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The slum boy leading Ghana’s new generation

Mohammed Kudus is not just one of the stories of the World Cup in Qatar, he is one of the stories of the football season.

“Neymar is not better than me. It’s just more publicized, that’s all.” Mohammed Kudus is 22 years old, scores often, assists teammates, has excellent speed, and an ideal physique for football. But, as the above statement also shows, the personality is not bad either.

It’s no surprise. Kudus grew up in Nima, a slum in Accra, where he was surrounded by violence and crime. A tough world, in which he managed to become known thanks to his footballing qualities. Not only the people in the neighborhood knew him, but those who were looking for young talents also noticed him.

“I first saw him playing on the street and immediately saw a good player in him. He was only 10 years old when I met him, but his qualities were obvious. I invited him to the training ground and he was fantastic from the first day,” the man who discovered him, Joshua Awuah, recalled to Al Jazeera. That’s how Kudus ended up at Strong Tower FC, the team in whose shirt he played the first big match of his career. Although no one knew it then.

He was just 11 when he scored all his team’s goals in a 6-6 that is still the talk of the slums of Ghana’s capital. From then on he could not be stopped. He followed the step to the Right to Dream Academy, the place where the most talented kids in Ghana combine football with education. Then, in 2018, Kudus made the move to Europe. The Danes of Nordsjælland transferred him, and, as was afterward seen, they did an excellent business. Because, just 2 years later, they sold him to Ajax for 9 million euros. Initially, the jump proved too brutal for the young Ghanaian. He struggled to find his place, he also had a few injuries, so the move looked like a failure. However, things changed in the summer of 2022. With the “lancers” selling several important players, Kudus became a starter, and his performances showed that Ajax’s scouts saw well.

In the Eredivisie he has 5 goals, but the stage on which Kudus really stood out was the Champions League. Even though Ajax did not manage to get past the groups, being overtaken by Napoli and Liverpool, the Ghanaian scored 4 times, including at Anfield, and provided two decisive assists. Half a season that prepared him for a World Cup where he already made history. In the match against South Korea, which Ghana won 3-2, he scored two goals, becoming the first footballer in the history of this country to achieve such a feat at the World Cup.

As expected, he was named man of the match. “On the field and off it, he is an extraordinary boy, a special character. He’s quick and smart. He needs to work more defensively, but he is on the right track to becoming a great player,” said Ghana coach Otto Addo. Kudus is more than a rising star, he is the leader of the new generation in Ghanaian football.

Always considered one of Africa’s great forces, Ghana had never participated in the World Cup until 2006. In 2010, they were the last representative from the continent to reach the quarter-finals. And the one that came closest to qualifying for the semi-finals. A foul committed on the goal line by Luis Suarez in the last minute of overtime and the missed penalty by Asamoah Gyan eliminated the “Black Stars” and sent Uruguay to the penultimate act. After being eliminated from the group stage in 2014 and missing the qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Ghana’s national team began to change lines, and in Qatar, they went with the team that has the lowest average age – 23.5 years.

Kudus was 9 years old in that famous quarter-final in South Africa, and now Ghana has the opportunity for revenge after 12 years. In the last stage of Group H, the Africans will meet even Uruguay, in a decisive match for qualifying for the round of 16. The youth of the Ghanaians will face the experience of the South Americans, led by veterans Diego Godin, Martin Caceres, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.

But a young man full of courage, who does not consider himself inferior to Neymar, will certainly enter the field without complexes and against the Uruguayan “old men”.

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