In order to fulfil his dream of playing professional football in Europe, Sierra Leone forward Augustus Kargbo left home aged just 13.
The 21-year-old left his mother and home life behind in 2013 to pursue his dream and signed for Italian side Crotone in 2018.
He made his Serie A debut last month as substitute for the newly-promoted Crotone in a 4-1 loss to Genoa and has since been loaned to Serie B’s Reggiana to get more playing time.
“It was difficult for me to leave my mum behind and my family at 13 years to pursue my dream,” Kargbo told BBC Sport Africa.
“My mother is my biggest inspiration and my super hero as she’s a strong woman. My late father divorced her when I was a small boy, so I was brought up by her.
“Things were difficult as my mum struggled to take care of me and my two brothers. She did a lot for me to see me where I am today and I’m very grateful to her.”
Kargbo was born in Freetown and like many African star players, he started playing football in the streets and also featured in junior mini leagues which is where he was spotted by his agent Numukeh Tunkara.
Tunkara decided that there would be more opportunities for the talented youngster in neighbouring Guinea where he spent two years.
In 2015, Kargbo – then 15 – moved to Ivory Coast for a year and then onto Italy having secured the necessary visa.
“It wasn’t easy to persuade my mum to let me go,” Kargbo explained.
“While in Conakry I played for two youth teams, one was owned by my agent, and the other was the youth side of a top-flight club Satellite FC.
“At first my mum didn’t want me to be a footballer; she wanted me to concentrate on my schooling as I was just 13 years old. It took time for me and my agent to convince her.
“I rejoiced when she finally accepted me to travel to Guinea. I had to sacrifice my education to try to achieve my big football dreams to change the status of my family.”
Despite being desperate to move to Guinea to play football, Kargbo soon realised it was not going to be easy for him.
“My first trip to Guinea was my first outside Freetown and my country. Initially it wasn’t easy for me in Guinea because I was feeling bored and things were hard,” he admitted.
“At some point I wanted to quit and return to Sierra Leone but my mum encouraged me to stay and focus on my dream. I tried to cope with the help of my mum, my agent and a friend who is also a footballer.”
A mother’s love
Kargbo’s mother Fatmata Kanu is proud of her son but also admitted it was extremely tough for her to take care of the forward and his brothers.
“I feel good today. I’m happy and proud of my son because he’s doing well,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
“I always advise him to be humble and behave well wherever he is, and he’s heeding to my advice. My prayers for him are for him to succeed in Italy now, and one day become the best player in Africa.
“Things weren’t easy when Augustus was with me, I sold cooked food to take care of him and brothers Idrissa and Michael.
“Today Augustus is taking care of the family, his elder brother is in college and his younger brother has finished secondary school and he’s hoping to go to college.
“We’re thankful to the almighty God and we’ll continue to pray for him.”
She also insisted that she does not regret changing her mind to allow him to leave home at 13.
“I wanted my son to focus on his studies but he wanted to become a professional footballer and I had to give him my blessings,” she added.
“It wasn’t easy to separate with my son at a young age but today I’ll say I have no regret. I made the right decision.
“At some point Augustus wanted to return to Freetown because things were hard for him in Conakry. I had to persuade him to stay in order to focus on achieving his dream.
“I used to send him money and stuff to try to make him comfortable to pursue his dream. I even visited him three times in Conakry and advised him to be patient and that he would one day achieve his dream.
“I also explained to him that there was no easy road to success and today his patience has yielded a dividend.”
Achieving the dream
Kargbo’s debut in Serie A last month saw him become just the fourth Sierra Leonean to play in the top-flight in Italy after Kewullay Conteh, Mohamed Kallon and Rodney Strasser, who won the title with AC Milan in 2011.
“It was a dream come true to play in Serie A, I can’t express how I felt when I entered the pitch against Genoa, and how delighted I was,” Kargbo added.
“It was a proud moment for me, my family and my country. I’ll never forget that day in my life.”
“I hope to get the opportunity to return to Serie A soon. But for now I’m concentrating on my new challenge with Reggiana I’m looking forward to helping the team achieve their main goal of gaining promotion to Serie A.”
It will be a second loan spell for Kargbo at Reggiana, having spent time with the club last season when he scored 10 goals,including the winning goal in the final against Bari to help them gain promotion from the third-tier to Serie B.
The uncapped Kargbo was one of the foreign-based players named by Sierra Leone coach John Keister for friendly matches against Mauritania in Nouakchott on Friday, which they lost 2-1, and Niger in Niamey on Tuesday.
But he will have to wait to launch his international career as he has confirmed to BBC Sport Africa that he has pulled out of the squad due to Italy Covid-19 regulations which would require him to quarantine for two weeks on returning to the European country.
The friendlies will serve as build-up matches for Leone Stars’ back-to-back 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Nigeria’s Super Eagles in November, and Kargbo says he will be willing to travel for these encounters if called upon.