Nelson Mandela. A name inextricably linked with the triumph of human spirit over adversity.
It is almost four years since South Africa’s anti-apartheid symbol and first black President passed away, but his soul-stirring story lives on; a reminder to men, women and children from all walks of life never to give up.
Mandela’s Eintracht Frankfurt namesake is a case in point. The 18-year-old forward signed his first professional contract with the Eagles on 4 July – the zenith of a budding career blighted by broken promises and bureaucracy.
Nelson Mandela Mbouhom was just nine years old when he left his native Cameroon to pursue his dream of one day becoming a professional footballer. Picked up by a scout at the Samuel Eto’o Foundation and offered a place at Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, his journey could not have got off to a better start.
Two years down the line, however, the dream was in tatters. Deemed surplus to requirements in the Catalan capital, there Mandela stood, 11 years old, 5,550 kilometres from home – searching for a new club. It was a devastating reality check.
Mandela did not have to look far, before joining the youth set-up at Real Valladolid. He relocated to France to live with his older brother soon after, but the promise of a trial at Ligue 1 giants Paris-Saint Germain failed to materialise.
“I completely lost faith,” Mandela remembered of his formative years. “Too many people tried to use me.”
Undeterred, Mandela rolled the dice and purchased a one-way ticket to the Baden-Württemberg city of Mannheim, Germany. One transitional stint at Hoffenheim later, he found himself being taken under the wing of Armin Kraaz at nearby Frankfurt.
“We could all see that the kid could really play,” recalled Eintracht’s youth academy manager of Mandela’s first training session with the club.
Play he did. Mandela blossomed for the Eintracht Under-15s, firing a hat-trick past Bayern Munich to land the Eagles the 2013/14 Southern League title and captaining the Hessen club to victory in the Duisburg Regional Cup.
In a footballing sense, the former Barcelona, Real Valladolid and Hoffenheim youngster had finally arrived, but residency issues threatened to curtail his stay.
“The authorities started to investigate and then the vultures circled,” commented Kraaz of the ensuing red-tape tribulations. “I was furious.”
Mandela was still 15 at the time, and did not play for Frankfurt again for another year. Although the dream was on ice, for once fate was on his side.
After bedding in with the Frankfurt U-17s upon his return, Mandela duly made the step up to the U-19s, scoring eight times in 14 outings last season. Receiving a work permit on his 18th Birthday to continue his stay on German soil, he now has the prospect of Bundesliga football to fuel his burning desire.
“I’m very happy to get this opportunity,” said Mandela after putting pen to paper on two-year deal with the Frankfurt first team. “I feel completely at home at Frankfurt and I really want to do my bit for this fantastic team. To be a full part of it in pre-season fills me with pride.”
Although Douala-born Mandela bears no relation to his revered namesake, he shares the dogged determination and courage to overcome synonymous with Madiba’s life.
The great politician’s definition of a winner being “a dreamer who never gives up” could not be a more apt description of Frankfurt’s newest full-time recruit.