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The inside story of: Kamaldeen Sulemana and Right to Dream

Kamaldeen Sulemana has caught the eye in his brief time at Rennes so far. FTF spoke to the scout that spotted him in Ghana about his origins and potential.

Kamaldeen Sulemana’s legs sprang up from the ground and his lithe body spun mid-air in the Eastern Region sunshine. It was the first time Right to Dream scout, Jeremy Seethal, had seen the young boy’s somersault, and he felt a cathartic rush of emotions.

The 11-year-old boy had caught the eye with his pace and dynamism, and with three goals in the match.

“He came towards the end of our scouting process. I remember, just as he does cartwheels now, he did cartwheels when he scored and the feeling I got was one of cartwheels and excitement,” Jeremy Seethal recalls to FTF.

“It can take months, sometimes years, to find that one player. There was a sheer parallel joy, one for me as the scout, because I’ve discovered this rare talent and then one for the player.”

Seethal had joined Right to Dream, only a year prior, having been a scout part time in South Africa. He had seen an ample amount of talent that year, but there was something out of the ordinary about Kamaldeen Sulemana.

“His goals were special, and he did things that just kept surprising me.

“There were flashes of things that I had never seen in the other boys. Automatically I understood he had something that was different.”

A burgeoning talent

Located in the Eastern Region of Ghana, the Right to Dream academy, founded by Tom Vernon in 1999, has developed into a leading institution unparalleled in the world for its football development and educational programmes. The academy’s alumni include Stanford students from as far a field as Ouagadougou and players like Mohamed Kudus of Ajax Amsterdam and Mohamed Diomande of FC Nordsjælland.

Students are given long-term contracts and are trusted to develop at their own pace. Talent is nourished and guided in the right direction. Even when things are going awry.

For Kamaldeen Sulemana, the initial transition to academy life was challenging. Seethal remembers a young boy desperate to make a mark.

“He really believed in his ability to make a difference on the pitch. Sometimes that can be misconstrued as overconfident or arrogant, but the truth is you have to allow young players freedom to be an individual because that is how they achieve their potential.”

His coaches found Sulemana’s self-expression an exciting challenge.

“One of the most difficult things in an academy setting is resetting everyone’s minds. The coaches had a tough time on their hands because they needed to look at the player as rounded too, and they wanted to take him in the direction that they knew best. And between what he wanted and what the coaches wanted, there needed to be a lot of work done. Development is never linear”

Settling into an alternative lifestyle, away from his family and having to adjust to systems and formations was something Sulemana had to get used to.

At other academies, his talent may have fallen by the wayside, but at Right to Dream, Seethal and the academy’s staff and coaches made sure they gave him continued encouragement to keep going.

“At RtD one of the biggest things we try to teach and to understand is to emotionally care for the players in the system which is why we give them a five-year scholarship and we trust them through the periods that they will dip because we know they will come back again. We believe in our scouting, coaches, teachers and ecosystem.

“We have the support off the pitch, the coaches do the work to get the players up to the performance levels and then outside the pitch we look after their potential.

“The whole time we engage with the coaches having open dialogues with them. Within coaching and scouting there is a lot of constructive criticism that goes on and that is very important to get the likes of Kamaldeen, Mohamed [Kudus] and Dio (Diomande) to the level that they are.”

Born to be special

Raised in Techiman, a town based in the Eastern Region of Ghana, Kamaldeen Sulemana grew up with two brothers and honed his skills playing alongside them before being spotted by Right to Dream.

“He is fiercely loyal with anybody who stands by him. I love that about him,” Seethal recalls.

As a young boy, clips of Ronaldinho infatuated Sulemana.

When he came to Right to Dream, he introduced himself as Gaucho to the coaches and the staff at the academy, and the Brazilian legend has been a profound role model.

“He confidently called himself Gaucho,” Seethal chuckles.

“That’s Kamal. He is someone who always wants to learn and get better.”

On the pitch, there are shades of some of the best archetypal wingers of the era in Sulemana’s style of play. At 19, he has the electric pace to beat his opponents, but he has the technical elegance to weave himself out of tight spaces too.

For Jeremy, one of the best innate traits of Kamaldeen Sulemana is something present in some of Africa’s finest stars.

“We have a history of exciting role models in George Weah, Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, or Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. They are all players who put you on the edge, and Kamaldeen plays on the edge.

“I don’t see Kamal having a ceiling. In my mind, when I think about it, I don’t see him having a ceiling. From watching Samuel Chukwueze live, Victor Osimhen, Amadou Haidara, Sekou Koita and Salah in 2011, I still get a funny feeling in my tummy when Kamal lines up a 1v1.

“From putting him up against some of the very best, I don’t tell people this, because I don’t want to put pressure on the player, but I don’t see a particular ceiling for Kamal. I just hope in Rennes they will look after him emotionally.”

Protect him at all costs

At just 19 years old, Kamaldeen Sulemana is already regarded as a key component of Ghana’s football revival.

Fate has starved the Black Stars of superstars in recent memory.

A decade ago, the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari were the beacons of a new, exciting generation.

But Ghanaian football has stagnated in recent years. The country has been on a quest to find new heroes to worship and it is easy to be enamoured by someone of Sulemana’s ilk.

The game is a precipitous one, however. The hype and the attention can be perilous for a young man’s career. Seethal agrees.

“He needs protection. People need to allow him to become the creative force that he can be and he is.

“It’s a bit like how England were back in the day, when they were just waiting for a star to come into the team and then [when they did something wrong] they kicked him.

“He needs patience, too (but this is also his strength to have high standards). If he has patience which I think he is developing for sure, as he is young, then whatever the coaches are telling him, he will take onboard and he will combine that into his game.”

Trial and tribulations are the part and parcel of the game. Like a hero on his mythical quest, Sulemana has now embarked on a journey away from his familiar surroundings.

Where the quest leads him remains to be seen. But his former scout is predicting a bright future ahead.

“Ajax really wanted him. But Kamal makes his own decisions. He is smart.

“I just think it’s different [the step to Ligue 1]. It’s another jump for him. From Superliga into Ligue 1, it’s very different. He has walked into a league where they are known for one vs one battles.

“The players there are prepared and are ready for it. He has made a brave decision, and that’s good because he believes in himself and I never had any doubts about him going there.”

Sulemana has made a promising start to life in France averaging a goal contribution 0.68 per 90 in Ligue 1. His four goals to date have all been unique in their own right and make for an impressive highlight reel.

Sulemana’s explosive trademark runs in Rennes’ left flank have already caused ample problems to opposition defenders, too. According to FBref, he has completed 4.08 dribbles per 90 which ranks him in the 95th percentile for attacking midfielders and wingers in the league.

Seethal believes this is just the beginning.

“The most exciting thing about him is that he has another two levels to go. It’s scary. He will mature as a footballer no doubt and as a person. We at Right to Dream cannot be more proud of him. He is proving our model of care is working.”

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