Accra, Ghana – In Nima, Mohammad Quddus enjoys god-like status. In the dense neighborhood of Accra that he calls home, the locals are proud to have his name in their voices.
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.
For the people of Neema though, he will always be the innocent-looking, lanky kid who mesmerized them with his magical left foot in the decaying Kavukudi Park for years.
An episode from his time 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 accuracy rare among footballers his age. In the end, he scored all six goals and Strong Tower drew 6–6 with their opponents.
To this day, the memory of the young star who outclassed his opponents that day in 2011 remains a legend in these parts.
“I first saw Kudus play on the street, and I immediately saw a good player in him,” says Strong Tower manager Joshua ‘Ayoba’ Awuah, who discovered Kudus and set him on his path to greatness.
“I invited him to my training ground and he was brilliant from day one,” Awuah said. “I named him ‘the best in the world’. He was only 10 when I met him, but his quality was evident.”
‘Books and Shoes’
Nima, a slum community in Accra, is commonly associated with gangs, crime and drug abuse. Until recently, anyone born or brought up there was seen as bad company.
In recent years, many of its residents have rejected these stereotypes, including President Nana Akufo-Addo and Kudus, who are using football to highlight the neighborhood.
For King Osei Gyan, director of the Right to Dream Academy in Akosombo, eastern Ghana, where Kudus eventually went, he represents “the next generation of Africa’s top talents who really know their self-worth and they will fight for it.” And will stand for it.” This”.
The athlete’s willingness to combine football with education also helped his success, those who knew him said. Young Qudus was a genius on the pitch and brilliant in the classroom. Something that helped them both was a football tournament organized by a non-profit organization called Books and Boots in Neema.
The NGO specifically targets communities facing poverty, crime, drug abuse and teen pregnancy with the aim of using football to encourage children to adopt a culture of reading.
Nima ticks all the boxes.
“Kudus must have been around 12 years old and he was very young,” said Yaw Ampofo-Ankrah, CEO of Books & Boots. “He was not an exceptional player, but he had the skills. Apparently, he crossed the road from Nima and played with his brothers and cousins.
“Those who saw him closely were very impressed, and after the incident, Right to Dream Scouts contacted me and asked permission to speak to the boy’s representatives,” he said.
That’s how Qudus ended up at the Right to Dream Academy. His coaches said he was raw but fit seamlessly into his new surroundings.
Oman Abdul Rabi, Skill Development Coach, Right to Dream said, “Qudus showed great potential entering on day one. “The way he was taking his touches, his movement and general play, you could see he had potential.”
In his six years at the academy, Kudus gave his all, playing in midfield and occasionally moving up front due to his versatility. Beyond his talent, his strong character made him a popular figure among teammates.
Gyan, one of the first batch of players who enrolled at the academy when it began in 1999, went on to play for Fulham and was capped once by Ghana before returning to the academy in an administrative role.
That whole experience taught the 33-year-old Kudus to see that Kudus had the right mix of attitude, football ability and hard work – qualities Gyan says have shaped him into the player he is today.
Gyan said, “From day one, Ayoba kept saying whether Kudus would become the best player in the world.” “For me, it was his ability to try things, turn the ball over people’s heads and try and make a difference in the game.”
One of his many fondest memories of Qudus’ time at Right to Dream, aside from the Division Two game.
“You know how in Ghana there are lower division games with big men. “If you miss the ball, don’t miss the man. Qudus was about 16 then, but what made him special was his technical ability against men and that kind of grace right now.” Also to compete physically and not necessarily get pulled into any fights or jealousies, despite the constant kicking, and still remain the best. As a teenager it said a lot about him.”
Kudus was a key member of the academy team that went unbeaten during their European tour winning four trophies including the Nike World U15 Premier Cup.
Emmanuel Ogura, Kudus’ former teammate at Right to Dream, said, “He was very difficult to play against.” “He was very scary because he always wanted to dribble and create something. I’m hoping he will break out even more.”
By the time FC Nordsjaelland came calling in 2018, Kudus was ready to face the world. A few days after his 18th birthday, he became Nordsjælland’s ninth youngest ever player and scored 11 goals in his only full season with the club.
In mid-2020, after 18 months in Denmark, he found a dream move to Ajax and has since grown in both position and mindset.
In 2020, he was nominated by Italy’s Tuttosport newspaper for the Golden Boy Award for being one of the most influential youngsters to play in Europe that year.
Although his first two seasons at Ajax were plagued by minor injuries, he has finally regained full fitness and is playing some of the best football of his career.
New manager Alfred Schrader deployed him as a false nine rather than in his preferred play-making role. Nevertheless, the 22-year-old has scored 10 goals and two assists in all competitions this season, including four strikes in the UEFA Champions League.
Kudus has had such a rich vein of form that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described him as an “incredible” player. French legend Thierry Henry has also been impressed, saying: “He came from Ghana with the academy right to dream, and he is 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 the 2021 AFCON qualifiers and looks set to be impressive at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
a torchbearer, an idol
In Nima, his story inspires many, and he often visits his boyhood club, Strong Tower, to donate shoes and other items.
“Qudus is no longer just for the family, it is for everyone,” said his uncle, Abdul Fatawu Alhassan. “When you enter Nima, they call her ‘The Pride of Nima’, and we are delighted that she will represent us at the World Cup.
“He’s also a huge inspiration to children – not just to upcoming footballers. Many look up to him as a role model. A few years ago, he was here with them, so when they saw him playing for the Black Stars in the UEFA Champions League When they watch him play and score for the U.S., it inspires them to know that they too can make it.
Nine-year-old Ramzan Usman, who often trains at Nima’s Kavukudi Park, echoed Alhassan’s sentiments. “I’m number 10, and I want to be the next Muhammad Quddus,” he declared confidently.
Friends and family say he sticks to reality, but on the pitch displays the kind of arrogance and temperament that many top players have in their locker.
Gyan, who has closely followed Kudus’ football odyssey, credits the youngster’s humble background for it.
“In terms of personality or character, I would say Kudus brought Neema with him,” he said. “Can do Nima’s spirit – they are known for being stubborn people. It is that stubbornness that is balanced with flexible, applicable methods of achieving success.”
More than 30 million Ghanaians may be cheering on the Quds and the Black Stars in Qatar, but the loudest hooray will probably come from Nima. While the world sees Qudus as a brilliant playwright, they see him as much more – a torchbearer, an idol.