Layouni lays bare the passion he brought to Western Sydney

Western Sydney’s signing, winger Amor Layouni, is as direct off the pitch as he’s shown on it already, writes Tom Smithies.

There’s passion coursing through the veins of Amor Layouni, and Western Sydney look like they’re already reaping the benefits.

A footballer with a tattoo inked in memory of his late dog is a character also prepared to tell a coach that he could never play for him again, but then also move continents to learn a style of play that might help him gain international recognition. The 30-year-old isn’t, it becomes clear, one to do things by halves.

There’s an intensity to the conversation of Layouni that matches the commitment he has already shown to the Wanderers cause in four games, and it’s tempting to wonder how passionate he might have been had this interview not just followed an hour of meditation for Marko Rudan’s squad.

But then Layouni is also open and keen to laugh, as he relives a possibly unique CV taking in clubs in Sweden, Norway, Egypt and now Australia. Having found his bearings literally in terms of driving around Sydney, and figuratively after a falling out with his last club, the Tunisian international has the calibre to play a prominent role in Saturday’s derby.

Layouni celebrates a goal on his debut for the Wanderers against Adelaide United last month.

It’s maybe no surprise that Layouni has thrown himself into life at the Wanderers with such gusto, as he admits it’s all a distraction from the fact that his wife and six-week-old baby daughter are still in Sweden – though “they’re coming soon, I hope, it’s tough because I got a newborn baby and I went directly after, like, the day after she was born.

“It’s been a month and a half now and so that’s very difficult. But it is what it is… where your family is, that’s where you feel at home. It’s much easier if you have your family then you can live pretty much anywhere.

“But when I play football, I just think about football. So that is what keeps me going, the training every day. If I didn’t train or anything like that, it would be very, very difficult, I think.”

It’s already been quite a nomadic life: born to a Tunisian father and Swedish mother in Stockholm, he moved to his father’s country at 16 for two years before signing for a club back in Sweden. After a subsequent four-year stint in Norway, he suddenly joined Pyramids FC in the Egyptian Premier League – not coincidentally, a matter of days after making his international debut for Tunisia and scoring.

“Yes, I had played for the national team and it’s easier for them to see a player when you play for the national team, it’s a bigger stage,” he says. “Egyptian football is more like the way that Tunisia plays and I wanted to be an established player in the national team.

“I noticed a big difference from Scandinavia football and African football. So when this came up, I was like, maybe this brings me closer to the national team. And there’s some big clubs in Egypt, very big clubs. The people there love football, and you get to play the African Champions League.”

That was the theory anyway. Within months Covid had caused global chaos, and it wasn’t a successful move – inside 18 months he was back in Scandinavia, joining Valerenga in Norway. His output was strong, last year scoring eight goals in 20 games from the wings, and Norwegian media drew admiring comparisons between his sprint stats and those of Cristiano Ronaldo. But the birth of his daughter in January proved life-changing in more ways than he might have expected.

Layouni’s decision to drive to Sweden to be with his wife for the birth led to a rapid breakdown in relations with his coach – claim and counterclaim were aired in the media, quickly passing the point of any reconciliation. Which is when Layouni’s agent made a call to Australia.

Layouni playing for Valerenga in the UEFA Europa Conference League against KAA Gent in 2021.

“I wanted to get out of Norway and had a bit of what you can say was a disagreement with the coach and then I felt like I cannot play for this coach,” Layouni says now. “And I told them (the club) that also, that I cannot do this. And they understood that, the ones who are above (the coach) understand that they cannot also do this. So they let me go.

“Because before that they tell me, you’re not going anywhere. And then they knew they made a mistake. That’s why they let me go on loan because usually you don’t loan out players who’ve got one year of the contract left.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 04: Amor Layouni of the Wanderers celebrates victory during the round 19 A-League Men’s match between Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners at CommBank Stadium, on March 04, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

In fact several of the stable of players, male and female, represented by Layouni’s agent had enjoyed spells in the A-Leagues, including Ola Toivenon. Initially a move to Melbourne Victory was mooted, though the club’s position at the bottom of the table alarmed Layouni. But Western Sydney proved a far more attractive proposition, especially given the prospect of meshing with talented ballplayers such as Romain Amalfitano and Morgan Schneiderlin.

“And that’s only going to get better,” he notes. “In the first few games, I don’t really know them so much. And they don’t really know me, but as we train every day and get to know each other, and when we create those relations. It’s going to be much better also.

“We talk everyday also in training, like ‘I like the ball when it’s here’, and it’s important to talk and speak about those things. So you create those relations, and then you see them in the game.

“I’m like a little bit more a direct player. I like to get the ball and just go one on one and create something. I’m an offensive player directly. I like to go in behind also.

“It’s a little bit more defending than I’m used to (at Western Sydney) but if the tactics need it then you need to do that.

“With a club like this, with the facilities we got and all the coaches around us, we have everything we need, we just need to perform. So we should be in the playoffs every year and then we take it from there.

“The playoffs should be like (Manchester) City going to Champions League. It should be but it’s also easy talking about it, you need to perform on the pitch. And this year so far we have done it and we need to keep doing it because we can only screw ourselves now.”