Hibs' Nohan Kenneh opens up on fleeing civil war in Liberia and his specific Hearts instructions
That constant quest for improvement brought the 19-year-old midfielder, who has been capped at England age group level, north of the border this summer, swapping Leeds United for Hibs in the hope of regular first team football and career advancement.
But after such a long time, it has been a challenge adapting to a new environment, both personally and professionally.
“I feel like it was a massive decision, I had been living with my parents my entire life, so it’s not just the football side,” said Kenneh ahead of today’s Edinburgh derby. It was a massive step for me to live on my own, learn a new style of playing and I had been at Leeds since I was 11 so it was Leeds, Leeds, Leeds.
“But, for me it was the right time to move because I wanted to play football and test myself. Scottish football, the physicality is quite close to the English league.”
He doesn’t remember much about his early life in Liberia. Shielded from any social or political difficulties, he just recalls kicking a ball about.
“I was around seven years old when I moved. I don’t remember much from Liberia, I just remember playing football in the park, getting in trouble in terms of not coming home early and playing football. People there love football, they are football mad.
“They [his parents and family] left civil war, that was really tough but I feel like we’ve adapted to it and any circumstances that we came across, whether football, education, financial.
“We had to stay together and when I was young here my family did everything possible, taking me to games, making all those sacrifices for me to be where I am so I’m really grateful to them and I tell them everyday, ‘there is still more to come from me, there is still more to come’. They make me do what I’m doing just now.”
He gets back home as often as he can, and although a hearty home-cooked meal is a lure (“I can’t cook yet!”), part of a close family, it is not the only draw.
He is hoping that some of them will make it to Edinburgh this weekend to share in his first capital derby experience, provided work doesn’t get in the way.
“They’re either coming to this game or Rangers but I told them this one is massive, they can’t miss this one!
“My dad is a massive football fan. He encourages me. He always says, ‘people outside might tell you different things but I’ll tell you straight facts, if you’re good you’re good, if you’re bad you’re bad’. We have that relationship.”
But, in a derby anything less than good is unacceptable. So, what has he been told about this derby?
“Don’t lose! Which is easy to say. Don’t back out of challenges, play with your heart, win your battles. I need to experience it then I’ll truly know the rivalry. People can tell you everything but I need to feel it in a game to really know.”
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