Mohammed Kudus has been dreaming of this day since he was a little boy playing football for Strong Tower FC in his hometown of Nima in Ghana.
West Ham United’s exciting new signing, who joined from Ajax on Sunday, was born and raised in the market town, which forms part of the Greater Accra Region, and joined Strong Tower at the age of ten.
Even then, he had ambitions of forging a successful professional career in Europe and playing for his country. By the age of 22, he had played in the top-flight in Denmark and the Netherlands, scored in the UEFA Champions League and at the FIFA World Cup finals.
Through it all, he has never forgotten Strong Tower, a club renowned for developing young players, by sending boots and football kit back to young players keen to follow in his footsteps.
Now, just a few weeks past his 23rd birthday, he is ready to embark on the next step in his career with the Hammers in the English Premier League.
After completing his transfer on Sunday at London Stadium, the Irons’ new No14 sat down to talk about his early life, his experiences, his playing style, his ambitions and why he has chosen to continue his football journey in Claret and Blue…
Welcome to West Ham United. How does it feel to be here?
“I’ve been dreaming to play in a league like this since I was a kid, so I’m just taking each day by itself and following my a dream and I’m here today. It doesn’t stop here, as we keep writing history and keep going.”
You started out with a club called Strong Tower in Accra, Ghana, so how did your journey start?
“Normally in Ghana we have communities in our cities that played like a league, but of course it’s a different level and stuff like that. Strong Tower is a club where I grew up in my town and was one of the biggest clubs there. So I started from school, then I got picked up to the Strong Tower team and that’s when everything became serious in my football career. I was ten-years-old.”
Players from Ghana play all over the world, so there must be scouts from clubs everywhere looking for talented young players to sign?
“When I was 18, I had a lot of interest because as an African player, you can only play in Europe when you’re 18. When I was 17 we traveled a lot to all over Europe to play tournaments around the world, so there was a lot of interest.”
You went to the Danish club Nordsjælland, which has strong links with Ghanaian football, at the age of 18 – a big move at such a young age, but to a good league to continue your development?
“Yeah, I think for me, a player from Africa, I think it was a good step for me because I didn’t want to take big steps because I think I needed time to learn a lot of stuff because it’s a whole different culture in Europe, compared to Africa, so it was a good step and learning experience for me. I was there for two seasons, and then boom, to Ajax!”
We hear so much about Ajax’s Academy, so what is it like to be part of it?
“The most significant thing is developing young talents and then, obviously, selling them for the next level. Of course, they want to win trophies and stuff like that, but mostly the aim is to build talent and then get them ready for the next step. So, for me, I felt that was a perfect middle step for me to take before taking another step. So, when the opportunity came, it just didn’t take a lot of time to think about it because there was an organization that I wanted to be in because I felt, even after Denmark, there’s some part of my game that I need to learn to play in Europe and the Champions League and do stuff and I’m going to experience that in Ajax, so it was easy for me to decide.”
Who did you work under at Ajax, because they love to have former players who we will know on their staff? And what do they teach you?
“When I was there, it was Erik ten Hag and also Michael Reiziger. It’s more about performance than results, and I believe that’s the best way to develop. It’s not just about the result, it’s about developing as a player, and really, the style of play really fits how I want to play, with more focus on the technical and tactical part of the game, so it was a perfect learning experience over there.”
To anybody who isn’t familiar with your style of play, how would you describe yourself?
“I like to entertain the fans as I think that is what football is about, and my dribbling ability, strength and finishing also. I’m just here to do my best to help the team. The fans should expect some entertainment!”
You seem to always be in the right place on the pitch. Have you were coached at Ajax?
“I learned that. Before, I was playing in a more central role and I was more involved around the box so I had to learn the timing in the box.”
I’m not sure anyone has had a better last game for their club than your last game for Ajax – a hat trick against Ludogorets in a UEFA Europa League play-off round tie! What a way to say goodbye!
“It felt good. For me, the situation I was in as a player, the only job I could do was just do my job on the pitch and I just did it on the pitch. When I’m on the pitch, all the noise outside stays there. So everything on the pitch stays on the pitch, so my full focus was on that game, even though the other stuff was going on off the pitch. That’s the job of my family and my agent to take care of that and fully focused on the pitch. I live in the present moment so, at that exact moment, I was an Ajax player, so I was just doing my best for the badge and you’ll see the same thing over here.”
Your dribbling seems to be a big part of your game. Is that something that’s always been with you naturally?
“Yeah, I think it has always been one of my qualities and I think it started from my childhood club in Ghana, Strong Tower. The coach there gave me the freedom as I was young then and it wasn’t really about the results. It was just playing for the passion and for fun, so he just gave me the role to just any time I got the ball, to just try and take on as many men as I can so. Naturally, I’ve been built with this low centre of gravity to the ground, so it’s easy for me to turn around. I’ve worked on that in the gym as well, since I’ve seen that is my strength, so I just keep building on it and that’s the biggest things that helped me with my dribbling.”
You are more than a dribbler, though, and like many Ajax players you can play in many different positions?
“Of course, we all know my versatility for the past years, but I think the position I’ve played most spots from my actions are from the central areas, but it’s the team that’s above everyone else so the position the coach feels is best for me to help the team, of course, I will give my 100 per cent best. Everything that I’ve played in did my best is from like, an attacking position, from the midfield.”
Our technical director Tim Steidten travelled to meet you in Amsterdam, so what did he tell you about the West Ham project that made you want to join this Club ahead of other big teams?
“The project he presented to me was developing the Club to the best possible level they can so he wants to sign new young talents, play good football, and that’s fits with my ambition and goal as a player. I want to play in the Premier League, but I also want to play at Club that I know I can develop. I just loved the project that was presented to me, and I think it fits well with my ambition and where I’m heading to.”
And this was a decision you made with your family?
“Yes, my family always support me 100 per cent and advise me. Of course, it’s football, and I’m going to be on the pitch and have most of the experiences, so I just follow my gut feeling because most of my decisions I make, it’s from my stomach and what my gut feeling is telling me and it was telling me it was West Ham, so my family supported me 100 per cent.”
Did you speak to Edson Álvarez, your former Ajax teammate who joined West Ham earlier this summer, before deciding to make the move?
“Yeah, he gave me a great impression. He told me his experiences and he is loving it so far as he also pushed for me coming here, so I’m glad I’m here!”
You become the third Ghana international to join the Club after John Paintsil – who also wore the No14 – and the current Black Stars captain André Ayew, so have you spoken to either of them, too?
“Ayew has been speaking highly of West Ham, but John Paintsil is way older so I didn’t get a chance to speak with him! Andre is still in the national team and speaks a lot about experiences in most clubs and West Ham is one of the clubs that he speaks highly of.”
From Tony Yeboah through to the Ayew brothers, Ghanaians have made their mark on the Premier League, so are you looking forward to continuing that story?
“You, I heard about these guys – Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, John Mensah, the Ayews – and there have been a lot of them and a big tradition in this league.”
The Ghanaian Hammers supporters’ club are so happy you’ve signed for West Ham and want to know if you’re going to go and visit them?!
“Definitely! I didn’t know about them before but when I had the impression that I was going come here, I saw them messaging me on my platforms a lot of times so I clicked on it and I saw what they do. They are raising funds for some charity works and stuff like that, so I think it’s brilliant. It’s more than just supporting the Hammers. I think it’s more than football which is all about people and stuff like that, so I will definitely visit there and we will see how we can impact in other people’s lives using football.”
You played in the recent 2022 FIFA World Cup for Ghana, getting two goals as you beat South Korea 3-2 in the group stage. Has that been the highlight of your Ghana career so far?
“Yes, I think with the national team the World Cup is the biggest stage in world football, so to perform on that stage was a career highlight for me!
We’ve got some big Premier League games coming up at home to Manchester City and away at Liverpool. Are you looking forward to those?
“All the fixtures are big. For me,they are bigger teams and stuff like that, but me as a player I approach every game with the same mentality whether you’re playing league or bottom, I take the same approach in every game, so I’m looking forward to all the games, actually.”