Celtic believe they have attracted a special talent in paying £2.8million – a record sum for a teenager signed by a Scottish club – for Eboue Kouassi. They have certainly co-opted a special mother into the Brendan Rodgers project by recruiting the 19-year-old midfielder.
Midfielder Kouassi – his family name, not his forename as was previously thought – will make Scotland his fourth place of residence in his short life. Born and raised in Abidjan in Africa’s Ivory Coast, a short spell in the youth set-up of Armenian side Shirak was followed by two and a half years with breakthrough club Krasnodar, from whom Celtic prised him three weeks ago.
In Scotland, as in Russia and Armenia, growing up at so young an age so far from home will be “difficult but not too difficult” according to the youngster, because once again his mum, Florence, will be by his side. In uprooting to settle 5,000 miles from home without her family, Kouassi appreciates the lengths his mother is going to.
“I’m very aware it’s a huge sacrifice for her because I have a brother [Beranger] and sister [Maurette] and a dad [Nestor] too. She is leaving them behind to be with me and see I am okay,” he said, his mother scheduled to arrive in Scotland soon. “It’s not easy for my dad, he is on his own with the kids. But my aunt is helping – making sure things are okay back in Abidjan. I am away from the family but [with my mum around] the family comes with me. I go back home after my day and dinner is ready – everything is perfect.”
Florence appears to be all a youngster could ask of their mother – never domineering but as supportive and caring as possible. “She plays a significant role in my decisions about where to go,” Kouassi said. “We have had offers from different clubs and I speak to her and what she basically always says is ‘Son, do the best for you as a footballer and I will pray for you’.”
She may have been offering up a few petitions to her maker when it emerged that he son had been taken to hospital last week after a suspected bout of malaria.
The player was well enough to resume training on Monday but the illness has meant he has yet to debut for his new club. It did not seem an issue for the teenager beyond that fact. “I was unafraid,” he said. “I just felt quite tired but I was not afraid. Everything is fine just now, I’ve started to train again and I feel really good. No problem. Maybe yes, a little bit. It has delayed things a little. But I am not worried. I have started to train again, it’s going to take a bit of time. I’m happy and I am patient. There is no rush for games.”
Kouassi’s career amounts to the 19 games he has played for Krasnodar. A home encounter with Orenburg in November ended early for the midfielder when he was sent off in the 44th minute as his side trailed 3-2, having led 2-0.
Much has been made of his reaction following a straight red for an elbow, which amounted to him kneeling on the turf and thumping it and placing head in hands as he curled up before he started to cry as he walked off the pitch.
Asked if that incident summed up his character, Kouassi, through an interpreter, produced an effective riposte. “It sums up my passion for the game rather than my character,” he said. “The situation was that we were leading then they caught up and scored again then I got the red card so there was a lot of things happening. It shows my passion rather than the negative side of my personality.”