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First team

From homelessness and foster care to the Premier League

AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Arnaut Danjuma’s journey to the Premier League has been a story of triumph over adversity.

Born in Lagos, he was a third child to Nigerian mother Hauwa and Dutch father Cees, who was working in the country in dredging at the time of his birth.

However, his parents divorced when he was just four, turning Danjuma’s world and life upside down.

Back in Holland, Danjuma, together with his mum, brother Reinier and sister Lisette, was briefly homeless before he was eventually put into foster care.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty and instability, Danjuma’s release was his football.

In a candid and often moving interview with afcb.co.uk, Danjuma takes up the story: “I started playing football when I was four. It kept me out of trouble and kept me enjoying life. It was an escape.

“After my parents had got divorced, it was difficult for my mother to find a place to live and to make a living.

“We didn’t have anywhere of our own to live and stayed with friends when we could. Some days, we would end up sleeping in the car because we had no place to go.

“It was only for a short period of time and it wasn’t long before she found her own place. Then, everything went right but the beginning was very difficult.

“Eventually, myself and my brother and sister went to live with foster families. I didn’t like it.

“I was playing for a team called FC Oss and the foster family lived in the same city as my dad. They wouldn’t take me to football and wouldn’t take me to school.

“As a young kid, it’s difficult to understand the reasons and logic behind it and it was very frustrating for me.

“My dad would pick me up in the morning, drop me at school, pick me up from school, drop me at the foster family, pick me up at the foster family, drop me at football, pick me up from football and drop me at the foster family. It was a really hectic period.

“My mother did a great job as well and took care of the kids whenever it was possible.

“Even though they are divorced, my parents have always had a good relationship. Sometimes when people divorce, you hear stories about them having a negative way of communicating but, for me, everything has been perfect with the family.”

When he was 11, a court ruled Danjuma could leave foster care and return to live with his father. It coincided with him joining the youth ranks at PSV Eindhoven.

Asked whether he knew why he had not been allowed to live with his parents when he was younger, Danjuma replied: “To be honest, I don’t know. Some things happened in my family.

“I’ve never asked my mother or father about it. It’s the little part of my life I want to leave out. There are some things you are better off not knowing.

“I had a tough upbringing but it has motivated me. I think you become a stronger person and take a lot from it because I had to grow up from a very young age. I understood life and a lot of other things that most kids wouldn’t understand until they are older.

“I saw a lot of kids and a lot of good players who were rich when they were young and had everything they wanted. I would rather have had my start because I think I learned more.”

Danjuma’s mother moved to England after he had signed for the Cherries in July and he has “got her a nice place to live”.

His father watches his games in Holland and will soon come to Dorset, while his brother is studying for a Masters and his sister recently graduated from Imperial College London.

Despite progressing through the academy at PSV and spending eight years at the club, Danjuma made just one appearance for their reserves and was released in 2016.

Recalling his time there, Danjuma said: “When I first joined PSV, I was a big talent and, initially, everything felt good. But as I got older, it was difficult to find my own place there.

“When you get to 16, they give contracts to the players they believe in. They didn’t offer me one, which was fine at the time.

“But as we continued, I didn’t feel it was as fair as it would have been. Football isn’t fair, it’s the harsh truth.

“People think it’s like ABC – if you are good, you will get a contract and be in the first team. But there are lots of things people don’t know about like politics – let’s keep it at that!

“Everybody in my team were driving the biggest cars and had the biggest houses and stuff like that. I had a train ticket to get to training.

“With my difficult past and the hard times I had been through, it was natural for me to move on and make the best of it.

“It frustrated me. In my eyes, I always performed better than the players they gave the stuff to. I always felt I was in the same position as them so thought I would get the same as them.

“Some coaches told me the truth about how it worked. There were times when I become outraged and angry.

“The coach came to me and said I was one of the best players in the team. There were three or four who really believed in me and helped me through that period.

“But I wasn’t offered a contract so I knew it was the end. I wanted to try my luck somewhere they would acknowledge my skills and talent so that’s what I did.”

Danjuma’s career started to take off after he had signed on a free transfer for NEC in June 2016. He was quickly elevated to the first-team squad and made his Eredivisie debut in a 4-0 defeat by PSV early in the 2016/17 season.

He went on to establish himself in the NEC line-up but his heroics failed to save them from relegation as their two-year stay in the top flight ended.

Danjuma became a sensation in the Dutch second flight and eventually earned a move to Club Brugge.

“Up to now, NEC was one of the best periods of my career,” said Danjuma. “I started in the second team, performed well and made loads of friends.

“After we had been relegated, the coach was sacked and replaced by Adrie Bogers. He is one of the favourite coaches in my career. He helped me a lot and still helps me today.

“At Club Brugge, everything moved really quickly. We qualified for the Champions League and I earned my first caps for the Dutch under-21s and national team, scoring on my full debut against Belgium.

“I have learned to expect the unexpected. I’m a confident person and know football moves quickly. As long as you perform and show you have quality, anything is possible.

“It has always been a dream to play in the Premier League and to become the footballer I am today. I have always believed in my qualities and have always kept going, through good times and bad.”

Some days, we would end up sleeping in the car because we had no place to go.

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