In honour of Max Ferrari hitting 77 appearances for York United – the most in club history – I got the chance to sit down with Max to have a chat about his career, one year at a time. His ascendancy from League1 to being a CPL household name is incredible. Thank you for the interview and congratulations Max!
THE OUTSIDE WORLD is in lockdown. 2020 was a year defined by many events, but the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic stands out. It held the global community back from living their lives, from going outside and seeing friends, and, for many months, from football being played. It was a quiet chaos, with everything shut down and shackled, preventing a normal reality.
That summer on Prince Edward Island, though, there was one person who broke through the chains. Max Ferrari was in his debut season for York United, then dubbed York9, and took the verse of Canadian football by storm. All it took was a single match for Ferrari to well and truly break onto the scene. Down 2-0 against Atlético Ottawa, Ferrari helped inspire a comeback with an assist setting up Lowell Wright. Then a mere 19, Ferrari made easy work leaving Ottawan defenders in the dust before sending a grounded cross in for Wright to finish. From then on, Ferrari has had ups and downs but continues to impress with York four years on.
A first-year professional wouldn’t have been expected to thrive at The Island Games, the Canadian Premier League’s condensed 2020 season. Yet the bubble provided a unique opportunity for Ferrari and other up-and-comers to succeed. Despite being unorthodox and maybe an unfair representation of what you’d have to expect of the league, because it is known to have a brutal travel schedule, staying put and honing your craft in one place, whether that place was in the bubble or at home, can be beneficial.
“After seeing a month of York, I realized how consistent you have to be at this level, and obviously the vets, guys like Manu Aparicio, Chris Mannela, Joe Di Chiara, those guys were really hard on me from the start, and that helped me a lot because they knew that I had to be on it, they saw the potential I had, and they were really hard on me. So, that time before the bubble was really beneficial for me because I was honestly running ten kilometres every day, working out every day, it was big for me, mentally and physically. And then going into the PEI bubble, it’s one of those things where we play this game because we love it, the chance to play it again, it was a great time and for me to make my debut and obviously have the debut that I had, it’s something to remember and that season altogether. The way you get through it is having good people around you, whether it’s guys from the office, the people above, especially the coaches and the players during that time, and it was just a fun experience. You don’t think about it when you’re in it, but you’re competing every three days where we had a game. So it was nonstop action.”
Through the years to come, the chaos remained as Ferrari elevated his name into the spotlight. Contributing to the noise around the youngster were supporter chants – Ferrari’s on fire, your defence is terrified – and dazzled commentators, who could only scream the name in awe, astonished by the plays and skills that this kid, coming out of nowhere after so recently playing at Humber College and League1 Ontario, could put on show.
IT WOULD TAKE another few months before Ferrari could be endeared by his people, the fans that truly adore him, and now know him as one of their own. Thrown into another bubble, this proclaimed as The Kickoff, in Winnipeg, ushered in one of York’s most thrilling campaigns. Although they barely scraped by just to get into the playoffs, and much of the regular season was up-and-down, York had an incredible core group of players with Michael Petrasso, Diyaeddine Abzi, Ferrari, Isaiah Johnston, Wright, and others having some of their best individual campaigns.
For Ferrari’s part, he began starting matches more often. He’d become Jimmy Brennan’s go-to winger, bringing dynamism, pace, and a great shot on the right side. Better than the year before, he began scoring in situations vital to York winning games: trailing 1-0 to Halifax at the Wanderers Grounds, he scored the equalizer that gave York a lifeline, one which they took and clutched on to, winning 3-2. It was a good bit of build-up play by York, but the key was Ferrari elusively sneaking past a fullback and timing his run perfectly to smash the ball into the top of the net. The chaos returns in full form.
Then there was the Canadian Championship tie with Master’s FA, a match that York won by a blowout scoreline, but Ferrari kickstarted the goal-fest. This was similar to the strike versus Halifax but on the opposite flank. After Johnston executed a great dribble, he laid it off for Ferrari to hit home. He hit the target once more in 2021, quite possibly his best. Ferrari scored what became the winning goal in Hamilton against Forge in absolutely brilliant fashion: outmuscling two defenders in the process of getting into the box, he was bolting toward the goal line, with nowhere to feasibly go.
So he went for it. The ball went off the far post and in, one of the best goals of the 2021 season. All this helped earn him a nomination for the 2021 Canadian U-21 Player of the Year, ultimately coming up short of Alessandro Hojabrpour. However, what became more important than that was how Ferrari set himself up for valuable experience and some core memories in football. The latter two goals were crucial to York securing a match against Toronto FC and then a playoff berth. Not even the heavy rain on both of those big days dampened Ferrari and the team’s spirit, it only added to the chaos of the person and club just being there. Ferrari speaks of those two games as his favourites that he’s played in, and it’s hard to blame him for that. Going up against the superpowers of the Canadian game and being in the position of the underdog suits him.
“I still think back to that playoff game we played against Forge in Hamilton, losing that game I think there was a lot left on that field. And guys knew that coming back to 2022, and people wanted to prove that we deserved to be back in the playoffs. I mean, at the end of the day we didn’t make it in 2022 but that same mindset went throughout the club and we wanted to prove to people that we’re a playoff team and we can compete for titles here.
This might be why 2022 was, in all honesty, a year that fell off the rails. Dealing with lofty expectations to claim that U-21 Player of the Year award and take York one step further was new for the player. He got injured multiple times and had to learn a completely new position, one that expected him to stop opposing attackers from getting in behind as a fullback – the opposite of what he’d played in his entire career up to that point, where he was said attacker.
“Yeah, obviously with the change in the staff too, we had a great guy in [Martin Nash] come in, and Mauro [Eustaqio] and Barry [Smith], those guys helped me a lot, going into it I think I obviously just got unlucky throughout the season with a bunch of injuries. But as a club perspective, as a team perspective, as a player perspective, you just have to go into it wanting more.”
There were poor results. There was more than just a change in the coaching staff, too, as Abzi and Wright departed mid-season, and Johnston followed in the off-season. These players whom Ferrari had become close with and formed partnerships moved on to greener pastures, potentially bringing down his level of play because he had to form chemistry with new people.
Somehow, not even that level of overturn changed Ferrari. If anything, it opened the door for him to step into his own. He was now a leader, someone who had to set an example for others as one of the longest-tenured York players. He put his head down and worked at the new position until he was one of the league’s best at left-back. The next chapter was always going to be exciting for Ferrari, with or without the supporting cast he had become close with.
“I built really good relationships with them, like those guys are my best friends, as a professional, as a player, whether you have to play against them or not you kinda just have to move on, in that sense. You always have to remember what you did but it’s kind of that competitive perspective of ‘we’ve gotta win this year,’ and obviously remembering what happened, these guys were great to me, they helped me a lot in my role but it’s just that we always want to do better as a club, as a player, as a coach, whatever your role is. For me, I went into this year, after last year I only played 14 or 15 games, so my goal for this year was to show myself, prove to myself and prove to people I can get back to what I was, playing games, staying healthy, and get results.”
2023 has seen Ferrari come all the way around. Nash’s project of switching up his position has been completed, and Ferrari has taken part in all but one match this year. He still has plenty of offensive tendencies, frequently getting very stuck in far up the pitch. That hasn’t seemed like it’s hampered his play, as Ferrari lives up to his last name with great speed when dropping back. He tracks the ball with a hunger unlike any player you’ve seen before, his drive to win the ball back is unmatched compared to others on York. (Not disrespect to other squad members, just a true compliment of Ferrari.)
A true standout, signature performance was York’s first trip to Halifax this year, a pivotal fixture in their campaign: after a 3-0 offensively-heavy victory, Ferrari caught many eyes as a key contributor despite a defensive role. He advanced into the midfield at times and repeatedly made perfect tackles on the Haligonians, flipping plenty of plays on their heads. It was chaotic, somewhat frantic even, yet a remarkable show of talent shined through.
Sadly, you can’t imagine a world where we see dozens more of those incredible Ferrari performances in a York shirt. His undeniable ability has surely caught the eye of clubs in bigger leagues abroad, bolstered by York exporting talents such as Abzi, Dom Zator, and more in recent memory. Even though the inevitable hasn’t happened so far, Ferrari remains as dedicated as ever to his craft at home. His eyes are on the prize, and his unwavering loyalty to the Nine Stripes goes on.
“So for me, I kind of take that one year at a time,” Ferrari says in terms of potential moves and next steps. “Obviously I signed my three-year extension in 2021, and for me, I always want to prove to myself and other people and whether that’s the next step in moving on or playing for York, I’m that type of guy that playing fullback, adapting to that new role, I’ll do whatever the coach wants me to do and at the end of the day I want to win games. Everyone has the desire to move to the top leagues, for me, it’s getting better every day, and that’s on and off the pitch as a person and a learner of the game. I’d love to push myself and try to reach my goals.”
Ferrari’s York tenure hasn’t concluded just yet, in the meantime, he’s helping in the chase for playoffs. It’ll take chaotic moments over the final two matches, and he will be looked at as the one to provide those instances where he’ll need to stay cool in a heated battle. Some won’t like his aggressive style, but nobody can’t deny he has a massive role within the club.
If you follow York and Ferrari, it’s always been about looking through the madness.
Watching him play, you will quickly find the beauty in the chaos.
Top photo by David Chant
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