Wednesday 04 May 2016, 08:14

Ben Nabouhane: I love scoring for my country

Greece loves its mythological heroes, courageous figures who have endured in time thanks to their remarkable, time-honoured feats. But now, a new name may have to be added to the likes of Hercules, Theseus, Achilles and Ulysses: that of Levadiakos striker El Fardou Ben Nabouhane.

A virtual unknown when he arrived at the club, the Comorian forward shot to prominence by ending the 2013/14 season as the second-highest scorer in the Greek Superleague. Subsequently sidelined with a serious injury, he has returned to action this season to help his national team reach the qualifying competition of a major international tournament for the first time in their history, a goal they have been pursuing since 2007.

“No, I don’t see myself as a hero,” smiled the idol of the little island nation, situated in the Indian Ocean. “A hero is someone who saves people’s lives. Me, I’m just a human being. I’m an ordinary guy who just plays football. But if I can bring a little happiness to people by doing my job, then so much the better.”

It was Ben Nabouhane who scored the only goal of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations preliminary qualifying round match against Botswana, his country’s first-ever win in a competitive international. Held on 24 March on the Comorian island of Ngazidja, the game against the Zebras was played in rain so heavy that Kenyan referee Duncan Lengani was forced to suspend play for 15 minutes during the second half, with the game still goalless. When the skies cleared, Ben Nabouhane broke the deadlock, bringing a little sunshine into the supporters’ hearts with a low, left-footed drive.

“It was a very important goal for me because I’ve just come back from a long injury, and I absolutely love scoring for my country,” explained the hero of the hour, who in 2007 made history by becoming the first Comorian player to sign a professional contract, with Le Havre, France’s oldest club.

“It was also a huge goal for Comoros, which is a beautiful country but a poor one, and a very small fish in the football world,” he added. “I hope it brought a little bit of joy to the Comorian people, and I hope it will be followed by a lot more success.”

Following in Payet’s footsteps “I’ve wanted to play football since I was a little kid,” he continued. “I used to go and watch my father, who was an amateur player, on the island of Mayotte. He was my idol.

“When I was around ten or 11, my parents sent me to live with my grandmother on Reunion so that I could go to the best schools. Football took over, though. I joined a club, JS Saint Pierroise, and I climbed up through the ranks. The club has a partnership with Le Havre, and like Dimitri Payet, Guillaume Hoarau and Florent Sinama Pongolle before me, I made the trip to Normandy, which is where my professional career started.”

Unfortunately, Ben Nabouhane only had the opportunity to show what he could do for Les Ciel et Marine on six occasions. In 2011, at the age of 22, he left the club for Vannes, in the Championnat National (France’s third tier), where he spent enough time on the pitch to catch the eye of Greek club PAE Veria.

25 goals and two seasons later, he had become one of the stars of the Greek league: “It was a turning point for me,” he explained. “I needed a change of scene and I was treading water in France, though I’m aware that I learned all I know there. When I went to Greece I started to score and my confidence just grew.”

At the end of the 2014/15 season, domestic giants Olympiakos came in for the free-scoring Comorian, only for him to then suffer a serious cruciate ligament injury in the close season. Reflecting on that setback with a hint of irony, he said: “The season was not quite as good and not quite as long as I’d hoped.”

He added: “To help me get back on the recovery trail I was loaned out to APO Levadiakos In January, and it was there that I found exactly what I’d been looking for: the buzz of playing. I started to enjoy my football again. I was having fun scoring goals, and it made me feel happy.”

It made his children pretty pleased too. “I have two little boys who love their football so much,” said Ben Nabouhane, a model father and a hero with it. “They love seeing their daddy on TV. They watch all my matches and they’re very proud of me. I have to live up to their expectations.”