Awer Mabil comes across as any other youngster who’s living his dream of playing for his nation — happy, cheerful and with an extra spike in his steps. But try having a chat with him, you see the composure and level-headedness he exudes.
At 23, Mabil today leads the Australian attack at the AFC Asian Cup 2019. And if it was not for his goals and physical presence on the field, the defending champions would have been well and truly on their way back from the competition. After a disastrous start that saw them lose to their opening tie to Jordan, the Socceroos bounced back in a fine manner to notch up wins in their following two games and book a place in the Round of 16.
It was Mabil’s goals and his ability to draw defenders on to himself to set up his team-mates with goal scoring opportunities that set the Aussies on their path at UAE 2019. “It’s easy to score goals when the team is behind you. For the front boys, it’s something that’s amazing,” says Mabil when asked to describe the reason behind such a turn in their performance. “Chris (Ikonomidis) has been doing well, Tommy (Tom Rogic) has been on the score sheet, and then he’s making assists as well. It’s really clicking as a team for us.”
But never been this easy and simple for Mabil. Not too long ago, the 23-year-old lived in a mud hut in Kenya, had one meal a day for survival before finding his way to Australia, only to be bullied, harassed and asked to return to where he came from.
Mabil was born in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, a place to where his parents fled to after the war broke out in South Sudan. Life in the camp was a daily struggle; he lived with his mother, a brother and a sister. They would receive food from the UN once a month but were forced to ration the rice. Mabil ate just once a day, mostly at dinner time. “It’s been a long journey to where I am today,” he says. “It was in Kakuma that we got a chance to move to Australia under a humanitarian programme. I was around 10 then.”
Though the move helped Mabil and his family leave the hardships behind, life was no way easy when they started out. Though the Aussie has great respect for his nation and is a proud Australian, he does feel that racism is a deep-rooted problem in his country. And by living in Australia during his early days, Mabil says that racist comments are ‘normal’ back home. In a recent interview, he would also recall a disturbing incident when his own neighbours tried to attack him.
But for a young man who’s risen through the ranks in Australian football before finding his way to Denmark where he plays for FC Midtjylland today, Mabil has taken up to himself to give something back to the society at this age.
If you would have caught Aver Mabil in action at the Asian Cup, you would have taken note of his goal celebration. Every time the Aussie has found the back of the net, he would cover his face with one hand and place his other hand over the top, with his index and middle fingers pointing up towards his forehead.
When asked about it, Mabil releveled that the celebration was intended to create awareness for people suffering from mental health issues. “It’s basically an attempt to raise awareness for people suffering from mental health issues and to remind them there is always help if they need it. I want them to know that people do care for them. If I can create anything for them to be aware of and people to see that people do suffer, I am the first one to put my hand up and that’s why I created that. We are so lucky as football players to play football, at the same time a lot of people are suffering,” he says.
The 23-year-old said that the two fingers were supposed to represent ‘bringing peace to the mind’ of those who are battling mental illness or depression, and covering his mouth signified that people confronted by such issues should speak up.Published 18 Jan 2019, 17:24 IST