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‘I’m just having fun’: Mohammed Kudus on goals, Ghana and his celebrations

By The Guardian
Football News 'I could have stayed at Ajax but I don't want to be complacent and comfortable,' says Mohammed Kudus. Photograph: Shaun BrooksAction PlusShutterstock
MAR 30, 2024 LISTEN
'I could have stayed at Ajax but I don't want to be complacent and comfortable,' says Mohammed Kudus. Photograph: Shaun Brooks/Action Plus/Shutterstock

Some defenders bounce off Mohammed Kudus and most end up bewitched by his footwork. West Ham’s Ghanaian sensation is an intriguing mix of strength, skill and imagination. His technique makes him one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League but Kudus believes his steely edge owes much to his upbringing in Nima, a place that teaches you to stand up for yourself from an early age.

“Mentally it’s a very tough area,” he says. “You have to be very tough to live there. If you are soft people walk on you. It has an impact on how I play. In 50-50 challenges I don’t want to lose it. I work on my body and make sure I am very strong on the ball.”

Kudus, who has been outstanding since joining West Ham last summer, laughs when he remembers the football back home. “There are no rules over there!” he says. “It’s all in. You have to be very strong.”

Nima, a market town in the greater Accra region of Ghana, has a difficult reputation. “When you say Nima it’s like there’s a lot of violence happening there, it’s like a ghetto and you need to be street smart and tough to stay there,” Kudus says. He is out to change perceptions. “There’s a lot of professional players from there,” the 23-year-old adds. “It’s why I always keep mentioning where I come from. There can be talent as well.”

Kudus is a role model. He loves connecting with his roots but it is no longer possible for him to live his old life when he visits home. He is too famous to do normal stuff – “like going by the roadside to get some food” – but his heart is there. A mural of Kudus went up in Nima after he scored in Ghana’s win over South Korea in the 2022 World Cup; he does not feel weighed down by being a champion to so many.

“It’s my responsibility to share my story and represent where I’m from,” he says. “I don’t feel it’s a burden. It’s a responsibility that comes with the position that God has put me into. I’m just trying to put more light on to this area, get more scouts there and engage more young footballers there.”

Kudus, whose footballing journey began when he joined Strong Tower FC at the age of 10, wants to give back. “Any time I’m in Ghana I visit my old club,” he says. “I have my project with Puma. We had a partnership where I got kits and boots at the end of every season and take it back to my home town. When I was growing up not all the guys had football boots and they couldn’t play. Some played in bare feet. I try to help.” Kudus is funny, smart and confident, but he is humble. He thinks about his family – his mother, Mariam, his brothers, Rahman and Fatawu, and his sister, Miyuna.

He remembers being away from them after joining Ghana’s Right to Dream academy. “It comes down to sacrifices,” Kudus says. “I moved to the academy when I was 11 or 12, and I had to stay far away from home. Sometimes I’d go home just two times a year.

Kudus calls Luke Shaw, the Manchester United defender, his toughest opponent. He thinks about scoring a stunning overhead kick against Brentford in November. “Stuff like that is just instinct, you know,” he says. “It’s in two or three seconds. When the ball was coming – ‘Bicycle kick – yeah!’ It’s beautiful when it works.”

Was it better than running from his own half and scoring a solo goal when West Ham thumped Freiburg in the last 16 of the Europa League last month? “No, no … I watched Messi do that a lot so, doing it one time, it’s in my books! When I took the ball I didn’t think I was going all the way to goal. But it was getting closer and closer and after the last defender I was thinking: ‘Yeah, I have to score this’. If I didn’t score that … nah. I’m glad I calmly finished it off.”

At this stage it is worth pointing out that Kudus is not a luxury player. Moyes loves his work rate. Kudus understands the game. His favourite position is midfield but he has mostly played as a winger for West Ham. He says being wide makes him unpredictable. He has linked brilliantly with Jarrod Bowen and Lucas Paquetá. “He is like the magnet between the back and the forwards,” Kudus says of Paquetá. “When he is on I know I can run and the ball will come.”

Kudus is thinking big. West Ham are seventh in the league and face Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League quarter-finals next month. “We’re challenging for Europe in the league and we’re going for the cup,” Kudus says. He is ready for the run-in. He was low after Ghana’s early exit in the African Cup of Nations and he was not at his best after returning to West Ham.

“As human beings we need some time to shake stuff off,” Kudus says. “I was injured before Afcon and had to put all my effort into being there to help the team. It was my first Afcon and it didn’t go as planned. When you go back straight into playing nobody ever gives you time to change gear. It had an impact because it was a big disappointment.”

Kudus is revving up again, although he likes to slow down when

he scores a goal. His trademark celebration is to sit on the advertising hoardings and wait for his teammates to mob him. “I just thought about something out of the box and then some other people followed it up,” Kudus says.

“Now there’s a conversation about whose is better. I’ll have to come up with another juice and put more spices in the tin. It’s all about resting after scoring a goal.

“There’s no deeper meaning. I just see it as entertainment, something to make people happy and worth the ticket that they bought. I’m still just having fun in the playground.”

Did he notice Manchester United players copying him when West Ham lost at Old Trafford in January? “They’re allowed to do it,” Kudus says. “But soon they will have to start paying taxes."

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