Mohammed Kudus turned into a key member of the Black Stars since scoring on his international debut against South Africa in a 2021 AFCON qualifier and seemed set to be influential at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
In Nima, in the dense neighbourhood of Accra that he calls home, Mohammed Kudus commands god-like status, as there is pride in the locals’ voices when his name is mentioned.
Not only in Nima, fans of his club Ajax know him for scoring goals, dribbling, creating chances and occasionally pulling off a cheeky piece of skill on the football pitch.
But Kudus’s became national hero after an enormous struggle since his boyhood.
One 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 showing an innate precision rare in footballers his age. In the end, he netted all six goals as Strong Tower drew 6-6 with their opponents.
To date, the memory of the young star outclassing his opponents on that day in 2011 remains an anecdote held dear in these parts.
To King Osei Gyan, a director at Right to Dream Academy in Akosombo in eastern Ghana where Kudus eventually went, he “represents the next generation of top talent from Africa who really know their self-worth and they’ll fight for it and stand for it”.
The athlete’s willingness to combine football with education also helped in his breakthrough, those who know him said. Young Kudus was gifted on the pitch and brilliant in the classroom. Something that helped him do both was a football tournament organised in Nima by a nonprofit called Books and Boots.
The NGO specifically targets communities faced with poverty, crime, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy with the aim of using football to encourage children to adopt a culture of reading.
“Kudus showed great potential the first day he walked in,” said Oman Abdul Rabi, Right to Dream’s skills development coach. “The way he was taking his touches, his movement and general play, you could see that he had potential.”
In his six years at the academy, Kudus gave it his all, playing across midfield and occasionally being moved up top due to his versatility. Beyond his talent, his strong character made him a popular figure among his teammates.
Gyan, one of the first batch of players who enrolled at the academy when it launched in 1999, 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 ability, and hard work – traits that Gyan says have shaped him into the player he is today.
“From the very first day, Ayoba kept saying if Kudus would become the world’s best player,” Gyan said. “For me, the connection was his ability to try things, to flip the ball over people’s heads and to try to create things in the game and to make a difference.”