Bayan Mahmud: A Road Less Travelled
Stowed away on a boat travelling to an unknown location, Bayan Mahmud could not have imagined what lay ahead. 28 months ago he was fleeing from a tribal war in his native Ghana, a conflict that had already claimed the lives of both his parents in 2005. Now he’s on the books of Boca Juniors, training in the shadow of the Bombonera, and hopes to one day be the first black player to represent Argentina.
In just 18 years he’s already packed in more than most people would in an entire lifetime. When trouble between Kusasi and Mamprusi tribes flared up once again over longstanding chieftaincy issues, Bayan and his brother Muntala realised they had to run away from the orphanage to avoid suffering a similar fate that befell their parents five years previous.
In an interview for the Boca Official Program, Bayan (a member of the Kusasi tribe) explained: “They [the Mamprusi] can be identified by a mark on their body. If they saw me, they would have realised that we didn’t have a mark because we weren’t born in the capital. And they could have killed me or something. Therefore, I had to leave.”
Bayan was split up from his brother during their escape but managed to get to Accra and smuggle himself aboard a boat, although he had no idea where it was heading. Three lonely days after finally arriving in Argentina, he met a couple of Senegalese guys who helped him out in this unfamiliar new reality. He ended up at a refugee centre in Flores before moving to Constitucion where he started playing football on Saturdays in the nearby Plaza Garay. His talent was immediately obvious and it was there that Ruben Garcia spotted him and brought him to Boca for some trials.
A converted right back in the 1994 age category, Bayan impressed and has been with the Buenos Aires giants since early 2011. The club have housed him in their accommodation at Casa Amarilla and have assisted in the refugee process so that he can remain in the country permanently. Earlier this year he was finally granted permission to officially join the club’s youth ranks and is highly thought of by the coaching staff. Boca’s director of youth football Jorge Raffo has praised his speed, agility and technique although stressed the need to work on his heading and tactical discipline.
Bayan is not the first African player on the books at Boca however. Between 1994 and 1997 former Cameroonian international Alphonse Tchami scored eleven times in just under 50 appearances for the Azul y Oro and more recently Gabonese striker Franck Engonga was snapped up after playing in the London Olympics, although he has yet to appear for Los Xeneizes.
Though South America has traditionally not been amongst the main importers of African talent, there have been some rare but notable examples in Argentinian football. Ugandan and Red Bull Salzburg defender Ibrahim Sekagya represents one of the success stories, having spent six years in Argentina at three different clubs – Rafaela, Ferro and Arsenal – clocking up around 200 appearances. Elsewhere the magnificently named South African Doctor Khumalo turned out a few times for Ferro in 1995 while Nigerian midfielder Felix Orode currently plies his trade at Primera C Metropolitana side Lujan after stints at San Lorenzo and Nueva Chicago.
Regardless of whether Bayan fulfils his dream of playing in the Primera or not, his incredible journey already represents a triumph against all the odds. There is still a long way to go on a path not often trodden but perhaps this fairy tale hasn’t finished just yet.