Awer Mabil will head to the Bernabeu tonight as part of the Cadiz squad to face reigning Spanish and European champions Real Madrid.
After that, the 27-year-old will fly to Qatar to take part in the World Cup with Australia.
For any player, it would be an extremely exciting time. But for Mabil, who spent the first 10 years of his life in a refugee camp, it marks the crowning point of a remarkable personal journey.
Mabil’s parents are South Sudanese, and in 1994 they fled the war-torn former British colony to relocate to Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya operated by the United Nations. Awer was born a year later, and spent much of his childhood playing football in the only manner possible – barefoot on dirt pitches with a ‘ball’ made out of scrunched up plastic bags.
The family was able to relocate again to Adelaide, Australia, when Awer was 10 years old, and he quickly found that continuing to follow his childhood passion for football – now playing with proper equipment – was a great way to overcome the communication difficulties he initially encountered while learning English.
His progress was spectacular. After starring for a series of local youth teams as a goalscoring winger, he joined local semi-professional side Campbelltown City, making his debut at the age of 16, and a series of impressive performances saw him quickly snapped up by top-flight Adelaide United.
Mabil continued to shine in the A-League, showing great pace and skill on the wing, as well as an excellent crossing ability and an eye for goal which yielded seven goals in 24 appearances during the 2014-15 season, while still only a teenager.
Scouts from overseas became aware of his talents and in June 2015 he moved to Danish club Midtjylland, where he initially struggled to gain playing time and was loaned out to Esbjerg – also in Denmark – and Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira.
His breakthrough year came in 2018, with Mabil returning to Midtjylland to become a regular starter and also earning his first call-up for the senior Australia international team, scoring on his debut against Kuwait.