If you meet Nevello Yoseke today, you will first notice his contagious smile and his love of soccer. The young FC Montreal defender signed with the Montreal Impact USL team during the summer of 2015 after an epic run with the Impact U18 team, who finished 1st out of 78 teams in the regular season of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league.
But Nevello’s journey before wearing the Bleu-blanc-noir wasn’t a usual one. Born from Sudanese parents, he left the civil war-ravaged country at age five.
“When I left Sudan, I was really young. I don’t remember everything, but my mother told me,” explains the defender. “I was with my two brothers and two sisters and with my mom. I lost my dad in the war.”
From war to refugee camps
The family ran away, crossing the northern border of the country to reach Egypt. They thought they were leaving for a better world, but a nightmare was waiting upon their arrival at the refugee camp near Cairo.
“Living in Egypt wasn’t easy. In the refugee camps, all the families are stacked together. You eat the same thing every day.”
As Christians from Sub-Saharan Africa, Nevello’s family members had to face persecution on a daily basis in Egypt. The danger was even more pronounced when the Egyptian national team was playing another African team.
“If Egypt won, it was fine. But if the other African team won, it was becoming dangerous for us. Once, my mom sent me to buy bread and another African team had just won. Three guys came from behind and started insulting me. You can never answer back. When I left the store, two of them had huge butcher knives. It was the scariest day of my life. I was with my friend and I just ran non-stop. I don’t want to think of what would have happened if they caught us.”
Even if the country meant danger for Nevello, that’s where his love for the beautiful game blossomed. With few resources, he and his friends played in the streets with a ball made from socks that they would assemble to have something as round as possible. It was always fun.
“When there was an important game in Egypt, the crowd would gather at a shisha bar to watch the game. I was also going sometimes, but I would stay in the back. I didn’t want people to see me.”
And one day, Nevello Yoseke and his family experienced a moment that would change their lives forever.
It can be easy to lose hope after many years where all you have known is misery and persecution. But for Nevello Yoseke and his family, their faith in God and in a better world is what helped them believe that there was a better fate waiting for them.
“We didn’t choose; we went with the first option that was offered to us. We didn’t even know where Canada was. When you’re in a refugee camp, they take a photo of your family and people can then see it. You go to the first place they offer you. The process is really long. We applied as soon as we arrived and we stayed in Egypt for seven years.”
It’s finally Kitchissippi United church that sponsored Nevello Yoseke’s family, when he was 11 years old.
“A couple, Dave and Margaret, welcomed us. They picked us up at the airport and, when we arrived, they had already found an apartment for my family. We didn’t speak much English at first, so it was difficult. But our arrival was the first time I felt welcomed. Now, I consider them as my second family.”
A smooth adaptation
As they arrived in the middle of summer, Nevello and his siblings had some time to adapt, but quickly, they had to integrate the local education system. The language barrier was the first challenge. Speaking almost no English, the Yosekes communicated in Arabic at first. Luckily, some other students spoke the same language, making the integration easier.
“Quickly, when my twin sister and I were sitting in class, everyone came to talk to us and some other kids spoke Arabic like me. It was a shock. The teacher was smiling at us, and we could simply listen. We also had to do some extra classes at lunch time to learn the language. We went from a really dark place to come to the light.”
It’s the following year, in his first year in high school, that he joined a soccer team. He already played in the streets of Egypt, but for the first time, he was part of a team and an organization: Ottawa Internationals.
“I remember my first practice. I saw everyone wearing the same equipment. I couldn’t believe it. The coach came and gave me mine. I was so excited to tell my family. I went to change and stared at myself in the glass. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.”
From Ottawa to Brazil, to the Impact
Nevello Yoseke’s soccer path led him to the Ottawa Fury youth team, still in the PDL at the time. He spent a few years there before having a tryout with Brazilian top division team Cruzeiro. After a few months, because of a visa issue, his South American adventure came to an end.
Not so long after, Academy scout Jean-Yves Grenouillat saw him play in a showcase and told him about the Impact.
“I was in school when Nicolas Coupleux (Academy administrative manager) called me after three or four tryouts. He said I was selected, but because of academic results, it was not possible yet. I had a meeting in person with Jason Di Tullio, and he told me it would not be possible for January. At the same time, one of the reasons why the Montreal Impact is a big club is that you also need good grades to join the Academy. I was sad at first, but right after, he told me I would have a second chance. I had until June to get better grades.”
Representing his adopted country
After a lot of hard work in school and at home, Nevello improved his grades and made it into the Academy. Already really glad, he would soon get a new opportunity.
“One day, Jason told me I was on the radar of the U17 national team. Then I got an email from Sean Fleming, U17 national team head coach at that time. I was invited to go to Toronto to show my play. Two weeks later, I was at my first camp with the national team in Florida. I never thought I would be representing Canada one day, as well as being in the best MLS club in Canada.”
In 2013, with Canada, Yoseke took part in the U17 FIFA World Cup, in the United Arab Emirates, with Bleu-blanc-noir teammates Aron Mkungilwa and Marco Dominguez.
Today, he is getting ready to start his first full USL season and remembers all the steps required to get to this level. But he keeps in mind the final goal, which is to one day sign a contract with the first team.
What if it doesn’t happen? He would like to give back some of what he has received and go to Sudan to help people there. Nevello Yoseke is already looking at different human rights university programs near Montreal to start learning some basic principles.