Marco Merlo can't thank Ben Herd enough after signing a professional deal with Czech side Vysconia Jihlava
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 September 2018
A teenager from St Albans has heaped praise on St Albans City's Ben Herd after securing a professional contract in the Czech Republic.
Marco Merlo, who was born in Welwyn Garden City and counts Harvesters and Colney Heath as former clubs, has joined Czech National League side Vysocina Jihlava.
They play one level below the top flight in the country’s pyramid following last season’s relegation but saw enough of the 18-year-old central midfielder in a week’s trial to offer him a two-year deal.
And Merlo, who was released by Watford after nearly four years with the Premier League club, was gratefully to the Saints’ star after joining his Pro Performance Academy two years ago.
He said: “I can’t thank Ben and his academy enough. He has been an incredible mentor for me both on and off the pitch.
“His training methods were nothing I’d experienced before but they have improved my game massively and make perfect sense from a footballing point of view.
However, what helped me the most was how much belief Ben had in me which gave me the confidence I needed.
“He has helped me to develop not only physically but mentally.
“I hope to make him proud and I will always appreciate what he has done for me.”
Travelling abroad at 18 would be a daunting prospect to most. With an entirely different language and culture to adapt to it would leave many contemplating the move with doubts.
But while Merlo admits it is a step into the unknown, saying the only time he has ever set foot in the country before was for the week’s trial, the youngster is looking forward to the challenge.
He said: “I am a little nervous, yeah, but, I think my excitement is definitely outweighing any nerves.
“The idea of playing abroad had always attracted me, knowing that younger players are given a chance there.
“Ben arranged an opportunity to play in Norway in June, which was a great experience for me and opened my eyes to wider horizons.
“Following this I was asked to trial with Vysocina and after a week’s training, I was offered a professional contract, which having loved the environment and culture of the club I accepted.
“I can’t wait to develop my own game and experience not only professional football, which has been my dream since I can remember, but also begin a whole new chapter in my life.”
But like most who go on to enjoy a long and fruitful career in the professional game, Merlo is well aware that his journey is not over but only just beginning.
He said: “I hope to continue to improve and hopefully I will become a better player.
“I just want to enjoy my football and work as hard as I can and see where it can take me.
“I want to say thank you and good luck to my team mates at BHPP who I can say will be friends for life and I will of course stay in touch with Ben.
“Good luck to all the boys for the upcoming season at and whenever I’m back in England I would love to meet up and train with the squad.”