Nur Mohammed suffered the devastating loss of both his parents at the hands of Boko Haram but says it was football that helped console him while Mesut Ozil serves as his role model.

A man holds a banner "Bring back our girls" before the Group F football match between Nigeria and Bosnia-Hercegovina at the Pantanal Arena in Cuiaba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 21, 2014.   AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD
A man holds a banner “Bring back our girls” before the Group F football match between Nigeria and Bosnia-Hercegovina at the Pantanal Arena in Cuiaba during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD

Just 17, the attacking winger currently plays for El-Kanemi Warriors from Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria.

Due to the Boko Haram insurgency they have used number of locations as ‘home’ grounds since 2012, however, they were able to return to their actual home in October 2016.

Managed by Baba Ganaru, they have won the Nigerian Cup twice in their short history (they were only founded in 1986).

Mohammed is expected to eventually play for the senior Nigeria national team but, although he was an integral member of the squad that reached the u20 AFCON in Nigerian and u20 World Cup in Poland, he was not selected for either tournament for reasons he said he doesn’t know.

Nur Mohammed via The Weekly Trust
Nur Mohammed via The Weekly Trust

“I did very well in camp and even played in some of the qualifiers,” Mohammed told The Weekly Trust. “Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t know, I was not selected for the AFCON U-20 championship in Niger and the World Cup in Poland. I felt disappointed because I wanted to make a name for myself and also do my country proud. That was the dream of every player who was in camp at that time. However, I accept everything as the will of God.

“I am still eligible to play for the Flying Eagles,” he added. I am just 17 years plus so I can still play for the next Flying Eagles. I was like 16 years getting to 17 when I played in the last squad. As a matter of fact when I signed up for El-kanemi Warriors, I was the youngest player in the NPFL. So my dream of playing for the Flying Eagles is still intact.”

Now in his final year with the Warriors, the youngster has already shown then great loyalty after they gave him his chance. He could have left when they were relegated but opted to repay the faith they had shown in him as a youngster.

“It is true I wanted to leave El-kanemi Warriors so as to continue to play in the Nigeria Professional Football League but after some considerations, I decided to stay and see out my contract with the club. El-Kanemi Warriors brought me to limelight so I don’t want to appear to be ungrateful. I signed a three-year contract with them and I am in my final year. Maybe from next season, I will be a free agent so I can move to another club.

“I was sad [they were relegated] because it is my childhood club and we were not doing too badly in the league. We started the season very well but suddenly things began to fall apart for us. We least expected what happened. It was in the last six matches that we lost it all. It was not about coaching or lack of good players. Things like this happen in life. You will see something going wrong but you won’t be able to stop it.”

Available for free, you say? That does seem like a price Arsenal would be open to, but does he have what it takes to make a move to the Premier League? That much is not clear. One thing is, however. He wants to.

“If you believe in yourself, it becomes easy for you to play against anybody, he said”. “I am never afraid of any opponent because I believe I have the talent. And once your coach believes in you, he has given you everything. It is left for you to go out there and prove yourself.

“I have so many [role models] but the player I have picked now as my role model is Mesut Ozil of Arsenal. I like the way he plays. He is always very calm with the ball. He is also a good passer of the ball. I learn so much from him.

“I don’t have any club in mind,” he replied when the reporter put it to hi that he sounded like he was in love with Arsenal. “I will be happy to start at any club in Europe. I just need to go out there and play. Look at young players like Samuel Chukwueze, Victor Osimhen, Taiwo Awoniyi, they were given opportunities and are doing very well. Some of us are inspired by their performances.”

Reading about his life to date, it’s not hard to understand why Mohammed sees every day as a blessing, something more of us could do with appreciating without needing to go through the trauma of losing both parents to insurgents.

“It was not easy and it is still not easy but I must always thank God for keeping me alive,” Mohammed said. “I owe my survival to Allah and the game of football.

“Football is everything to me because the game gave me a new life. Playing football helped in reducing my pain. It is the same football that brought me to the limelight. Before I started playing football, nobody knew about me but when I started playing I became popular even beyond my immediate community in Maiduguri.

“For me, football is everything. I will remain grateful to coaches Imama Amapakabo and Salisu Yusuf for their encouragement.

“Football has greatly contributed to peace and unity in the state. Even at the height of the insurgency, football continued to thrive. It may interest you to know that even the insurgents take pleasure in watching football.

“Football has remained the only unifying factor among the people. In football, there is no religion, ethnicity or social status. We are always one. Government should do more in the area of sports because it is one sector that is capable of uniting everyone.”

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.