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The story of Musa Juwara: Fleeing Gambia aged 14 to scoring his first Serie A goal aged 18

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There is something Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that resonates with few people better than it does with Musa Juwara. 

‘Strength does not come from winning,’ the Terminator star said. ‘Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.’

Juwara’s story, which has been pushed into mainstream discourse following his first goal in Serie A on Sunday as Bologna beat Inter Milan, is one of a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean, a heartwarming adoption and a bitter legal battle that threatened his chance to play football in Italy

Musa Juwara’s incredible story is all the talk in Italy after his first goal in Serie A on Sunday

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The 18-year-old screamed out in celebration after netting the equaliser against Inter Milan

The 18-year-old screamed out in celebration after netting the equaliser against Inter Milan

Three weeks ago marked the fourth anniversary of Juwara’s solo voyage from his native Gambia to the coast of Sicily. 

The journey, which Juwara bravely took as a 14-year-old seeking a better life for himself, took the ambitious teenager right across the west coast, past Senegal and Western Sahara, around the northern arc of Africa beyond Morocco and Tunisia.

As an unaccompanied minor arriving into Italy – he was one of an estimated 25,000 that year alone – Juwara’s struggles were not done yet. But for the youngster, he was now in a place brimming with opportunity. 

He was moved to the Potenza region, about two and a half hours south of Naples.

And it was here where Juwara’s fortunes would turn slightly, and then suddenly, for the better.  

Virtus Avigliano, an amateur team operating out of Avigliano, a nearby town in the province of Potenza, gave Juwara a chance to take to the pitch again as he continued to chase his top-flight dream. 

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With Juwara leaving home unaccompanied and still the age of a child, the team’s coach, Vitantonio Summa, acted as the Gambian’s legal guardian. The pair’s close relationship on and off the pitch eventually saw Summa and his wife Loredana Bruno become the winger’s custodial parents. 

His form under his new guardian was unsurprisingly impressive and his name quickly began to stretch beyond the province of Potenza.  

Juwara fled The Gambia as a 14-year-old on a boat and arrived in Sicily in search of opportunity

Juwara fled The Gambia as a 14-year-old on a boat and arrived in Sicily in search of opportunity

He went through an amateur club as his road to his goal at San Siro was not short of adversity

He went through an amateur club as his road to his goal at San Siro was not short of adversity

Juwara, now 18, never needs to look too far from his bio on Instagram to find peace in adversity of which more was to follow after his adoption by his amateur coach. 

‘Believe in yourself and live everything in the hands of God,’ it reads. Given everything Juwara went through just to leave The Gambia, it is difficult to dissuade him from a higher power.  

And there was to be even more pushback, even more hardship to come as a bitter legal battle threatened to end his football dream in Italy before it had even really began.  

The Italian Football Federation [FIGC] but the buffers on Juwara’s decision to join ChievoVerona. 

The reason given by FIGC was that the federation’s new anti-exploitation rules for immigrants to the country prevented a young player being acquired. 

Juwara was said to have been left ‘depressed’ at the situation given he was unable to grasp and understand the red tape that was preventing him from joining a club that desperately wanted to sign him.  

But as Schwarzenegger said, ‘struggles develop your strengths’. Juwara and his new legal guardians eventually acquired legal support and were granted permission to make the transfer to join Chievo in November 2017. 

Sinisa Mihajlovic has been impressed with Juwara's development and has used him recently

Sinisa Mihajlovic has been impressed with Juwara’s development and has used him recently

After an exhaustive journey across the coast of Africa just to make it to the country and then a battle between lawyers to allow him to take his talents to the leagues, Juwara was – finally – on his way to realising his dream of making it as a professional. 

Juwara, who can play through the middle or out wide, where he appears most comfortable, scored eight goals in 15 games in his 2017-18 debut season with Chievo.

That form earned him a first-team call-up and got his first-team debut on the final day of the 2018-19 season after the club had already been resigned to relegation in Serie A.

He came off the bench in a 0-0 draw with Frosinone Calcio. 

In the colours of Torino, Juwara really caught the eye at prominent youth tournament Torneo di Viareggio in Tuscany in 2019 with three goals in three games and suddenly, interest spiked in a player no-one in Italy was remotely aware of three years prior.  

A couple of years with Cheivo was enough to convince frugal Bologna to make a move for Juwara last summer, estimated to be in the region of €500,000 (£452,000).

The plan was to slot him into their under-19 side and develop him as one for the future. But as Juwara as shown, he seems to thrive when the odds are stacked against him. 

Juwara (right) threw himself into getting a career from football as he met N'Golo Kante (left)

Juwara (right) threw himself into getting a career from football as he met N’Golo Kante (left)

His form in the youth set-up saw Bologna boss Sinisa Mihajlovic bring Juwara into the first-team set-up from October and the Gambian has not looked back since.

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Juwara made his Serie A debut off the bench against AS Roma in February before the shutdown for Covid-19 and went one further with a telling contribution against Inter. 

Thrown on by Mihajlovic inside the intimidating theatre that is the San Siro on 65 minutes in place of Nicola Sansone, Juwara would have been within his rights to have been overwhelmed. 

But he did not struggle in his formative years just to freeze on the grandest stage and less than 10 minutes after being introduced he wheeled off in celebration with the equalising goal.   

That goal, which saw Juwara become Bologna’s youngest goalscorer since 2003, gave his side a foothold and Gambian compatriot Musa Barrow, who sought out Juwara for his shirt at the end, finished the comeback for a famous win.      

‘I really want to thank the coach for showing me that trust against Inter,’ Juwara said. 

Team-mate Musa Barrow swapped shirts with Juwara at the end and celebrated on the club's Instagram

It was a huge moment for the whole squad and Barrow was quick to celebrate his team-mate's landmark goal

Team-mate Musa Barrow swapped shirts with Juwara at the end and celebrated on Instagram

‘I’m really happy to score my first goal, which I want to dedicate to my family and all those who’ve helped me on my journey.

‘The coach deserves the praise for this win. This is a dream for me and a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.’  

Given everything Juwara has been through, few could begrudge him his moment in the spotlight. The journey, as it was four years ago, is only just beginning for him. 

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