“Allow him, allow him to take it,” a voice from the Wa Model primary school bench could be heard commanding during the team’s ultimate group game against Kundungu D/A primary in the just ended Zone 1 competition of the Milo U-13 Champions League.
Mastering free-kicks at age 13: The incredible routine of young Taslim
Zone 1 of the 2019 Milo U-13 Champions League produced many talents, but the free-kick prowess of Nuhu Taslim particularly grabbed the attention of many, writes Pulse Sports’ Emmanuel Ayamga.
The game was deadlocked at the time, with both sides struggling to create anything meaningful in the final third. More importantly, the result would be crucial in determining who picks the sole slot to represent the Upper West Region in the national finals.
The voice from the bench was that of Wa Model coach, Nasirdeen Nantiere. The coach went on to insist: “Nuhu Taslim, go for it. The rest of you step aside!”
Fortunately, the coach’s confidence in the young no.10 paid off. It was almost as if he knew what was going to happen. Taslim stepped up and looped the ball past the five-man wall of Kundungu D/A and into the net.
1-0 the game ended, as that wonderful free-kick turned out to be the winner. Unfortunately, though, the result was not enough to see Wa Model qualify as Karni D/A primary finished top of the group with a superior goal difference.
Those who witnessed Taslim’s strike would be forgiven to think it was fortuitous. But, in truth, it was routine – something the 13-year-old has practiced and perfected.
The goal against Kundungu D/A was actually Taslim’s second of the tournament, both of his goals coming from direct free-kicks.
“Training makes man perfect, so I go to training every day to practice the free-kicks,” the young playmaker tells Pulse Ghana.
“We usually close school at 1:30pm, so I practice after school. When I get home at around 1:45pm, I just change and get straight to training. I practice and practice.”
At such a young age, Taslim practices his free-kicks by setting people up as a wall and tries to loop the ball above them.
The teenager does not only practice with his teammates, he also trains on his own by using his brothers as a wall. “In the house, I set my brothers as a wall and use them to practice my free-kicks,” he reveals.
He joined a colts club at the age of nine, but begun practicing on free-kicks just a year ago. His determination, however, means that he doesn’t leave anything to chance. He trains at the least opportunity and it is gradually paying off.
During the regional level, he scored an impressive seven goals, as Wa Model primary school qualified to compete in the zonal competition. He was the second top-scorer in the team, with four of his goals coming by way of direct free-kicks.
“I just feel like I’m going to score [anytime I am behind a free-kick]. I’m confident when taking them,” he says, adding that he wants to make free-kick taking a part of his game.
Taslim is just 13, but his technique in dead ball situations is simply imperious. Unlike other free-kick takers who go for power, the young no.10 prefers to loop the ball above the wall as he targets placing the ball in the top corner.
The youngster’s coach, Nasirdeen believes he can improve even further. Having watched him develop into a free-kick expert in the last 12 months, Coach Nasirdeen has no doubt that Taslim is destined for greater things.
“Taslim is a humble kid from a very humble background,” Nasirdeen effuses.
“We organised an inter-classes based soccer competition on one good Friday and I spotted him being a talent. He has single-handedly led our school to score 17 unprecedented goals in four matches during the regional inter-schools. He’s that good with the set pieces – he scores and assists.”
Coach Nasirdeen is aware of the type of player he possesses in his team and admits to being almost 100% sure that a free-kick gained will be turned into a goal, should it be within Taslim’s shooting range.
“Talking about taking free-kicks, it is something I have taken personal, keen interest on and have trained him to take the kick within the distance of which his legs can power the ball.
“For that reason, when we are playing, and we are have not even scored and an opportunity like that comes, I’m always confident that we will get the three points from there (the free-kick). I have taken him through routine kicks and I believe in him. He also believes in himself, so we are always confident when he is standing behind a free-kick,” he adds.
Taslim currently plays for a colts football club called Future Stars, where he usually trains when he’s not on duty with the school team. However, despite his seriousness with football, the youngster is still focused on excelling academically.
He studies when he needs to and plays football when he needs to. It is a trait which particularly delights Coach Nasirdeen, who doubles as a teacher at the Wa Model primary school.
“He is not only good with his boots or legs; he is also very academically sound. He came second in last term’s examination, out of a class of 38 pupils,” Nasirdeen discloses. “So if he’s good with the foot and also good academically, the sky is just the limit.”
Developing as a footballer in the Upper West region is an arduous responsibility. Not only does the region lack the facilities to develop young talents, there are also very few opportunities to enable young footballers grow to become professionals.
But with the support of his parents, who Taslim says bought him his first boots, the young playmaker hopes to make a breakthrough.
As an attacking midfielder, Taslim wants to model his game around that of Real Madrid talisman Luka Modric, but also aims to master the shooting ability of Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho.
“I want to emulate Luka Modric and play like him, but I aim to shoot my free-kicks like Barcelona’s [Philippe] Coutinho does.”