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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 14 November, 2018
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'We owe our mum everything and I'm trying to make a career out of football to pay her back'

Bohemians midfielder Fuad Sule has been one of the breakthrough players of the season so far but he has been on quite the journey to get to this point.

Sule in action against Cork earlier this season.
Sule in action against Cork earlier this season.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FUAD SULE ISN’T the type of player who is likely to generate headlines. A tenacious, hard-working and industrious midfielder, most of his work is done off the ball and, to a certain degree, goes unrecognised. The dirty work, if you like.

But in his debut season in the League of Ireland, the 20-year-old is already making a big impression for his all-action performances in the Bohemians engine room. He has people talking.

An off-season arrival from St Patrick’s Athletic, Sule took time to settle into life at Dalymount Park but after getting his chance in an EA Sports Cup tie against Cabinteely in April, he hasn’t looked back.

A league debut came four days later and the Nigerian-born enforcer has since established himself as a key component in the Bohs wheel, providing protection for the back four as well as offering a creative outlet in the middle of the park.

Comparisons have already been made with the style N’Golo Kante brings to Chelsea’s midfield and certainly anyone who has seen Sule in action this season will appreciate his effectiveness in breaking up play and then getting his team on the front foot.

It was only last year, whilst playing for the U19 team at St Pat’s, that he dropped deeper into a defensive role having started his schoolboy career as a striker and attacking midfielder.

“My old coach at St Pat’s told me I was playing there,” he explains to The42. “One of the lads was injured and he saw potential in me to play in a deeper role as I’m quite quick and sharp. I can get around basically.

“It went well and it has just gone from there.”

It has gone very well from there. Sule’s time at Richmond Park saw him play a major role in the club’s success at U19 national league level but when Bohs came calling, he was persuaded by the opportunity to play more first team football.

Fuad Sule with Tommy Robson Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

His cousin, Ismahil Akinade, has seen his stock rise since moving to Phibsborough and certainly a shoe-string budget means manager Keith Long’s hand is forced when it comes to giving youth a chance.

At first, Sule struggled to break into the reckoning but that was largely down to a hectic pre-season period which also coincided with college exams and university football.

“It has been up and down to be honest,” he says of his first few months in senior football.

“When I first came in during pre-season there were high expectations for me but there was a lot of things going on at that time and there was loads of energy been used on other things.

“It kind of set me back and then I took a bit of a knock which didn’t help as it meant it took me longer to get up to speed. That first game against Cabinteely, there wasn’t a huge intensity, but it allowed me to build up my own fitness and get used to the pace. Then I started a couple of games in a row.

“I’ve just grown in confidence. I’ve grown into the role and a few good performances obviously makes things a lot easier. Once my exams finished I was able to focus on training and I started to enjoy it again. The Cabinteely game changed everything.”

Since breaking into the side in April, Sule has made eight appearances in the league, six of which have been starts, and suddenly the goalposts have shifted in terms of his own ambitions for the season.

Before it started he sat down with his older brother, Aji, who has also played League of Ireland, most recently with Cabinteely, to set out what he wanted to achieve in his first season in the Premier Division. The target was to play 10-15 games.

We haven’t reached June yet and Sule has already played 10 times for Bohs this term and he’s becoming an increasingly important player in Long’s squad.

It has been a whirlwind few months, with his decision to leave Pat’s after three years looking increasingly like the right one.

Fuad Sule and Ronan Finn Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I just felt at this stage of my career I have to be playing first team games and when you want to go where I want to go, you have to be playing every week and making an impression,” he said.

“I felt Bohs could give me the best platform to do that as I did have offers from other clubs in the league.”

Sule has only started his footballing journey, and from the early signs he has the capacity to go far, but he has already come along way to get to this point.

His family moved to Ireland when he was just three years old and the challenges associated with settling into a new country and culture took some time to overcome.

“I wouldn’t really have any memories of Nigeria,” he explains. “My parents decided to move here for more opportunities and they wanted me to get an education. I have three big brothers and an older sister so that made it easier as we were all together but it was tough.

“Obviously it’s a new language and a new culture so it took a while for us to adapt but we adapted very well. The language barrier was a huge thing because we were maybe five or six steps behind every other kid in school. Trying to read and write in English was very hard but we got through it and got through the first phase of education and then secondary school.

“It’s a huge learning curve for people coming from other countries trying to get an education in this country because you’re treated the same as everyone else. There is extra support there but the same demands are put on you, you don’t get another 100 points in the Leaving Cert because English isn’t your first language.”

Growing up in Citywest, Sule began his footballing career with local club Rathcoole Boys and progressed then to Crumlin United before being picked up by Shamrock Rovers U19s when he was just 16.

While football was always his passion and his dream, there was always a huge emphasis on education at home and it’s clear Sule is very level-headed and intelligent with his feet firmly on the ground.

Fuad Sule with Rodrigo Tosi Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It was very tough in secondary school as all I wanted to do was play football everyday but obviously you’re not going to play football forever so there has to be a back-up option,” he continues.

“You have to get that through education and it’s so key to give yourself the best opportunities to do things. I felt when I was in secondary school football took my mind off the stresses of homework and all that. I actually enjoyed secondary school, it was probably one of the best periods in my life.

“I’m now just finished second year of my Business and Accounting degree in Maynooth University and I’m enjoying that. Accounting is challenging but I’m good with prioritising my time so when it’s time for football, I give that everything and when it’s time for college I give that everything.

“Sometimes you’re in college until five, you have to go to training straight after. You’re tired and you’re not going to be as sharp but Bohs are very good for facilitating time for college. They understand if you’re a bit late.”

After sitting his final exam of the year on Thursday, Sule can now focus solely on football for the next four months and he’s put himself in a great position heading into the second half of the season.

He makes no secret about his desire to play in England further down the line but knows, having seen team-mates from his days with Crumlin fall short, it doesn’t always exactly work out the way you want.

For now, his attention is on Bohs, tomorrow’s trip to Galway and maximising his potential for a manager and club who have given him the chance he dreamed of.

“I just want to play. Now that things have changed, I literally want to play every single game until the end of the season. I want to help the team as much as I can and just play every single game and that’s my aim.

Patrick McEleney with Fuad Sule Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I know I’ve a lot more to give and you only do that through confidence and you get that through game time and playing and once that happens the best of you will come out.

“I’ve really shown what I can do but you can’t put your feet up and think you’re top of the world. You just have to keep level-headed and kick on again.”

Given his background and where he’s come from, you get the sense there’s no danger of that happening.

“My brothers and sisters used to tell me stories about what Nigeria was like and I hope to go back there one day to see the family and see what it’s like but at the moment my focus is just on playing football and getting better each week.

“My brother obviously advised me a lot and helps me make the right decisions but my Mam has been brilliant. She doesn’t really have much interest in football but supports me every way possible.

“She’s done everything for us and we’ve coped really, really well because of her. We owe her everything and that’s why I’m trying to make a career out of football to pay her back for what she’s done.”

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