With a few drops of water still falling from his hair, Cher N’Dour was one the last players to walk out of the dressing room at the National Stadium, in Ta’Qali. The young Italian midfielder can not go unnoticed in the room. He is 1,90m tall and shows up asking: “In English or Portuguese?”, regarding the interview he’s about to take. And in Portuguese – after three years at Benfica – he starts.
MOTHER’S LOVE The 18-year-old stood out scoring one of the four Italy goals against Malta, at the UEFA U19 Championship. At the same time, he is in the spotlight for transfers now, on the verge of signing for Paris Saint-Germain for free, so naturally Italy staff just want him to talk about the game. N’Dour, though, had something more: he couldn’t wait to talk to his mother.
“I already miss her”, he says, using the word “saudade”, chosen to describe a nostalgic feeling that can only be fully understood in Portuguese. In a way, his mom is present on his left forearm, with a tattoo made in 2020, after a long chat between they had. “Don’t dream your life, live your dream,” it says.
N’Dour had shining eyes while talking about her and appeared to be constantly looking down the phone, as he was waiting for a call. “I have her number here now,” he explains. “She couldn’t come, she is in Italy and watched the game at home. So I have texted her, but I will call her now,” he says, smiling.
ITALY AND SENEGAL N’Dour was moulded by his family. Son of an Italian mother, called Alice, and a Senegalese father, named Paco, the midfielder was born in Brescia, in the north of Italy, and followed his path to defend the European nation. It was an achievement for the Italian squad, so much so that the coach Alberto Bollini insisted on keeping in touch with him, even by phone, when the player was not released for the squad for training sessions. But his future is not defined yet.
“I grew up in the Italian squad, I was born in Italy and grew up in Italy, so I feel much Italian, but this is not defined yet,”he made sure to tell, while laughing a bit. “The Senegal national team… My dad would be really happy if I went there,” he says. It feels too soon to decide.
STYLE N’Dour has already pushed himself out of his comfort zone. Striker at the beginning, he came to the midfield and found his balance there, making the ball stick to his feet like glue and standing out at youth level. He’s constantly compared to Paul Pogba because of the style. “I take it with pride and a push to improve myself,” he says.
This improvement was what made N’Dour sign with Benfica in 2020, motivated by the work done with youth players at the club. It was with this shirt by the way that the midfielder took a record off João Felix as the youngest player to play for Benfica’s B team, at age 16 years and 269 days. The hype was unavoidable.
NEW ROUTES After three years, the contract ended last month and now N’Dour is expected to sign with Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. The midfielder, though, wasn’t allowed to talk about it. The focus is only on the championship. “It’s a feeling of pride to be here, after being out of the World Cup Under-20,” he says, after revealing that Benfica didn’t allow him to go.
Over the next few days, therefore, N’Dour – following his tattoo message – will be living his dream, or at least trying it. He expects to see his mother soon, because she will come to Malta if Italy passes the rounds, but just a moment before the end of the day, N’Dour gets to soften the distance.
“I have talked to her”, he eventually says at the lobby of AX Odycy Hotel, but keeping their words to himself. “She’s happy. And If she is happy, I’m happy.”
Credit: AIPS Media