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Moustapha Cisse’s extraordinary season

Moustapha Cisse’s extraordinary season

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Football is awash with stories that describe one player’s improbable rise through the ranks to sporting fame. But none quite come close to Moustapha Cisse’s rise.

Football is awash with stories that describe one player’s improbable rise through the ranks to sporting fame. 

Jamie Vardy’s story is the most well-known in recent years. Ask fans of a certain age and they’ll describe it as being like ‘Roy of the Rovers stuff’.

But no cliche can do justice to Atalanta’s Moustapha Cisse’s staggering season.

Three years ago, Moustapha Cisse arrived in Carmiano, South Italy, as a 16-year-old from Guinea, searching for a better life following the death of his father. 

He was a keen footballer, and as is sometimes the case for people finding their way in an unfamiliar place, he joined a football team.

He found ASD Rinascita Refugees – a team supported by a local social co-operative for asylum seekers, whose first team play in the eighth tier of Italian football.

At first, he wasn’t even sure he was good enough to play for them, but was encouraged to stay by the coach and carry on playing. 

As it turns out, sticking around was a good decision. 

Over the coming months, Cisse continued to flourish for the eighth tier side – but football was purely for fun – the President of Rinscita Refugees told BT Sport: ‘He wasn’t looking to become a footballer, he just wanted to settle in.’

Asylum seekers ‘Settling in’ is a major political topic in Italy. 

According to the global think tank the ODI, immigration became the second-most important issue in Italy between 2015 and 2017, when the number of people arriving by sea from north Africa was high and immigration was increasingly visible.

“Italy is warning it needs more help to deal with the surge in the number of migrants arriving there via boat from Libya amid reports there were tens of thousands waiting to cross the Mediterranean.”

BBC News

A UNICEF poll last year found that 80% of young migrants and refugees said they had experienced or witnessed prejudice in Italy.

Which might explain why Two years ago, Rinascita Refugees’ manager Vincenzo Nobile, said the key aims of the club was to be inclusive and make football anti-racist.’

Last year, Moustapha Cisse went to see a match at Lecce – his local ‘big’ club – who were playing Serie A side Atalanta.

After the game, an Atalanta director approached Cisse, and told him they’d heard good things about him, and wanted him to travel for a trial at the club.

He told the director he must have been joking, but was told they were deadly serious.

So, he made the 1,200 kilometre trip to Northern Italy for a trial.

And he excelled. 

So much so, the club signed him for their Under-19 side, the Primavera, in February this year.

And, once again, he excelled, scoring three goals in his first three games for his new team.

In March, Atalanta’s first team struggled with injuries, and manager Gian Piero Gasperini called him up to the first team squad. 

And, I think you know where this is going…

And here is Cisse, oh he’s found the back of the net! What a story – from eighth tier football to Serie A in a matter of weeks, and now he’s scored on his debut… the eighteen-year-old.  

BT Sport

In March, Moustapha Cisse scored on his full debut for Atalanta against Bologna, in Italy’s top division, a month after joining from an eighth tier club.

It was a pure Jamie Vardy, Roy of the Rovers kind of moment. 

But you have to remember where he’s come from – a young man, trying to settle in a new country, welcomed by a Refugee team, is spotted, excels, and scores the only goal in a game for Atalanta – who are still fighting for a Europa League place in Serie A.

When he scored that winner against Bologna, Cisse messaged his old coach at Rinascita Refugees. 

He said, ‘Boss, am I someone now?’

For Atalanta, Cisse is not just someone – in the coming seasons, as he finds his way through the game, he could flourish into a new hero.

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Imy Harper.