By Fiifi Anaman | Ghanaian Football Writer

Bayan Mahmud is a Ghanaian footballer whose trajectory has been special.
A boy whose innate will to endure has seen him triumph against the

The 18-year-old now trains with Boca Juniors’ youth side and gets to watch every single game of Los Xeneizes
every single week. And it has come with its perks, like personally
meeting great names and famous stars such as Juan Roman Riquelme, Ariel Ortega, Juan
Sebastien Veron, Fernando Gago and the great Diego Maradona,

 Stuff dreams are made of.

“One time, I saw Messi play live too,
against Venezuela. I was so happy! It’s incredible how I’ve met all
these great players,” Bayan, who despite speaking fluent Spanish now
still remembers his Twi and English, tells Goal Ghana during an interview.

with Riquelme (club captain of Boca), there’s this myth here that he’s
very snobbish and hardly relates with anyone. So everyone is quite
surprised how we get along so well. He advises me a lot too.”

very happy. Boca is one of the biggest teams in the world. Playing in
Boca Juniors is a big deal here in Argentina. I’m very happy and proud
of myself.”

You can’t begrudge this talented attacking
midfielder-turned-right full back for being this happy and fulfilled.
One can’t imagine what he went through to be where he is. His past. His
difficult, but inspiring past.

The tale

Bayan was born in Accra, spending
his formative years in the modest suburb of Awoshie. He moved with his
family – father (former footballer), mother (housewife) and a senior
brother one and a half years older than him – to Bawku, a town in the
Northern region of Ghana. It was there that things took a turn for the
worse in his life.

The infamous violent conflict between the
Mamprusi tribe and Kusasi tribe led to the killing of both his parents
when he was barely 11, in 2005.

“We had returned home one day
only to find them dead. My brother was the one who saw everything,” he
painfully recalls. “I don’t even know how to properly explain it. I
don’t want to remember it.”

Tears well up in his eyes as he recalls the

Himself and his brother had to live in an orphanage. His life had
changed drastically, and he became desperate to escape from the darkness
of what had happened to him. He began living on the edge, looking for
every opportunity to flee the North. He got in luck at some point in
2010, when a cargo truck driver was kind enough to give him a free ride
to the Southern part of Ghana – Cape Coast to be precise.

He left
his brother, Muntala Mahmud, behind. He couldn’t find him when leaving.
Little did he know that would be the last time they would be in contact
in a long while.

On a mission

Bayan was
on a mission. He did not know exactly where it would take him, but he
just wanted to go. To move far away. To forget. Most importantly, he had
to escape. Escape from possibly suffering a similar fate like that of
his parents.

“I just wanted to go, to escape. To flee. I just
wanted to go somewhere different and new. I had to beg a lot of people
and ride on my luck. I knew I had to survive.”

This drive
resulted in him making friends in Cape Coast, who helped him get unto a
ship in the neigbouring Takoradi as a stowaway. The riskiness was not a prospect that deterred him.
He was scared of the possible repercussions of being caught, but he did
not let his apparent fear serve as an obstacle course in his quest to
leave the country.

“I did not even know where the ship was
going!” he remembers and forces a laugh. “I was afraid because of that.
It was very dangerous. But I was determined. I hid in the ship with the
hope of not being caught and hopefully, it taking me to Europe. I took
some gari and water on board, but it all got finished. I had heard
stories of how some people died on board. I was scared. But I wanted to
survive, I knew I would.”

The ship, contrary to Bayan’s guess and wish, was not heading to Europe. It was headed for South America. Argentina.

eventually did get caught – but by a good Samaritan. A crew member on
board saw him and was kind enough to listen to his story and sympathise,
eventually providing his food and water needs and caring for him. Lady
luck had smiled on the young boy. “He gave me everything,” he says
gratefully. “Sad I never really saw him again. He was a good man.”
Bayan, with the assistance of the man, hid successfully on the ship for
three weeks.

“I remember he asked me, ‘Do you know what you are
doing; where you are going? You don’t know anyone. You’re a small boy.
How will you even cope?’ “

“I looked at him and said, ‘So far as God is everywhere I will survive’.”

ship docked at a certain place. I didn’t know the place. But I got off,
wandered around and met a family who offered to give me food. I slept
at a station for three days. I hardly spoke. These kind people decided
to put me on a bus to Buenos Aires because they wanted me to meet more
blacks since they couldn’t relate to me,” he remembers.

“I was in
luck. Getting off the bus, I met two Senegalese people, one of who
spoke English, so they listened to my story and sent me to the
immigration. I was then sent to a refugee shelter in Flores.”

New Life

this point, he knew a brand new life beckoned. A new beginning, a
chance to overpower his dark past with a bright future. He began playing
football in the town square, and his unique talents immediately shone.

was beautifully poetic. It was almost as if his life had been scripted
meticulously, with the script writer knowing his football talent would
finally become a definition of his potential and the avenue through
which his inspiring trajectory would reach dizzying heights. He was
discovered playing football by an enthusiast, Ruben Garcia, who was awed
by what he saw.

Garcia did not hesitate – he knew potential and
he saw it in its pure form. He decided to send Bayan for trials with
Boca, and Bayan didn’t disappoint. “He’s a very good man, and his family
– his wife and two daughters – are like my family. I spend time with
them most of the time,” Bayan says.

Boca were impressed with his
raw quality and drive, and quickly took him in. Bayan passed the trials
and was subsequently registered as a footballer with Boca, entitling him
to accommodation in the club’s facilities at Casa Amarilla.

now on the books of the Under-21s, awaiting a possible contract and a
chance to become the first Ghanaian to play for one of the most
successful teams in South America and the world at large. He cites
Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves as his role models.

And like the
duo he has the talent, his license to aspire. Boca’s Youth team
technical handlers have recently praised his enormous talent, with head
coach and legend Carlos Bianchi also impressed with his progress.

met him several times and we’ve talked a lot. He likes me so much,”
Bayan said of Bianchi, one of the most successful coaches in the world
with a record four Copa Libertadores titles.

Amidst all the
drastic change of fortunes, Bayan missed his brother, and always
wondered where he was, or what he could be doing, and how he was faring.
He finally tracked him down, and had Mark Zuckerberg to thank for it.

He found his brother on Facebook.

miss him a lot. We have been chatting thankfully. He’s also playing
football,” he said. “I’m planning to come to Ghana by the end of the
year to visit him, and my friends too.”

Bayan’s story has made
him a super star in Argentina. Many websites, newspapers, magazines,
radio and television shows have featured him to share his incredible
journey of realising his dreams against the odds. “A lot of them,” he
says, smiling. “They all want to talk to me. Even to a point when I can
hardly talk anymore.”

And the girls can’t have enough of him.
Bayan’s twitter and facebook pages have girls singing his praises and
always wanting him to interact. He has got good looks and a good
physique to match his admirable story. He laughs when I asked him. “They
do worry me a lot. I’ve even had to stop using my facebook pages
because of that. But what can I do, I have to take care of the
situation,” he laughs again.

Bayan has no girlfriend, because –
according to what he told Boca’s official programme some months back –
“it’s now just football, football and football.” He says most of his
mates have started teasing him as being gay because he doesn’t take
advantage of the many girls that swam him for attention and autographs,
and rarely goes out to party.

“I know why I’m here. I know where
I’m coming from, how I got here. I have to think about my future. I
always say to them, ‘You people were born here, you’ve always been. Your
parents are around. I have none of that’.”

“If I say I want to
concentrate on girls I’ll stop playing football. I have to be very
careful,” he says. He further says most girls, owing to his popularity,
throw themselves at him, even offering themselves for him to take
advantage of. But he knows where his priorities lie. And it’s not as if
he has a choice too.

“You have to be serious everyday here.
Training is very important and I have to give it the maximum focus. They
(Boca) don’t joke at all.”

Eyes on the prize

The sort of attention Bayan receives – the TV coverage, radio presence,
magazine covers, the social media fame, the autographs, girls and all
that – can easily distort his focus and hurt his ambition, and also make
him a target of envy too. But he has his eyes firmly on the prize. He
wants to finally walk through the tunnel of the iconic La Bombonera, out
emotionally to wild cheers from 49,000 fans. He knows that first team
dream debut can only come with hard work and focus.

And prayers.
Bayan does not joke with his praying time as a Muslim. He believes Allah
saw him through his ordeal, and has granted him an opportunity to be
great. “I never miss my prayers. I never joke with it because I know
that God is helping me.”

“I’m very lucky. I never even thought
I’d end up in Argentina. I never slept and even dreamt about playing at
Boca. I believe God knows why I’m here. Because playing in a club like
Boca?” he sighs. “That’s a big deal. It’s very difficult to get into a
club like this one. Many players come here for trials and they are sent
back. I’ve been here for three years.”

Bayan has come a long way.
From orphaned street hustler to teenage footballing sensation within
the space of eight years. He has met the right people along the way, and
has endured remarkably. His experiences serve as a guide to him in his
quest to reach the top. “Life has not been easy for me,” he reflects.
“I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve been there before. Now look at me, I might
not be okay, but my life has changed.”

“At times I remember those
days I lived on the streets back in Cape Coast, hustling and suffering,
and ‘Oh God, thank you so much’. It wasn’t easy. I did all that to
survive. When I got here too, within one year, I had had all my
documents sorted. It’s like I’m living with luck. It follows me
everywhere I go. And I believe it’s the hand of God.”

And then
the big question. Ghana or Argentina? “Ghana,” he says. “I want to play
for Ghana.” He says his favourite Ghanaian players are Michael Essien
and Sulley Muntari.

“Argentina have been good to me, it has given me all of this. But Ghana is my home, where I was born.”

parents will be proud of their little boy wherever they are. And Bayan
knows what to do to make them even more proud in the coming years.

This article first appeared on Goal.com Ghana and has since featured on almost all of its International editions, including being translated into multiple languages. It was also featured on countless other websites across the internet.

You can follow me on twitter, @fiifianaman, for the best in Ghanaian (and general) football news and opinion.