From France to Floyd Road, meet Wassim Aouachria – the latest academy graduate to overcome a difficult period and make a goalscoring debut for the Addicks.
Born in Roubaix, Northern France, the striker played for his local club Aubagne from the age of six. He admitted that Zinedine Zidane’s performances at the 2006 World Cup was the trigger for him to start playing football at this time.
It was whilst playing here that Wassim was scouted by Marseille, who signed him at Under 14’s level in 2013. Five and a half years later saw Aouachria take a leap of faith and swap southern France for SE7 as he signed a short-term contract with the Under 23 squad at Charlton, with his deal later being extended to 2021.
Questioned on how he settled in at the club, Wassim said: “It wasn’t easy to come to a new country, leaving my family house and changing my football entirely to come over to the English game is difficult.
“Charlton’s family feel helped me feel welcome and integrated me into the club. I can never thank Charlton enough for that. Steve Avory, Jason Euell, and all the coaches. I’ve been really close to Hamza Serrar, the Under 23 coach, too and he’s helped me so much since I’ve been at the club. Even if you believe in yourself but don’t have the right people around you, it’s difficult but I have that here. Without Charlton I don’t think I’d have been able to make it.”
When asked about the differences between France and England, the 20-year-old laughed as he said: One thing is that English people love to call me Wuz, as if there’s a ‘z’ there, Ashley Maynard-Brewer does it all the time now because he knows how annoying it is.
“But I love it here. The English mentality is different compared to France. In terms of work rate especially. I like Charlton, it’s a family club. I come from a big club like Marseille, I’m a huge fan of Marseille but it’s like an industry, players constantly coming in and going out. I had to leave to take a step up in my career.”
The striker made a fine start with the Under 23’s, scoring five goals in nine starts. However, his progress was soon hampered by injury when training with the first team, tearing his ACL and keeping him side-lined for much of last season. When asked about his recovery, the France-born player went on to say: ”The most important side is definitely the mental side.
“In 2020 everyone is physically able to come back from an ACL injury but the mental side is the toughest. I couldn’t have done it by myself. Doing my rehab at a club like Charlton definitely helped me week in, week out. Everyone helped me stay confident. The injury has made me stronger, I couldn’t be negative. It was my second ACL injury, I had one on the other knee. It was another challenge and being here made me stronger and hopefully this set back can help me in the future.
“I’ve had a lot of first team players helping me. Darren Pratley has been great since I’ve been here. So was Lyle (Taylor) whilst he was here from day one when he didn’t have to be, he was such a good guy. The same goes for the captain Jason Pearce, all of these people deserve a mention. The most helpful person I must say was Jake Forster-Caskey. Jake did his ACL recently and everyday he was advising me on things to do, in terms of gym or how to stay strong mentally. It comes back to the Charlton way and the family club. It’s such a good strength of the club.
“You can talk about trophies and wins, which are so important but when you’re injured and can’t contribute to these, having a family feel is so important and it’s what has helped me come back as strong as I have.”
Having joined the club in 2019, Aouachria admitted that having fellow Frenchman Naby Sarr around the training ground helped him during a tough period.
“A lot of first team players were helping, of course a lot of my Under 23 teammates were too. I can’t go into everyone in detail but Naby (Sarr) stands out.” he said.
“We’re both French. He was a big brother to me, we spoke a lot in the gym. He advised me how to improve. When you’re injured, your mind makes you think that you’re losing time in your career but Naby made me realise that I could use that time to improve other parts of the game.
“He told me to smash the gym where I could, he sent me videos of games to watch and improve. He was there from the first day until the last day.
“Naby even called me after I scored my first goal for the club. Having someone like that put their arm around you, it makes you want to push on more and more to hopefully get to a better level everyday.”
The goal that the striker is referring to came in an EFL Trophy victory against Leyton Orient at the beginning of the 2020/21 season. The player told Valley Gold how this goal was for the club and the fans who have been so patient since his arrival.
“I was very happy when I scored. Naturally I’m happy for myself but also for the club. I’ve been out for so long but my first thought was just pure happiness for the club. Everyone has been backing me up, from the fans to the players to the staff. Of course I was happy for myself, it’s good for my confidence but that goal was an achievement for the club.” he confessed.
“My first thought went to the fans, especially those who are part of Valley Gold. They supply the money to pay for the equipment which helped with my rehab. Without them I might not have recovered in the way that I did.”
With a bright future ahead, the 20-year-old is realistic with his aims as he explained that he just wants to enjoy playing football again and let his career take care of itself.
“I don’t want to play it safe but I’ll be realistic in my goals. I’ve been out for 15 months so the first thing is just to stay injury free. I want to play games week in week out, get my fitness levels back. I need to score goals and just enjoy playing football again. I think things will come naturally after, maybe I’ll have a chance with the first team or possibly go on loan. But before that I want to just play some games for the Under 23’s because I’ve missed football so much. Why not try and score some goals at The Valley in front of the fans when they’re back as well?
“I know how the fans love an academy player making the first team whilst everyone is in the stadium, if I can do that for them it’ll be a really proud moment.” he said.
Academy manager Steve Avory has been full of praise for the young striker who has overcome adversity to return to action for the Addicks.
Avory said: “Wassim is such a fantastic talent. He’s on his comeback journey and is so appreciative of everything that the academy and the club have done for him in the short time. He suffered a horrible injury. He’s an articulate, bright boy and he slots right into our academy”
With the support of the Charlton faithful and Valley Gold’s contributions, providing equipment to help Wassim recover from his injury, the player expressed his gratitude for the supporters.
He said: “The first thing I’d like to say is thank you.
“I can’t reply to everyone’s messages because there are so many but it’s a massive thank you. Especially for the reaction when I was injured. People told me to stay strong, keep working and keep pushing. I can’t wait to see them back at The Valley because it isn’t the same without the fans. I want to thank them and I’m excited to see them soon.
“I want to thank the Valley Gold fans in particular. The best way for me to thank you guys is to keep working hard and making use of the resources provided. I have to get into the first team too, to give the Valley Gold Supporters the gift of knowing that they have helped another player push from the academy into the first team.”
Article by Nick Emms