Accra, Ghana – In Nima Mohammed Kudus has a divine status. In the densely populated neighborhood of Accra that he calls home, the voices of the locals ring out with pride when his name is mentioned.

Fans of his club Ajax know him for his goalscoring, dribbling, creating chances and the occasional brutal skill on the football pitch.

To the people of Nima, however, he will always be that innocent-looking, scrawny boy who captivated them for years with his magical left foot in the rugged Kawukudi Park.

An episode from his time there with his boyhood club Strong Tower FC is fondly etched in the minds of many of his hometown fans.

During a high-profile friendly against Powerlines FC at junior level, an 11-year-old Kudus carried the team on his shoulders, dominating the game and displaying an innate precision that is rare in footballers his age. In the end, he scored all six goals as Strong Tower drew 6–6 with their opponents.

To this day, the memory of the young star who outclassed his opponents on that day in 2011 remains a fond anecdote in these parts.

“I saw Kudus playing on the street for the first time and I immediately saw a good player in him,” says Joshua ‘Ayoba’ Awuah, the manager of Strong Tower, who discovered Kudus and set him on the path to greatness.

“I invited him to my training ground and he was fantastic from day one,” said Awuah. “I called 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 in Accra, is typically 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 residents have defied these stereotypes, including President Nana Akufo-Addo and Kudus using soccer to shine a light on the neighborhood.

For King Osei Gyan, a director of the Right to Dream Academy in Akosombo in eastern Ghana, where Kudus eventually went, he represents the next generation of top talent from Africa who truly know their self worth and will fight for it and stand for it. the”.

The athlete’s willingness to combine football with education also aided his breakthrough, said those who know him. Young Kudus was gifted on the field and brilliant in class. Something that helped him to do both was a football tournament organized in Nima by a non-profit called Books and Boots.

Ghanaian Brazil
Mohammed Kudus will represent Ghana in a friendly match against Brazil [Damien MEYER / AFP]

The NGO specifically targets communities affected by poverty, crime, drug abuse and teen pregnancy, with the aim of using football to encourage children to adopt a culture of reading.

Nima ticked all the boxes.

“Kudus must have been about 12 years old and he was very small,” remembers Yaw Ampofo-Ankrah, the CEO of Books and Boots. “He wasn’t a star per se, but he had the skills. Apparently he crossed the road from Nima with his brothers and cousins ​​and played.

“However, those watching him closely were very impressed, and after the event, a Right to Dream scout approached me and asked permission to speak to the boy’s representatives,” he said.

That is how Kudus ended up at the Right to Dream Academy. He was raw but fit seamlessly into his new environment, his coaches said.

“Kudus showed great potential on the first day he came in,” said Oman Abdul Rabi, Right to Dream’s skill development coach. “The way he took his touches, his movements and overall play, you could tell he had potential.”

In his six years at the academy, Kudus gave it his all, playing in midfield and occasionally being pushed to the top for his versatility. In addition to his talent, his strong character made him a popular figure among his teammates.

One of the first batch of players to enroll in the academy when it opened in 1999, Gyan went on to play for Fulham and was capped once by Ghana before eventually returning to the academy in an administrative role.

All that experience taught the 33-year-old to see that Kudus had the right mix of attitude, football skills and hard work – traits that Gyan says have shaped him into the player he is today.

“From day one, Ayoba kept saying if Kudus was going to be the best player in the world,” said Gyan. “For me, the connection was his ability to try things, throw the ball over people’s heads and try to create things in the game and make a difference.”

golden boy

Of his many fond memories of Kudus’ time with Right to Dream, one from a division two match stands out.

“You know what lower league matches are like in Ghana with grown men,” Gyan said. “If you miss the ball, don’t miss the man. Kudus was around 16 at the time but what made him special was his technical ability that was so high against men and had that kind of grace to still compete physically and not necessarily get into a fight or irritation despite being constantly got kicked, and still the best. It said a lot about him as a teenager.”

Kudus was a key member of the academy team that went undefeated on its European tour, winning four trophies, including the Nike World U15 Premier Cup.

“He was very difficult to play against,” said Emmanuel Ogura, Kudus’ former teammate at Right to Dream. “He was very scary because he always wants to dribble and create something. I expect him to stand out more.”

By the time FC Nordsjaelland called in 2018, Kudus was ready to take on the world. A few days after turning 18, he became Nordsjaelland’s ninth-youngest ever debutant, eventually scoring 11 goals in his only full season with the club.

In the middle of 2020, 18 months after his stay in Denmark, he got a dream move to Ajax and has since grown both in status and mentality.

In 2020, he was nominated for the Golden Boy Award by Italian newspaper Tuttosport for being one of the most impressive youngsters playing in Europe that year.

Although nagging injuries destroyed his first two seasons at Ajax, he is finally back to full fitness and playing the best football of his career.

New manager Alfred Schreuder has deployed him as a false nine, rather than in his favored playmaker role. Still, the 22-year-old has shone with 10 goals and two assists in all competitions this season, including four goals in the UEFA Champions League.

Mohammed Kudus
Mohammed Kudus scores Ajax’s second goal in the Champions League against the Scottish Rangers this month [Reuters/Lee Smith]

Kudus’ form is so rich that Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp described him as an “incredible” player. French legend Thierry Henry was also impressed, saying “He came from Ghana’s Right to Dream academy, and he’s living the dream.”

For Ghana, Kudus has also developed into a key member of the Black Stars since scoring on his international debut against South Africa in an AFCON qualifier in 2021 and looks set to be influential in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

A torchbearer, an idol

In Nima, his story continues to inspire many people, and he often visits his youth club, Strong Tower, to donate boots and other items.

“Kudus is not just of the family now, he is there for everyone,” said his uncle Abdul Fatawu Alhassan. “When you enter Nima, they call him ‘The Pride of Nima’, and we are happy that he will represent us at the World Cup.

“He’s also a great inspiration to kids, not just up and coming footballers. Many see him as a role model. He was here with them a few years ago, so when they see him play for the Black Stars, in the UEFA Champions League and score, it inspires them to know they can make it too.”

Nine-year-old Ramadan Osman, who regularly trains at Kawukudi Park in Nima, echoed Alhassan’s sentiments. “I’m a number 10 and I want to be the next Mohammed Kudus,” he declared confidently.

Ghana fans Qatar
Ghana fans cheer in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup [Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP]

Friends and family say he is down to earth, but displays on the field the arrogance and temper that many top players have in their locker.

Gyan, who has closely followed Kudus’ football odyssey, credits the youngster’s humble background for this.

“In terms of personality or character, I’ll say Kudus brought Nima,” he said. “The can-do spirit of Nima – they are known as stubborn people. It is that stubbornness balanced with flexible, applicable methods to achieve success.”

More than 30 million Ghanaians will be cheering Kudus and the Black Stars in Qatar, but the loudest hurray will probably come from Nima. While the world sees Kudus as a talented playmaker, they see him as much more: a torchbearer, an idol.

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