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Player advisor Kamara: ”I was three years old and accustomed to having an AK-47 next to my toys”

Abdul Bai Kamara is the A&R manager at Maktub Media and a player advisor at FSB, but his life used to look very different. He grew up in a civil war in Sierra Leone, fled to Europe and was always in love with football. Even though he didn’t make it as a professional, his brother played for the Dutch clubs SC Heerenveen and FC Emmen.

Abdul Bai Kamara

Kamara: “I was born in 1996 in Sierra Leone. I’ve always known there was constant danger. My father worked for the government, so we had protection at home. I was three years old and accustomed to having an AK-47 next to my toys. There was so much negativity: people being gunned down on the streets, neighbors murdered, women raped, houses set on fire. These things happened regularly during the four years we lived there. That has had an impact on me. It makes you look at life differently. Now that I’m older and more aware of how life works, I think back and say, ‘That shit is crazy.’ But at the time, I thought it was just part of life.”

“One day, rebels came into the area again, and everyone fled, but I was young and stubborn: I hid under the table and stayed behind. The rebels came into our house. Meanwhile, my family was panicking because I was missing, but my brother knew where I was because we always played hide and seek. He sneaked back into the house and took me to the bathroom. The rebels had already checked the bathroom, so my brother deliberately left the door slightly open and the light on so it wouldn’t look suspicious. Luckily, it ended well, but that was the last straw for my parents. My mother and I fled to Europe, but my father stayed behind to take care of the rest of the family.”

Early years in The Netherlands

“The Netherlands was a lot of fun for me. I was in a country where clean water was normal. I had a proper bed, friends, went to school, and played football. Growing up in an asylum seekers’ center isn’t ideal, but compared to where I came from, there are much worse things. I was bullied sometimes, but I thought: I’m still alive. What does this matter to me?”

“We lived in various asylum centers until I was scouted by NEC. That got us a residence permit and a house in Nijmegen. I went through the entire youth academy and spent the last two years regularly in the first team squad. I also played briefly for Sparta, but ultimately, I didn’t make it. In hindsight, there were many reasons for this, but at the time, I wasn’t mature enough to see it and take responsibility for my development. It sounds crazy to say, because becoming a professional footballer was the dream. I always wanted to play for Manchester United, but I’m happy with how things turned out. If I had the knowledge I have now, I would have done things differently, but I have no regrets. I became much stronger from the experiences and setbacks, and I still benefit from them today.”

Career switch

“When that dream fell apart, I had a hard time. Who am I really? What is my identity? It was always football. I was very down and depressed. I knew I wouldn’t be playing at Old Trafford, but life goes on. So, I started studying. Nowadays, I represent songwriters, producers, and composers at Maktub Media, mainly in the area of copyright and exploitation. Additionally, I scout talents in the music industry.”

“But football is and remains my great love. I come from a real football family. My brother played for clubs like SC Heerenveen and FC Emmen, and my best friends come from my time at NEC. I regularly went to watch my nephews’ matches. I often got asked: ‘Why don’t you become an agent?’ But I don’t like that term. Agents have the reputation of being selfish money wolves who only exploit players. I don’t want to be associated with that. It’s not always the case, I’ve met good managers too. But I didn’t want that label.”

Helping others

“It wasn’t the fault of a coach or an injury. I looked at myself. That’s why my uncle and aunt asked if I wanted to guide my nephews at NEC. In practice, I was already doing that. I see them as brothers. I want to help them with the things I did wrong, but also the things I did right, and protect them from the dangers of the football world. As a player advisor at FSB, I have a lot of freedom to guide players in my own way. I’ve closely witnessed the development of Isaac Babadi. As a great talent, all of footballing Europe wanted a piece of him. His brother is his manager, but things were moving so fast that he asked if FSB could assist. I have a lot of respect for how FSB helped them.”

“Nowadays, I guide my nephews, two players at PSV, and a player from Willem II. The most important thing I tell them is that they need to take responsibility for their own development. You can always look at other people. There are so many factors you have no control over. You can’t decide if you’re in the starting lineup. The coach decides that. But you can make it as difficult as possible for that coach. You need to focus on things you can directly influence. Train well. Or at least work hard because you can’t always train well. But you can’t cut corners. The football world is tough. Ultimately, less than 2% of players make it. And even fewer reach the real top. So, be realistic and steadfast.”