Gambia refugee Bakery Jatta’s ‘dangerous path of escape’ leads to Bundesliga dream

Gambian teenager Bakery Jatta, who made the life-threatening Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe, has seen his great risk rewarded with a contract at Bundesliga side Hamburg.

Bakery Jatta shown in January during a training session with Bundesliga club Hamburg. Axel Heimken / EPA / January 4, 2016
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Gambian refugee Bakery Jatta has signed a contract with Bundesliga side Hamburg, the club said Tuesday, in what local media dubbed a "football fairytale".

Jatta – who made the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Italy last year as a lone teenager – on Tuesday inked a €10,000 (Dh41,200) a month contract with Hamburg.

The young striker, who had previously never played in a club, impressed the German team during a test session in January but had to wait, under Fifa rules, until after his 18th birthday on June 6 to sign up.

"Bakery has strong playing instincts," coach Bruno Labbadia told Germany's Bild daily. "We look strictly at performance. There'll be no refugee bonus with us."

Jatta said he was overjoyed to have won a three-year professional contract which he signed Monday with the first-division club in the northern port city.

“I’m very, very happy,” he said. “For me it’s a great feeling and a great challenge to play for a big club like (Hamburg).”

• Also see: Bayern Munich welcome refugees for training session – in pictures

Jatta has since his arrival in Germany last August trained and studied in a youth academy run by former boxer Lothar Kannenberg in the northern city of Bremen.

The centre offers a temporary home for troubled youths but also for migrants whom it seeks to integrate into society through language training, schooling and sports.

Germany last year took in more than one million migrants and refugees, mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

In an interview on the Hamburg website, Jatta recounted glimpses from his remarkable journey from the West African country to his new home in northern Germany.

“I grew up without parents, the conditions were very bad for me in Africa,” he said.

“I knew I had to take this difficult and dangerous path of escape if I wanted to have a chance to have a future. I took many risks. It was a difficult time, but now I just want to look ahead.”

Jatta said that at the academy he attended school classes on weekday mornings and then individual training sessions with his coach in the afternoons.

Aside from doing strength, endurance and aquatic exercises, he was allowed to join the evening training sessions of the local club Bremer SV before doing his school homework.

“For me all of this is new and exciting,” he said, recounting that he had received next to no real training in Gambia where “we were on our own, we played football on the street and taught ourselves”.

On his new position with Hamburg, he said, “I want to seize this opportunity, that’s my goal. I want to give everything to become the best ‘Baka’ I can be and become a role model for many other people.”

For now, Jatta’s journey continues. In late June, he will join his teammates at a Hamburg training camp in Switzerland.

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