The current Coronavirus outbreak has put title celebrations on ice, prolonged relegation anxiety and temporarily paused any emergence of young talent into the game. However, one young Kenyan midfielder is embracing the challenge at hand.
Mohamed Katana Nyanje is the latest player to sign for a club in the Belarus Premier League. The 20-year-old’s determination to make the grade in Europe has seen him take in a number of stops since graduating from the state-of-the-art ASPIRE Academy in Qatar (via a satellite academy in Senegal) three years ago, the latest of which is Smolevichi, a small, 16,000 populated town on the outskirts of Minsk.
In a recent interview with BBC Africa, Katana made no secret that this is a huge opportunity to help realise his personal long-term ambitions, “This opportunity is more than dream come true and the fact that it came at a time when the world is going through such a difficult time is a sign that my future is bright”.
Newly-promoted FC Smolevichi is certainly not one the most prestigious of clubs when it comes to European football. They were founded just 11 years ago and struggle to fill their 1,600 capacity Ozyorny Stadium. It should come as no surprise that Smolevichi have failed to win any of their four league games so far, registering one solitary goal this season.
Things can only get better for Katana’s latest employers, who clearly see something in their Kenyan recruit, having tied their man down on a two-and-a-half-year contract. There is a huge opportunity for the former Bandari FC player to make an instant impact at fellow winless strugglers Belshina on Friday.
The select band of FC Smolevichi loyals have plenty to be excited about. Their new left-footed playmaker is quick, direct and confident. What he may lack in size, he more than makes up for in tenacity. Katana has courted some of the biggest clubs in Europe over the past three years, and they’ll be watching on as he tries to help his side climb up the ladder in Belarus.
Upon graduating from ASPIRE Academy – where Katana scored goals against the academy sides of Real Madrid, Benfica and Inter Milan, he was snapped up by 18-time Portuguese champions Sporting Lisbon, and represented their U19 team. The Kenyan then found himself playing for second-tier Leixoes in Portugal, before coming close to signing a lucrative contract at Royal Antwerp in Belgium – frustratingly missing the transfer deadline due to admin delays with his paperwork.
Most recently, Katana spent eight months at Panathinaikos in Athens, Greece, before returning home to Mombasa last September. That was until this unique opportunity presented itself.
While the world of football has been stopped in its tracks by COVID-19, Belorussian football – alongside leagues in Nicaragua, Burundi and Tajikistan – has battled on to play through the pandemic, and has undoubtedly thrived in its newfound limelight.
The Belarus Premier League, or Vysheyshaya Liga to give it its official title, has secured a number of new broadcast deals which has seen the coverage of Belorussian football diversify into approximately 60 new territories. The stage is set for players like Katana to make the most of what is essentially a shop window into bigger and better things.
The exciting prospect has lofty ambitions, telling BBC Africa, “Now I feel settled, my dream is to become the best African player playing in Europe, and join the class of Champions league winners” and his motivation is to pay back the faith and support that his family has put into Katana realising his dreams, “I want my parents to never lack anything in life – they have been there for me.”