Atlanta native Yosef Samuel finds greener pastures in Europe

I can’t think of a more exciting time in football than the summer transfer window. This is where clubs across the globe move frantically to improve their rosters before the start of the season. Because of its popularity and high concentration of top talent, all eyes are fixed on Europe.

Let’s take this summer for example. There have been plenty of eye-opening transactions that have drawn both ire and applause. Harry Maguire is now with Manchester United after they paid a staggering €87 million for the defender. Juventus starlet Moise Kean left for Everton after a €32 million deal was set (a bargain by most analysts). But all of these transfers pale in comparison to the business that Atletico Madrid handled this summer. They paid a club-record €126 million for Portuguese starlet João Félix just days before selling Antoine Griezmann to FC Barcelona for €120 million. So as you can see, these are some serious business matters that take place during the transfer window. But for the fans, it’s a time for celebration and planning. It’s a chance to save up for a brand new kit with your signing’s name on it or gather with friends to plan an away trip during the regular season or perhaps a tournament clash. For me, at the end of the day, I always like to see who got “the bargain” signing. That’s usually a good player that sold for less money, moved on a free transfer, or signed as a free agent.

Here are some examples of players who made a move on a free transfer:

  • Daniele De Rossi – AS Roma to Boca Jrs.
  • Gianluigi Buffon – PSG to Juventus
  • Adrien Rabiot – PSG to Juventus
  • Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid to Inter Milan

As a player, the goal is to find a way to Europe because that’s where the best players in the world participate. Making it to Europe is no easy task, and as an American, it’s even more difficult to make such a leap. That’s why it’s so important that everyone knows what took place Friday, August 2, 2019.

Yosef Samuel, a local Kalonji Academy product, signed with Danish club Hobro IK in Denmark. The club’s 3-2 victory last Friday lifted them to sixth place in the standings. Hobro IK plays in the Danish Superliga, the top flight in Denmark. So what does this mean for Yosef? It means he’ll be competing domestically for the Danish Cup and internationally, he and his teammates will be jockeying for a UEFA Europa League position. It’s a dream come true for any footballer, especially an American, but this also begs the question: “How did he get there?”

So before we get to his story there’s something everyone needs to know. In an interview that’s supposed to be about him, his growth, his play, and his new adventure, he spent the first nine minutes expressing gratitude. Yes, nine whole minutes. “I’m very grateful for the coach and the academy,” Yosef said over the phone. With a seven-hour time difference between us, I was fortunate to catch the young lad just before he retired for the evening. The coach in question? Bruno Kalonji. The Academy? His championship-level Kalonji Academy right here in Atlanta.

“They’re surprised how he has so many talented players but it’s because he finds them in places where nobody’s looking,” says Samuel. He credits Bruno for giving kids a chance who often get disregarded or overlooked and pushing them to their maximum potential. “He wins and puts kids on to the next level. Six of us are playing professional from GSA 97′. We have one in Greece, a few in Germany, and I’m here in Denmark.”

Those nine minutes were truly remarkable. Here’s a young man who not only signed with a European club but made his debut appearance on his first day on the roster sheet. So when questioned about why mentioning Bruno and the academy were so important to him, his answer was quite simple and to the point: “He doesn’t get the recognition from U.S. Soccer or even Georgia Soccer that he deserves.”

Yosef Samuel
Yosef Samuel celebrates after scoring the first goal in club history for ATLUTD2 (March 24, 2018)

A lot can change in a year. In this case, a lot can change in a year and a half. His Atlanta career can be summed up in three sentences. On January 24, 2018, Samuel was one of the first players signed by ATL UTD 2. On March 24, 2018, he scored the first goal in team history in the club’s first match. On June 29, 2019, it was reported that he was released from the club. That’s quite the rollercoaster ride of emotions. To add to that, he was dealing with a nagging injury (torn quad) that affected his play and took a considerable amount of time to recover.

I have to admit when I first read of his “release” I was totally confused. Released? The press release headline and subject heading read, “Atlanta United 2 releases Yosef Samuel” and yet, the first paragraph in the body of the release stated the two had “mutually parted ways.” Getting released conveys a much different message than parting ways on your own terms. Because of this, outlets began adding their own spin on things.

“Yosef Samuel released after the loss. I lost the game? The game that we lost 1-0, I came on in the 90th minute lol,” he laughs. “We gave up the goal in the 80th minute. But all you saw the next morning was, ‘after loss Yosef Samuel released.’ It was interesting… But I’m happy now. I wasn’t enjoying playing. If you’re not enjoying playing at home, in your comfort zone, then you definitely shouldn’t be there.”

During the month of July, now a free man, he went back to his roots. He began training with Bruno and KSA in preparation for his next opportunity, whenever and wherever it may be. “I put it in my mind that the next place would be a good fit for me,” he said with conviction. His confidence is admirable because everything on paper was working against him. He explained how when teams see your résumé and they see inconsistent minutes, in USL, on a losing team, it can hurt you. It makes sense. But the combination of his and Bruno’s efforts paid off as he was awarded a chance in Denmark. Oddly enough, second division clubs didn’t think he was good enough. “But after I came to the first division they wanted to sign me.”

A new team means a new coach and a new system. Since he left Atlanta he’s been playing the No. 8 position in the midfield and sometimes he plays as a winger. So far, the club likes him as their No. 8 and he’s enjoying experience. “It’s a bit faster than I’m used to but every week I’ve been here I’ve been able to play faster and find solutions,” he said confidently. “There are always things you can learn from the coaches and players. It’s different but I’m confident I can learn the system sooner than later.” Another factor playing in his favor is that everybody speaks English. The coaches even explain the drills in both Danish and English.

There are some pretty stark differences in the way football is handled here and in Denmark. One of the biggest changes is playing in a league with relegation/promotion. “The past teams I’ve been on, losing is bad but it’s not… Something that was that bad. But here, there’s relegation, trying to finish in the top spot to go to Europa League, the fans are very passionate, the players really work together, and the biggest difference is they really look out for each other. The coaches want all the players on the same page and happy. Even winning is different here. Everybody’s happy, the entire city is happy. The passion is incomparable to the U.S. They really feel it when we lose too.”

If you learn anything from Yosef’s journey, it should be to never give up. As you’ve read already, a lot can change in a month. This young lad went from planning to watch Europa League on TV to actually playing for a club who has a chance to participate in the tournament.

The level of selflessness and humility in this young man is immeasurable. He’s grateful for this opportunity and new adventure abroad and is more than ready to put in the work. To cap off a twenty-minute-plus conversation, his concern wasn’t with how he’d be perceived. He showed no concern regarding news or headlines or anything that had to do with him. His only concern? “I don’t know how or if I’ve done enough… But I just want to make sure that people know how important Bruno is to me, the other kids, and the community.”

 

A class act from top to bottom.

 

-Jon J.

 

Follow Yosef’s progress in Europe on Instagram,  his new club Hobro IK, or learn more about the Kalonji Academy.

Photo credits:

Cover Photo: Malcolm “X” Lewis
Goal Celebration: Courtesy of ATLUTD2

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