and that’s why I went there. It’s been remarkable to be part of and i’ve loved every sport. Because I’m happy, I’m progressing and showing it at the pitch.”
Willard scored 12 instances in 22 league games last season, an impressive file for a winger, and become named inside the department’s crew of the season. There may be no kidding: this isn’t always what he had imagined 5 years in the past when, on his 17th birthday, he signed professional terms with Saints after showing the promise that would earn him a place on the parent’s inaugural next generation listing that year. But he feels he is regaining the momentum that changed into crudely halted within the manner so many younger players bear every year.
“I didn’t see it coming to be sincere,” he says of the day in may additionally 2017 when the ideal League club reduce him adrift. He changed into now not a ordinary in the under-23s, for whom he had made his debut at sixteen, however he felt Claude Puel, the senior group’s manager on the time, had taken a liking to him. “It changed into pretty peculiar, but that’s just how it’s miles. The more I wasn’t gambling for the below-23s i used to be questioning: ‘perhaps it’s not going to training session,’ however then the next day I’d be training with the primary crew and the supervisor might be talking to me. So it changed into a piece of a shock.”
He is quick to strain that he bears no grudges. Martin Hunter, who coached Southampton’s 2nd string at the time, favored different wide gamers however Willard says the pair got on well. “It’s a sport full of reviews, and you can handiest try and exchange a person’s,” Willard says. “I did what I should do.”
The trouble, and perhaps the most important difficulty going through most people of academy merchandise at top-flight golf equipment nowadays, changed into what got here subsequent. “I didn’t recognize what direction to go in when I left,” he says. “The agent I had on the time wasn’t giving me the recommendation I wished and i had nowhere to move definitely. I had in my head that i was going to show Southampton incorrect and get returned where I need to be, however I didn’t understand what to do so it turned into tough.”
He knew he should quick be swallowed up inside the remorseless to-and-fro so discovered a flow to the Swedish lower leagues with IFK Hässleholm. That was, on the bright facet, an early chance to fulfil his ambition of gambling foreign places however the team most effective skilled 3 instances every week and whilst Svay Rieng’s Irish supervisor, Conor Nestor, known as inside the summer time of 2018 he decided to gamble on the whole change of scene.
It has all posed a unique intellectual assignment to the only that, trailed as a prodigy at Southampton, he now realises he found tough to deal with. “at the time i was younger and that i had a whole lot of strain on me,” he says. “i used to be the primary person in my age group to signal professionally and the membership had placed a lot into me. I felt I had lots to provide again but perhaps it got to me. You’re sixteen and approximately to signal that settlement, wondering: ‘I’m going to be a star here and wreck into the primary crew’. However obviously it’s now not as clean as that and once I got to 18 or 19 it changed into hard, I struggled. My own family had been so supportive but other people around me have been bad and it wasn’t the best. I used to be listening to the wrong people.”
For Willard, the ones factors at the moment are returned in location. He does now not rule out returning to Ólafsvíok, the place that added the pleasure back, however his go back from the edge has not long gone unnoticed. Golf equipment in Iceland’s top flight would take him but there was interest from Scandinavia and the Dutch 2nd division, too. The experience, at last, is that the tide has became.