December 12, 2017

VfB Stuttgart’s Chadrac Akolo: The Journey from Refugee to Rising Star

The journey to the top of the tree in the Bundesliga is often a varied path, but few can have had quite the journey experienced by VfB Stuttgart striker Chadrac Akolo. From the heart of Africa to the midst of Swabia, it has been quite the adventure for the striker taking the Bundesliga by storm.

Hailing from the Kintambo municipality of the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, a young Chadrac Akolo could be found kicking a ball around the streets with his friends. Life was tough in the Central African state with civil war and famine rife. In 2009 aged just 14, Akolo and his church pastor father (hence his biblical name) undertook the arduous journey to Europe to follow his mother, brother and two sisters who had already fled.

The Akolo family were finally reunited in a Swiss refugee home in Bex, 120km from Geneva. At the time just acclimating to their new surroundings was the main goal with football just a hobby. “My biggest hope when I arrived in Europe in 2009 was not to be sent back. That was my greatest wish. I hoped for a chance” he told Deutsche Welle. “I just hoped that I wouldn’t have to go back to the Congo. I didn’t come to Europe to play football. I just wanted to go to school.”

Football however was to play a big role and he began to play for the youth side at Bex. He was quickly spotted and integrated in the U-18 team at FC Sion. French coach Didier Tholot saw his talent and after a brief substitute appearance against St Gallen, he made his first start on the final matchday of the 2013/14 season. The Raiffeisen Super League was a step up for the forward and he was mainly a bit part player until he took things to the next level in 2016-17. 

After scoring his first goals for FC Sion with a hat-trick in the first round of the Swiss Cup, Akolo went from strength to strength. Becoming a regular, he made 25 starts scoring 15 goals to make him the league’s third highest scorer as Sion finished fourth and won the Cup.

Stuttgart were impressed enough to stump up €6 million and the one-time refugee has taken to the Bundesliga like a fish to water. The 22-year-old started all four of the Swabians opening fixtures as they began life back in the top flight and didn’t take long to open his scoring account. A goal in the 3-1 defeat at Schalke was his first in the Bundesliga and he followed that with the winner in Stuttgarts’s 1-0 home victory over VfL Wolfsburg. A thigh injury kept him out for two games, but then he returned in spectacular fashion on matchday 8 against Köln.

On as a second half substitute, it was Akolo whose dramatic late goal sealed the win after the visitors had been denied a late penalty of their own. “It’s the most important goal in my career so far,” he admitted after the match. “To score the winner in front of those amazing fans was just unbelievable. I’m really happy that I could help the team with my goal.”

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Last week against Borussia Dortmund he bagged his fourth goal of the season, which leads VfB, profiting from some abject defending to score probably the easiest goal of his career so far.

Akolo has opted to represent his country of birth rather than his adopted homeland of Switzerland- something that didn’t go down too well in the Swiss press- and made his first appearance for the Democratic Republic of Congo in September’s World Cup qualifier against Tunisia. Sadly, the Leopards have failed to reach the finals in Russia so we’ll have to wait to see Akolo on the international stage.

Once hungry due to famine, Chadrac Akolo is now just hungry for goals as he looks to help cement VfB Stuttgart’s place in the Bundesliga. His is however mindful of where he has come from and the importance of family. “I think 60 percent of the people in my country suffer from starvation. It might be even more. For many, it’s a part of life – and it was for me back then.”

Looking to the future though and Akolo is full of optimism. “I hope that we all stay healthy. There is a life after football and I hope and expect that my family will stay healthy and that we have a good life.”

Ed. Nothing is easy…Akolo will likely miss at least the next two games with a thigh injury suffrered on Matchday 12. Akolo thus far in eight matches is averages 2.3 shots per game, passing at a 75% passing sccuracy rate with almost one key pass every match, has 1.2 dribbles per match and is helping defensively with 1.2 tackles per match.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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