When I grow up, I will be a professional footballer

Text: Jehanne Bergé - Photography: Johanna de Tessières

It's 4.45pm, Ramzan jumps out of the Club van driven by Salah, heading for the changing rooms. He puts on his yellow and blue shirt. A few minutes later, he takes the field with a big smile on his face, his cheeks flushed with excitement. Twice a week, training, this is his time.

Hard work pays off for 10-year-old Ramzan from Chechnya. He is playing table football with his friends in the cafeteria of the club in Kraainem.

From the sidelines of the stadium, among the other parents, is Milena. The two exchange knowing glances. If this budding footballer is doing so well, it is partialy thanks to this woman who left Chechnya and a violent husband in 2013 in order to give her children a better life.

One woman, two children, three suitcases

« Ramzan was two and a half years old when we fled. Today, when I think back on everything we went through, I wonder where I found the strength. » In 2015, after many twists and turns in Russia, Poland and Austria, she decided to try her luck in Belgium. She arrived alone with her two children and three suitcases. « A man came to pick us up at the bus station and dropped us off in front of the door of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons. It was early morning, it was cold, I was exhausted, I didn’t understand anything. »

Here they were, caught up in the whirlwind of administrative hell and procedures. For several weeks, the family went from centre to centre.

This is the cramped living space that Ramzan shared with his mother and sister at the Fedasil centre in Rixensart. The family has now left the centre and lives in a flat in Wavre.

Finally, Ramzan, his sister and his mother found refuge in the Fedasil centre in Rixensart, and their situation started to settle. He used to play in the big garden with his friends from all over the world, Felix, Orpheus and Mahan. Marc, the counsellor, notices their ball skills and suggests that they join Kraainem FC. Although hesitant at first, Ramzan took the field in 2016. Very quickly, enthusiasm took over. « Our Coach Randy prepares us for matches, teaches us to play as a team, to shoot, to say ‘I am with you’ »

Football stories and encounters

Training sessions are an outlet for this little boy who grew up with the administrative anguish of asylum. In July 2020, Milena’s papers were rejected. New procedures had to be started and she had to move out of the centre. Thanks to the help of Romane, a scout leader from Rixensart, the family moved into a flat in Wavre.

Ramzan skates from school to his new home in Wavre. The move has given him more freedom and a new lease of life.

But that doesn’t mean he can stop playing football. Salah, offers to pick him up directly from his new address so that he can continue training with his U11 team and pursue his dream of becoming as strong as Ronaldo, his favourite player. « In the playground, everyone says I’m the strongest footballer in the school, and they often ask me which club I play for…»

At home, in the corridor, his skateboard is on display. « Later, if I’m not a professional footballer, I’ll be a professional skater. » Ramzan is so passionate about his skateboard that he has launched a skateboarding YouTube channel with his friends. He is also on Instagram, where he has become the master of “live” videos

At home, what remains of Chechnya are WhatsApp calls to his grandmother, a few words in a language that is no longer his own, and mantis, the ravioli that Milena prepares with love.