Sudanese soccer sensation Nevello Yoseke spent four months training with a Cruzeiro Esporte Clube youth team in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Jaehoon Kim
From war-torn Sudan through Egypt and eventually here to Canada, Brazil is now the latest stop in Nevello Yoseke’s life as a budding soccer star
From a young age, Nevello Yoseke knew he wanted to become a professional soccer player. And if the 16-year-old’s recent four-month stint with a Brazilian Série A club’s youth team is any indication, it’s a wish that could become a reality.
“Soccer is like my girlfriend,” smiles the amicable Woodroffe High School student. “It’s my everything. I love it.”
That Yoseke is able to talk about a career as a soccer star stands in stark contrast to the first years of his life in war-torn Sudan.
“Back in my country, there are a lot of great players, but they have a miserable life and can’t go anywhere,” notes Yoseke. “I’ve been given a great opportunity.”
When he was three years old, Yoseke’s mother escaped from Sudan to Egypt, where she raised her five children in an environment that proved to be just as tough. As a single mother working as a housekeeper, she had to leave a full day’s food on the table for her young kids before leaving for work at 5 a.m. and returning late in the evening. She remembers stones being thrown at her family.
New life begins in Ottawa
In 2006, the Yosekes’ lives finally took a turn for the better – their refugee application to Canada had been accepted at last. The hard road didn’t stop then for Yoseke’s mom as she worked multiple jobs for cleaning companies, but the strong desire to give her children the chance at a bright future appears to be coming to fruition – on top of the potential for a soccer star, her oldest daughter is studying at the University of Ottawa, with aspirations of attending medical school and working for Doctors Without Borders.
“Nevello’s mom is an amazing woman with a great work ethic,” highlights Woodroffe Tigers soccer coach Matthew Blackwell. “She’s done so much for her family, to bring them to Canada.”
Yoseke feels fortunate to be where he is at the moment, explaining that nothing would have been possible without the contributions of many along the way.
“I really appreciate everyone who has helped me,” says Yoseke, who received assistance to pay for his flights from Brazil. “Obviously, coach [Blackwell], he has been like a second father to me. And most of all, my mom, she has always been there for me.
“I wish some day that I can pay all of them back.”
Soccer journey leads to Brazil
The Ottawa Fury U16 player may have taken the first step in that quest this past September when he was invited to train with the U16 squad of the Cruzeiro Esporte Clube – a historic soccer club in Belo Horizonte that plays in the top Brazilian league.
Woodroffe soccer team’s connection with the two-time Brazilian league champions started in 2009, when an exchange student who played for the Tigers turned out to be the son of Cruzeiro’s club president.
The Woodroffe Tigers went on a 10-day trip to visit Cruzeiro later that year, and while Yoseke was too young to travel on that occasion, Nelson – the Grade 10 student’s older brother and soccer mentor who used to dress for Ottawa South United – was a Tigers player at the time, and got a taste of the Brazilian soccer life.
Two years later, it was the younger sensation’s turn to fly out to South America. Initially, Yoseke was only supposed to train with the club for two weeks, but after impressing the Cruzeiro coaches, his Brazilian stay was extended to four months.
“He’s maturing and he still has a lot to learn, but the basic premise I got from Cruzeiro was that he has a lot of potential,” explains Blackwell. “They’re prepared to give him the opportunity because they see in Nevello a person who is a team player. He’s calm, willing to listen, and is intelligent on the ball, which are key ingredients to make it as a professional soccer player.”
During his four months in Brazil, Yoseke was indoctrinated into the Brazilian style of soccer training. In a country where soccer fans expect their national team to win the World Cup on a regular basis, training sessions are intense and demanding in order to weed out the pretenders from those with real potential to become pros.
“The kids there are crazy good. They’re all about soccer, 24/7. We trained every day from Monday to Saturday and Sunday was the only day we got off,” recounts Yoseke, who works with Parmar Sports Training locally. “They taught us about improving your skills, your movement, your touches, your understanding of the game, and where you are supposed to be on the field at all times.”
Working with some of the best soccer coaches in the world at Cruzeiro – many of whom played with legends like Pelé – it was mostly business in Brazil, although Yoseke did have a little bit of fun as well being a tourist.
“I got to watch a Cruzeiro game and I got to see the new World Cup stadiums,” recalls Yoseke. “They toured me around where the pros live and showed me what they do before games. Now, I’m dying even more to become a professional player.”
Blackwell has observed a “night and day” difference in his young player now compared to when he first went to Brazil.
“His understanding of the game has improved so much,” explains the coach who organized the 11th edition of the popular Woodroffe Cup tournament in March at the Coliseum soccer dome. “You need to be able to play the system that the coaches put together and he’s very good at understanding what it takes to do that now.
“There’s a certain devotion you have to have if you want to become a professional soccer player, which a lot of kids don’t have. Nevello certainly does.”
Yoseke’s long-term goal is to play alongside his soccer heroes, Xavi and Sergio Busquets – star players for FC Barcelona of La Liga in Spain.
Next step up in the air
Yoseke has also been invited back by Cruzeiro to spend more time in their academy with their U17 squad. The only thing holding him back at this point is a Brazilian government policy change with respect to young foreign soccer players; Yoseke has been waiting patiently for his Brazilian visa to be approved, as is an American friend of his, but hopes it will come in time for a June return.
“The coaches there would talk to me after games about what I needed to work on, and I trained every day to improve,” adds Yoseke. “I know I’m not the best yet, but I hope to become the best by training hard, and hopefully, I’ll make it to the big leagues.”