Turning 18 is a milestone in life. The legal age in most countries, it marks the end of adolescence and the start of one’s adult life, when maturity and responsibility come hand in hand.

Uganda prodigy Faruku Miya knows a thing or two about that. Having only just turned 18, the Cranes No10 is carrying the hopes of a country, one that has been absent from the CAF Africa Cup of Nations since 1978, taking on the roles of playmaker, goalscorer, linchpin and captain.

“It feels more like a privilege than pressure to me. It’s an honour to wear the Uganda captain’s armband,” he told FIFA.com. “It feels very special to have been given this job, though I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t feeling a little nervous about it all. Some of my team-mates have obviously got more experience than me and there might be one or two who’ve been taken aback about me getting the captaincy. I think I’ve lived up to expectations though.”

The attacking midfielder has certainly done that, having enjoyed an excellent 2015. After breaking into the national team the previous year, he demonstrated his potential by scoring the only goal of the March 2015 friendly against a Nigeria side containing Vincent Enyeama, who was making his 100th appearance for his country.

Miya, who started his career with Vipers SC before recently joining Belgian side Standard Liege on loan, went on to collect Uganda’s 2014/15 Player of the Season award in June, before scoring twice in the 4-0 aggregate victory against Sudan in October, which saw his national team through to the 2016 African Nations Championship. 

He maintained his momentum in November, when he struck three of the four goals that took Uganda past Togo and into the third round of the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

Miya ended his stellar year on a suitably high note in December, finding the back of the net three times to help Uganda win the CECAFA Cup - a competition featuring national teams from central and east Africa - for the 14th time. And the high-flying teenager has started this year in similar fashion, scoring one and setting up another in the Cranes’ 2-2 draw with Mali in the 2016 African Nations Championship earlier this week.

“I’m not in a position to judge my performances, but I have to strive for more,” said the youngster. “For me what counts is tomorrow. It’s about knowing where I’m going and how I’m going to make that happen. The one thing I can say is that I’ve worked tremendously hard. I was a nobody before 2015, though, and you can hardly say I’m a somebody now.” 

The making of Miya
An unknown quantity no more, the Bulo-born Miya spent the first few years of his life with his father before joining his mother in Kampala, where he went to school and attended a football academy. “To begin with my mother wasn’t very sure about me playing football,” he explained. “She couldn’t really see me making a living from it. My passion for the game was too strong though.”

Sure enough, his talent soon became clear, and after learning his trade at St Mary’s SS Kitende, where he won back-to-back national university titles, he signed for Vipers in 2013. 

It was with the Wakiso Town outfit that his career began to take off. Describing his qualities in a column in The Observer newspaper, Vipers coach Edward Golola said: “He’s a good, humble and kind young man who’s not there for the show. He just keeps it simple when he plays. He doesn’t overcomplicate things. Passing and moving, shooting and scoring: those are the things that help a team win.”

Miya’s haul of 11 goals and his various assists helped Vipers land their second Ugandan Premier League title in 2015, five years after their first.

Reflecting on his role as a team man, the fast-maturing Miya said: “The way I see it, a player’s characteristics depend on the team they play for. They don’t just stay the same. A lot of players dream of turning professional but I’m convinced it all comes down to the way you carry yourself and your mindset – on and off the pitch – and not to statistics. It’s not the player who makes the team but the team who makes the player. I’m nothing more than a link in a chain.”

And a very strong link at that.