Pescara midfielder Mamadou Coulibaly reveals how he risked everything to get to Italy - “if the boat had sunk I’d be dead”.
The 18-year-old played a full 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw with Milan on Sunday, and has revealed his incredible journey from Senegal to Serie A.
“I left with a backpack,” Coulibaly explained to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I only told Mamadou, my best friend, my parents thought I was at school. I turned off my phone and didn’t call for three or four months, they thought I was dead.
“I had enough to eat at home, there’s me and my two sisters. My dad didn’t want me to play though. For him studying was important, we’re a family of teachers. He’s a PE teacher and my aunts are professors in other subjects.
“He told me he’d take me to some European teams, but it was just to keep me quiet. I risked my life for football, but I did it for them. Soon I’ll be able to help them.
“I paid for a ticket for the bus from Dakar to Morocco, and that wasn’t dangerous. It got worse later.
“In Morocco I was sleeping in the port, I didn’t have money for the boat. A man saw me there for a few days and asked me what I was doing sleeping on the street. I told him I wanted to go Europe.
“After a few days he came back, he was working on a ship which was going to France and he told me I could go.
“It wasn’t a boat like the ones you see on TV, it was bigger and it was transporting food. There were 20 other boys with me. I was there for football, I don’t know about them, I didn’t know their dreams.
“Sometimes in Italy they called me a ‘boat person’ to insult me and I didn’t react. That’s how I got here, and I’m no better than all the others who arrived in Italy by boat.
“It wasn’t dangerous, but then I can’t swim. If the boat had sunk I’d be dead.
“The most difficult moment? At the beginning, in Livorno. A man had brought me there to introduce me to some teams, then one morning I woke up in a hotel and he was just gone.
“I didn’t have any money, I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t speak Italian. He saw me play on a beach and took me to Livorno for a trial, which I wanted, but I didn’t have the right documents.
“I was sleeping on the street and if I was lucky I’d get a sandwich. I was in Rome, then they told me there were a lot of Senegalese in Pescara so I took a train without buying a ticket.
“I got off at Roseto, the wrong stop, and I slept on a pitch. The police found me and took me to a foster home in Montepagano.
“I had trials with Cesena, Sassuolo, Roma and Ascoli but no-one took me. I played a bit of school football as a child in Senegal, and I learned playing on the street.
“The rest was on TV, I watched a lot of matches and learned the movements.
“What did the Milan game teach me? That maybe one day I can play at this level. I’m sure, because playing comes naturally for me.
“Milan are one of the teams I support, it’s Milan, France and Manchester United.
“My dad is strict, two years ago I couldn’t tell him I was in France, he’d have made me come back. Now we talk every day, he says he’s happy and I’ve apologised.
“I haven’t seen him or my mum for two years and I miss my mum. When I left she cried, she didn’t think I was still alive.
“Now? I feel lucky.”
imagie via pescaracalcio.com