Mayuka: You have to adapt
"Yo!" came the response as Emmanuel Mayuka answered his mobile phone on his way to lunch following a morning training session. The Zambian international, currently plying his trade with Swiss top-flight outfit BSC Young Boys, was more than happy to make time for an interview with FIFA.com: "No problem, let's go."
Mayuka has every reason to be cheerful. Indeed, the 20-year-old's fledgling career has developed swimmingly at both club and international level, with Zambia making excellent progress in their bid to reach the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations and Young Boys well on course to qualify for next season's UEFA Europa League.
Success comes naturally to the young striker, who first caught the eye as a wide-eyed 16-year-old at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007. His performances in Canada not only impressed the many travelling fans, but also FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG), who remarked at the time: "Agile, pacy midfielder. Good dribbler with great stamina."
Their expert opinion was soon confirmed. After just one year as a professional with hometown club Kabwe Warriors of the Zambian Premier League, the 17-year-old Mayuka was snapped up by Israeli giants Maccabi Tel Aviv. A daring switch, as much for Maccabi as Mayuka himself, considering neither could be certain of how the young prodigy would settle so far away from his family and friends.
But as Mayuka told FIFA.com, his two years in the Mediterranean metropolis proved a wonderful experience: "Tel Aviv is fantastic, one of the best cities I've ever been to. When I first moved there, I tried not to think too much about home. I knew that football was my chance at making a good career for myself. I had to be mentally strong to achieve my goal."
Mayuka's excellent displays in the Israeli top flight, which he puts down to "a good character and a strong belief in God", soon attracted interest from various other European clubs, among them Young Boys of Berne. It turned out to be a match made in heaven
Faced with the daunting challenge of filling the boots of former Young Boys goalgetter Seydou Doumbia, the 5'9 frontman soon repaid the Swiss club's faith in him. In 27 Super League appearances so far this term, Mayuka has bagged a respectable nine league goals.
"My team made it very easy for me to settle in," he explained. "I enjoy living and playing football here. No matter where you move as a player, you always have to adapt to different cultures. It's part and parcel of being a footballer."
Despite his tender years, Mayuka is fully aware of what it takes to assert oneself in a foreign country with a fresh culture and new language. It is this mix of international experience, confidence and coolness which give the 20-year-old the conviction that he can one day achieve his ultimate ambition.
"It's my dream to play for Manchester United. Ever since my childhood, I've always been fascinated by the way they play. It's an ambition which I won't stop striving for, but at the moment I'm fully focused on Young Boys, with whom I hope to reach the Europa League by winning each of our remaining league games."
Mayuka's recent performances in the Swiss top tier and with Zambia have already convinced many experts that the talented striker is indeed capable of realising his Premier League dream. Nonetheless, there is plenty of hard work ahead for the nimble attacker, for both club and country.
The 22-time international is optimistic about Zambia's chances of making it to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon next year and fondly remembers his goal in the important 2-0 qualifying victory away to Mozambique in late March. "It was great. The win was enormously important to keep us in with a chance of reaching the tournament. I'm happy I was able to help the team." Zambia face the same opponents in the return fixture in June.
"We're expecting a difficult match, but football is the absolute No1 sport in Zambia and we know we can rely on our fans. Qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations would mean so much to the whole nation," said Mayuka to conclude the interview, before tucking in to some well-deserved lunch. We could sense he was hungry for more.