It could be considered a blessing that striker Teeboy Kamara, who is representing Australia here at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, has few memories of the early years of his life in Liberia. Born into a country ravaged by civil war, a conflict in which he lost his biological father while still in his mother’s womb, Kamara does not even remember happier times from back then – such as watching the matches of his stepfather and then national-team keeper Twe.
“It’s hard, I don’t remember much about seeing him play. But that’s also because I always preferred to go out and play in the street instead,” Kamara told FIFA.com, before confirming that it was his stepfather – currently Liberia’s senior goalkeeping coach – that introduced him to the beautiful game. “It was definitely down to him: I started playing football at three or four years of age.”
When I got my first proper touch of the ball I didn’t know what to do, and ended up colliding head-on with a defender.
Yet it would take the huge sacrifices made by his mother Esther to nudge her son down the road to a footballing career. Determined to leave Liberia in order to provide a better future for her three children, the family emigrated to Sierra Leone and then Guinea, where they stayed in a refugee camp until they secured a passage to Australia – when Teeboy was just six years old.
Touching down in the city of Adelaide, the family quickly adapted to life in their new surroundings. “My mum fought really hard for us. We embraced Australia as our own nation, we’ve been very well looked after here. Every time I pull on the shirt I want to do my best, because of everything this country has done for me and my family. I want them to be proud of me.” And he is certainly going in the right direction by earning a place in the Joeys’ squad at Mexico 2011; being their youngest squad member at just 15 years and one month of age and playing a part in their opening Group F win.
The lure of football
After enjoying brief tastes of basketball and Aussie rules football, Kamara found his way back to football and joined his first team at the age of eight. This eventually led to him being picked up on the national team’s radar in December last year, when he caught the eye at a tournament featuring Australia’s brightest emerging talents. This in turn earned him an invitation to attend the famed Australian Institute of Sport and now, six months on, he is in Guadalajara taking part in his first U-17 world finals. “To me it was like ‘wow, this can’t be happening’. Last year I was still playing in the park with my friends,” said the player himself.
Before the tournament began, Australia U-17s’ Dutch coach Jan Versleijen had spoken to FIFA.com about the selection dilemma surrounding the 1.69m attacker. “Kamara was born in 1996, so the first thing we had to ask ourselves was: what should we do with this player? Should we use him in this World Cup or hold off until the next one when he’ll be even better? The rules say that he can’t play at two editions of this tournament, but he’s already got the ability to compete at this level. So my suggestion is that, in two years’ time when he’s 17, he be part of the U-20 set-up. There’s no doubt he’s a special player and he’s got a very good head on his shoulders off the pitch too. He can make an impact in this team’s favour.”
Versleijen’s judgement was proved right in the Joeys’ 2-1 opening group success against Côte d’Ivoire, a game his side were trailing 1-0 at the interval. Having levelled the scores on 51 minutes via a stunning Jesse Makarounas strike, the Australia boss opted for the pace of Kamara on 65 minutes. “I was totally stunned when the coach called me over, and I was so nervous when I took the field,” said the player. “When I got my first proper touch of the ball I didn’t know what to do, and ended up colliding head-on with a defender.”
Once his initial nerves were overcome, however, the fleet-footed youngster quickly showed what he was capable of. On 77 minutes, Kamara picked up the ball in an attacking midfield position and drove straight at the Ivorian defence. Despite being dispossessed, Kamara’s mazy run had sown panic in the Elephants’ backline, with Jacob Melling seizing on a loose clearance to feed striker Dylan Tombides, who turned his marker before coolly slotting home the winner.
“All the coach said to me was to go out on the field and do what I do best: which is putting defenders under pressure. That’s why I’m here,” said the forward, as the conversation concluded, before revealing the similar advice given to him by stepfather Twe, prior to jetting off to Mexico. “He just told me to try and enjoy myself out on the pitch.”