Awer Mabil was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Now he will be a Socceroo at the World Cup in Qatar

Awer Mabil’s road to football stardom reads like a scripted Hollywood movie.

Now 27, the Socceroos winger and La Liga star with Cadiz in Spain was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and raised in a hut.

Surrounded by death and disease, surviving each day was a victory in itself.

With the civil war in their home country showing no signs of ending, the Mabil family moved to Australia in 2006 when Awer was 10 in search of a new life.

Football became Mabil’s savior – as communicating with other students came with challenges.

“It was difficult at first, because we came here and didn’t speak English at all,” he recalls.

Awer Mabil couldn’t hide his joy after the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup in June

The Socceroos winger and La Liga star with Spain's Cadiz was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and raised in a shack

The Socceroos winger and La Liga star with Spain’s Cadiz was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and raised in a shack

The South Sudanese athlete moved to Australia aged 10 as his family sought a better life

The South Sudanese athlete moved to Australia aged 10 as his family sought a better life

“I like talking to people but I couldn’t communicate with anyone so it was weird and I was an angry kid at first and quick-tempered.

“If I wasn’t playing football, I wasn’t listening and I didn’t care who was talking. So football was like a savior for me and it was a way to communicate.

Mabil hasn’t forgotten his roots either – and where he learned the basics of the world game on a dirt court from the age of five in Kakuma refugee camp.

“We played barefoot and made balls out of plastic bags, and sometimes out of our clothes and balls. If you want to bounce a ball, you rip clothes, blow up a ball and tie it up,” he told SBS.

“If you just want a normal little ball, you get plastic bags and roll them up, (then) burn them a little so they stick.

“To see so many proper balls these days when I train, I feel blessed.”

After playing their youth football with the likes of St Augustine’s, Playford City and Salisbury East Soccer Club, the Adelaide A-League side were quick to appeal.

He made his debut for the Reds in 2013 and quickly rose to prominence thanks to his electric pace and eye for goal.

Mabil made his A-League debut for Adelaide as a raw teenager before securing a move to Europe

Mabil made his A-League debut for Adelaide as a raw teenager before securing a move to Europe

After stints in Denmark and Portugal, Mabil secured a dream transfer to Cadiz in the Spanish La Liga a few months ago.

After stints in Denmark and Portugal, Mabil secured a dream transfer to Cadiz in the Spanish La Liga a few months ago.

Despite his global footballing success, Mabil remains humble and family-oriented (pictured with his grandmother)

Despite his global footballing success, Mabil remains humble and family-oriented (pictured with his grandmother)

Europe beckoned – and his first move from the City of Churches was for FC Midtjylland in Denmark in 2015.

The coaches recognized Mabil’s raw talent, but in the cutthroat environment of world football, Mabil needed a ruthless edge.

Football is always fun, he was told many times – but winning is everything.

Happy to get as much experience as possible, Mabil was loaned out to Esbjerg fB in Denmark and also had a spell at FC Paços de Ferreira in Portugal.

In 2018, a hardened Mabil broke into the FC Midtjylland first team, winning the title in the 2019-20 season and then playing in the UEFA Champions League.

The highlights kept coming, winning his first Socceroos cap against Kuwait four years ago – where Mabil scored on his debut in a 4-0 win.

Famously, he netted a penalty in the epic penalty shoot-out win over Peru in June, and when selected by Graham Arnold will create his own slice of history at the World Cup in Qatar in November .

Being the first South Sudanese athlete to compete in the biggest sporting event in the world will be a feat that the winger, who always plays the game with a smile on his face, will not miss.

Tragically, Awer Mabil's sister Bor (pictured right) died in a car crash in Adelaide in 2019

Tragically, Awer Mabil’s sister Bor (pictured right) died in a car crash in Adelaide in 2019

And while many of his Socceroos teammates ran in to celebrate with goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne after being the unlikely hero in the win over Peru, Mabil was filmed soaking up the moment on his own.

Next to the poles, Mabil pointed to the skies, then burst into tears of unbridled joy as a childhood dream many considered impossible came true.

Many believe he was reaching out to his sister Bor Mabil, who died in a January 2019 car crash in Adelaide.

Away from football, Mabil set up Barefoot to Boots with his brother in Kakuma to ensure better “health, education and gender equality” outcomes for refugees.

The organization continues to thrive, and Mabil is the hero in the eyes of countless starry-eyed youths.

Her uncle Peter Kuereng summed up Mabil best – “it’s been a journey…and means a lot to Awer,” he said.

“Despite many challenges, he succeeded.”

About Wanda Dufresne

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