Awer Mabil has landed a thrilling transfer to the Spanish La Liga club, Cadiz CF, after assisting Australia in reaching their fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Mabil has signed a four-year contract with the La Liga team where he will compete this season.
Ten days after the Socceroo converted Australia’s game-winning penalty against Peru, the transfer was confirmed in Mabil’s hometown of Adelaide on Friday afternoon.
The 26-year-old spent the final six months of the previous season on loan with Turkish club Kasimpasa, after his contract with FC Midtjylland in Denmark expired.
Born in Kenya, Mabil, a winger, played youth soccer at the South Australian National Training Centre and with Adelaide United.
Mabil was born in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya the year after his parents left the South Sudanese civil war. It is where he spent the first 10 years of his life and where he learnt how to survive in tough conditions.
He originally developed his football skills while playing barefoot on the dusty football pitch at Kakuma, where he and his pals would make footballs out of plastic bags and balloons.
“We made balls out of plastic bags, and sometimes out of our clothes and balloons. If you want to get a ball to bounce, you rip up clothes, blow up a balloon and tie it,” he says.
He says he is currently “fortunate” to play football in boots and that the abundance of balls at practice has “spoiled” him.
Mabil was just 10 years old when his family emigrated to Australia. He admitted it was initially challenging to fit into society because he didn’t know English.
In order to communicate with the local students at school because he did not know their language or culture, he turned to football.
“It was tough at the start because we came here and didn’t speak any English at all.”
“I like to talk to people but I couldn’t communicate with anyone, so it was weird and I was an angry kid at the start and short-tempered.
Mabil made his debut for Adelaide United as a senior in 2013 against Perth Glory.
He made his name on the international stage after scoring the deciding penalty kick against Peru, which qualified the Socceroos for the World Cup.
The stakes could hardly have been higher for a 26-year-old whose childhood dream had been to play on the largest platform — win the shootout and progress to the World Cup finals, or lose it and languish for another four years.
“He had a dream that one day he would play at a World Cup and he would represent Australia,” Mabil’s uncle Peter Kuereng told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Sonya Feldhoff.
The penalty shot Mabil took was as dramatic as they get, as he made his way carefully to the penalty area amid applause and boos, setting the ball down on the penalty spot before adjusting it.
Any nervousness vanished in the moments that followed. Pedro Gallese, the goalkeeper for Peru, had dived the opposite way when Mabil approached the ball coolly and casually and off a short run.
It was the penultimate kick of the match, giving the Socceroos a lead that they would take advantage of seconds later when Andrew Redmayne made a stop akin to Mark Schwarzer to end Australia’s quest for a spot in Qatar.
Mabil dedicated his goal to Australia for welcoming his family after they fled Sudan.
“I knew I was going to score. It was the only way to say thank you to Australia on behalf of my family,” the winger said.
For Mabil, achieving national success meant achieving personal fulfilment. Qualifying meant achieving his childhood dream of dominating the game he loves.
The same feeling was voiced by his uncle, though more laconically and with the demeanour of someone whose pride is restrained by modesty.
In 2018, he was called up to the senior national team. Another irony is that he just missed that year’s World Cup because the Socceroos played their first game after the competition in his debut match.
He played in more than 100 games for Denmark, including the 2020–21 UEFA Champions League, where he became the latest Australian to score in the continent’s premier club competition.
In the southwest of Spain, Cadiz CF was established in 1910. They earned a promotion back to the top division in 2020 for the first time in 14 years, and they finished 17th in La Liga the following season.
Mabil might face a recognizable opponent to start his 2022–23 season when Cadiz takes on Real Sociedad in their opening La Liga match on August 14.