Career in Europe finally tracking well

Dunedin-born footballer Joel Stevens takes a break in Varnamo, where he plays for IFK Varnamo in...
Dunedin-born footballer Joel Stevens takes a break in Varnamo, where he plays for IFK Varnamo in Sweden. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Top European football is no longer a far-off fantasy for Joel Stevens.

The Dunedin product is on the cusp of promotion to the Allsvenskan, the top flight of Swedish football.

His IFK Varnamo team leads the second-tier Superettan with 12 games to play.

Varnamo has 36 points from its 18 matches so far, two points ahead of former Swedish power Helsingborg and four ahead of the chasing pack.

‘‘It’s pretty crazy,’’ Stevens said.

‘‘None of us really expected to be doing so well, especially after last year coming up a league, and we have a pretty similar team. It’s pretty awesome.

‘‘Winning the first couple of games ... confidence is a big key in that role.’’

Injury-free and in form, he was happy with how he was playing as well.

The Superettan felt like big-league football at times, Stevens said.

Some of the clubs had big stadiums and crowds.

One of his recent games attracted police attention after a bonfire was lit.

The level was a lot higher, too, the defences in particular.

The pay was a significant step up as teams were fully professional — average monthly salaries were $NZ4000.

That average rises to $NZ15,000 at the next level.

But it was more than just the financial benefit Stevens was after.

Playing top-level football had been his dream since he was a child.

His attempts to get there, up until now, had hit stumbling blocks, notably a bad coach in his last Swedish experience.

It eventually led him to return to Dunedin, where he had a stint with Southern United in late 2019.

At the Christmas break, he left to give European football one more chance.

He initially signed with Varnamo in the third tier of Swedish football and has won his way up with the team.

‘‘I’d kind of, I guess, given up a bit when I came home and that was kind of it. Then obviously coming back ...

‘‘It’s been a rocky road for me with timing and being professional.

‘‘It seemed like every time I get close, something goes wrong. If I went up, it would be like it was meant to be in a way.

‘‘It hasn’t really happened and then all of a sudden when I was about to give up, happened out of the blue.

‘‘I never doubted I could get there, but sometimes it’s more than ability to make it.

‘‘It was my dream since I was a child to play top level in Europe. It could open up doors and really change my life.’’

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