Accra, Ghana – In “Nima”, Muhammad Kudus commands the status of a god. In the dense neighborhood of Accra that he calls home, pride fills the voice of the locals when his name is mentioned.
Fans of his club Ajax know him for his goalscoring, dribbling, creating chances and occasional sleight of hand on the football pitch.
To the people of Nima, he will always be that innocent-looking, scrawny kid who charmed them with his magical left foot on steep Kawukudi Park for years.
An episode from his childhood with Strong Tower FC is etched in the minds of many fans in his hometown.
During a high-profile friendly against Powerlines FC at youth level, 11-year-old Kudus carried the team on his shoulders, dominating the game and displaying an innate precision rare in players his age. In the end, he scored all six goals as Strong Tower tied their opponents 6-6.
The memory of the young star outshining his rivals on that day in 2011 remains a cherished anecdote in these parts to this day.
“The first time I saw Kudus playing on the street, I immediately saw a good player in him,” says Joshua ‘Ayoba’ Awuah, manager of Strong Tower, who discovered Kudus and guided him to greatness.
“I invited him to my training ground and he was fantastic from day one,” Awuah said. “I named him ‘the best in the world.’ He was only 10 years old when I met him, but his quality was obvious.”
“Books and Boots”
Nima, a slum community in Accra, is commonly associated with gangs, crime and drug abuse. Until recently, anyone born or raised there was stereotyped as bad company.
In recent years, a number of its residents have challenged these stereotypes, including President Nana Akufo-Addo and Kudus, who use football to shine a light on the neighborhood.
For King Osei Gyan, director of the Right to Express Academy in Akosombo, eastern Ghana, where Kudus goes, he represents “the most talented generation from Africa who really know their worth and will fight for and defend it. he”.
Those who know him say that the athlete’s willingness to combine football with education also helped his progress. Young Kudus was talented on the field and brilliant in the classroom. One thing that helped him do both was a football tournament in Nima organized by a non-profit organization called Books and Boots.
The NGO specifically targets communities facing poverty, crime, drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, and uses football to encourage children to embrace the culture of reading.
Nima ticked all the boxes.
“Kudus was about 12 years old and it was very small,” recalled Yaw Ampofo-Ankrah, CEO of Books and Boots. “He wasn’t necessarily a great player, but he had skills. It seems that he crossed the road from Nimadan and played with his brothers and cousins.
“But his followers were very impressed, and after the event, a Right to Dream scout approached me and asked for permission to speak to the boy’s representatives,” she said.
Thus, Kudus graduated from the Right to Dream Academy. According to his coaches, he was raw but adapted perfectly to his new environment.
“Kudus showed great potential the first day he came in,” said Oman Abdul Rabi, Right to Dream’s skills development coach. “You can see he has potential from his touch, his movement and his overall game.”
During his six years at the academy, Kudus gave it his all, playing in midfield and sometimes going up top because of his versatility. In addition to his talent, his strong character made him a popular figure among his teammates.
One of the first players to join the academy in 1999, Gyan went on to play for Fulham and was once capped by Ghana, eventually returning to the academy in an administrative role.
All that experience has taught the 33-year-old to see that Kudus has the right mix of attitude, football skills and hard work – traits that Gyan says have made him the player he is today.
“From day one, Ayoba said if Kudus was going to be the best player in the world,” Gyan said. “The connection for me was his ability to try things, bounce the ball over people’s heads and try to make things in the game and make a difference.”
One of Kudus’ many fond memories at Right to Dream stands out from the second division game.
“You know how lower division games are played in Ghana with the big men,” Gyan said. “If you miss the ball, don’t miss the man. Kudus was about 16 years old at the time, but what made him special was that his technical ability was so high against men and physically he still had such grace to compete and despite being constantly kicked, he never got into any fights or irritations. the best. It said a lot about his teenage years.”
Kudus was a key member of the academy team that went unbeaten on the European tour, winning four trophies including the Nike World U15 Premier Cup.
“He was very difficult to play against,” said Emmanuel Ogura, Kudus’ former Right to Dream teammate. “He was very scary because he always wants to dribble and create something. I expect to see him stand out more.”
When FC Nordsjaelland came calling in 2018, Kudus was ready to take over the world. A few days after turning 18, he became Nordsjaelland’s ninth youngest debutant and scored 11 goals in his only full season at the club.
In mid-2020, 18 months into his stay in Denmark, he had a dream move to Ajax and has since grown in stature and mentality.
In 2020, he was nominated for the Golden Boy Award by Italian newspaper Tuttosport for being one of the most influential youngsters playing in Europe that year.
Although injuries marred his first two seasons at Ajax, he has finally regained full fitness and is playing the best football of his career.
New manager Alfred Schreuder deployed him as a false nine rather than in his favored playmaking role. Still, the 22-year-old has scored 10 goals and provided two assists in all competitions this season, including four strikes in the UEFA Champions League.
Kudus’ rich vein of form has been such that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described him as an “incredible” player. French legend Thierry Henry was also impressed: “He came from Ghana from the Right to Dream academy and he is living his dream.”
For Ghana, Kudus has become a key member of the Black Stars after scoring on his international debut against South Africa in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers and will look to impress at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Nimada’s story continues to inspire many people, and she often visits her childhood club, Strong Tower, to donate boots and other items.
“Now Kudus is not just for the family, it’s for everyone,” said his uncle, Abdul Fatawu Alhassan. “When he enters Nima, he is called ‘The Pride of Nima’ and we are delighted that he will represent us at the World Cup.”
“He is also a great source of inspiration for children – not only future footballers. Many see him as a role model. He was here with them a few years ago, so when they see him playing and scoring goals for the Black Stars, in the UEFA Champions League, it’s inspiring to know that they can do it too.”
Nine-year-old Ramazan Osman, who often trains at Kawukudi Park in Nima, echoed Alhassan’s sentiments. “I am number 10 and I want to be the next Mohammed Kudus,” he said.
Friends and family say he remains grounded in reality, but on the field displays the type of arrogance and temperament that many high-profile players have in the locker room.
Gyan, who has followed Kudus’ football odyssey closely, credits the young man’s humble background for this.
“In terms of personality or character, I would say, Kudus brought Nima with him,” he said. “Niman’s can-do spirit – they are known as stubborn people. It’s tenacity balanced with flexible, actionable methods of achieving success.”
More than 30 million Ghanaians will be cheering on Kudus and the Black Stars in Qatar, but the loudest will probably come from Nima. While the world sees Kudus as a gifted playmaker, they see him as more of a torchbearer, an idol.