TORONTO — The Canadian Premier League’s first international signing says York Region won’t feel foreign when he returns in January.
Swedish target man Simon Adjei owns that distinction after York9 FC confirmed the 25-year-old’s transfer Monday morning from Assyriska IK of the Swedish Division 2, where Adjei netted 30 times this season.
“He’s prolific,” York9 coach Jimmy Brennan told CanPL.ca. “To score 30 goals in any professional league is some feat. When we started talking to him we thought we’d be up against some of the Superettan (Swedish 2nd division) clubs.
“So we went over to Sweden, met with him and told him what our vision was and our plan. From that moment he said he’d like to come to Canada.”
Or, in Adjei’s case, return to York Region after a chance meeting culminated in the Husqvarna product choosing York9 and the CPL over a host of clubs vying for his signature.
A pre-season camp with his Swedish side in Toronto three years ago fuelled Adjei’s interest in making a permanent move to League1 Ontario side Aurora FC, which, at the time (2016), was coached by Brennan.
After scoring an impressive 19 goals in 19 games during his time in L1O, Adjei returned to Sweden and eventually settled at Assyriska IK, helping the club achieve promotion this season after averaging 1.2 goals per game.
That success led clubs in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Albania and Cambodia to seek Adjei’s signature ahead of 2019 before a familiar voice in Brennan came calling at the right moment.
“I got asked a question recently: ‘Are you here for some other reason, the city, whatever?'” Adjei offered, reminding CanPL.ca he’s already been to Canada.
“If I just wanted to experience a city, I’d pick a new city. I’m just here for the football because I believe in it. I’m going to work hard all the time.”
The questions didn’t end there.
Adjei added his phone has been buzzing with friends and family and acquaintances wondering why he’d leave Europe following the most productive season of his career.
“A lot of people don’t understand it,” Adjei said with a grin. “They are texting me and calling me, but I already created my name in Sweden. People already know me.
“This new league is more than a really cool experience. I believe if I work hard and get my team together with me, like a family, we can go far. If we go far in the CPL I believe I can go far individually.”
A move away from Scandinavia could also spur a move towards a new personal brand.
Asked about modelling his game and in-game antics after fellow Swedish No. 9 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Adjei smiled at the comparison.
“Every Swedish person better love him,” Adjei responded. “He put Sweden on the map.”
The reserved Adjei said he intends to revamp his typically tame goal-scoring celebration in a new league looking for new personalities.
“I told myself when I come here I need to celebrate with the fans and with the team,” he explained. “You have to show more emotions and bring the team and fans with you.
“It sounds weird, but it’s a party when you score and win games. I need to celebrate more. We’ll see (what I come up with). I’ll take it when I score.”
It’s that mindset mixed with a proven goal-scoring record that pushed York9 FC to put confidence in player who arrives with high expectations.
“For a big man he has great touch, good pace,” Brennan said. “In and around the box he’s lethal. He needs half-a-yard and he’s putting something on target.
“He’s good in the air. He’s willing to mix it up with defenders. He can also drop into pockets and link up play. He’s at a great age and we’re excited to have him.”
Asked if he was going to use the opportunity to live and explore the big city, Adjei was adamant he intends to make a home in the region he’s representing.
“I’ve heard about so many guys trying to get to Europe,” Adjei told CanPL.ca. “I’ve been playing in Europe my whole life. I saw an opportunity to come and play in York Region. So, I took that opportunity.
“I believe in Jimmy and I’ve heard so much about this league. For me, this is serious. I believe it will be a good league. If I come in now and play well I believe I can go far.”