In the latest in our Player Journeys series, Manchester City's Nadia Nadim describes her path from living with the Taliban in Afghanistan to becoming one of Europe's top footballers.
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Nadia Nadim has had a journey from childhood to football firmament unlike any other player. In the space of 30 years, she has gone from living under the Afghan Taliban to forging a new life in Denmark. Now she finds herself in Manchester having developed into one of Europe's best footballers. Despite her busy schedule, she has also found time to train as a doctor.
One thing has remained constant throughout most of her life – her love of football.
"I love it, it makes me happy, and no matter how stressed I am and what's going on outside, as soon as I step on the field and see the ball, everything kind of disappears," the Danish international forward said.
"It's so easy to play football – you can play it anywhere, you can play it alone, you can play it with a ball and if you don't have one you can kick something that's round. So basically I think that's one of the reasons football is so popular in the world and loved by most people."
'Girls can play football'
Growing up in Afghanistan, Nadim "knew what football was" but never really had the opportunity to play the game aside from a few kickabouts with her father, who was later killed by the Taliban.
"Being a female in that environment was not really fun," she remembered. "You were not allowed to do basic stuff like going to school, going to work, just going outside without being with a man – that was not possible."
However, that changed when she arrived in Denmark aged 12, even though she initially lived in a refugee camp. "We had these amazing fields next to the camp, and we used to go and watch the other kids play," she said.
"At first we were just sitting far away and watching how people were kicking the ball, but with time we got closer and closer, and at some point we used to act like ball kids, throwing the balls back when they had shooting drills. And that's where I saw a girls' team train. I was amazed – I was like: 'Wow, there are actually girls playing for real.'"
It was not long before Nadim, despite her limited Danish and English, was asking the local coaches if she could play – and she quickly made her mark on the football field. Even today, she recalls one particular moment with pride, playing in a local tournament despite there being no girls' teams involved.
"I was on the boys' team and we were playing against a team that had some really good players, some from the Under-15 national team. At that point I thought it was a big deal. Our coach was like: 'Yeah, these guys are really, really good and we have to step up to win the game,'" she said.
"I don't think I started that game. We were 1-0 behind, I came on and scored the first goal and assisted the second. Usually after every game they give you a little trophy for player of the match and I got it – that was a huge thing, one of the first moments I realised I was actually decent."
If life was initially hard for Nadim in Denmark, she made sure not to let any problems get the better of her. Aside from the joy of playing football, she just loved the fact she could "be a kid again".
"It was safe, you did not hear the sound of rockets. I think my mum was not having a good time, because she didn't know what was going to happen, whether we were going to stay or whether we'd be sent back. But we were just kids, and I was loving it."
No sun in Manchester
As a teenager open to new things and new ideas, she always had a desire to learn. She would spend hours watching football on television – eager to copy the likes of David Beckham and Ronaldo.
"I thought they were amazing and I would go out and train and train." Besides those influences, she is also grateful to her coaches for helping to shape her career.
Nadim's football career went from strength to strength – from Danish clubs B52 Aalborg, Team Viborg, IK Skovbakken and Fortuna Hjørring to spells in the United States with Sky Blue FC and Portland Thorns. Since January she has been with Manchester City, and is already one of the side's key players. However, a few things remain beyond even her control.
"It has been amazing and Manchester is awesome, besides the weather. I am still waiting for the sun, but I am really happy, plus I am close to my family, so it is a win-win," she explained.
Nadim has plenty of years ahead as a top player, but she is already planning for life after football and would like to go into the medical profession. "I want to be in a position where I can help people and I feel that as a doctor I am going to have the opportunity to do this.
"I have one semester left and then I am going to be a doctor. Hopefully, I will be able to help some people that have helped me through my life. They have had a huge impact on the way I have become the person I am and how I see the world. I also want to be in that position.
"When I am finally done with my studies, I want to be in Afghanistan, Syria, Africa – wherever there is need for help."