Cross The Line caught up with Manchester City prodigy, Divine Naah to find out how he is enjoying life in Holland and his ambitions for the future.
So Divine you started out in the ‘Right To Dream Academy’ in Ghana. What was that like?
“It was a great place. They had extra education programs and a football program as well but at the same time, it allowed us to join a religious group that they had. In the Academy, about 30% of the kids were Muslims and the other 70% were Christians. They allowed is to serve whatever we wanted to join, in addition to the football and education. Christians and Muslims were all living together there and we never had any fights. It was a great place to grow up. I went there in 2007 and left in 2014 so that’s seven years in between. We stayed there for three months each time, similar to a boarding school and then we had a one month break to go to our families. When we came back, we got to play football again and get education.”
You recently got your big move to Manchester City, how did that come about?
“The Academy had a relationship with Manchester City, a partnership in which the club supported them financially. At the end of the year, if any players were good enough, City would sign them. In my year, 2014, it was me and my friend Thomas Agyiri (currently playing for FC Twente). We were the only two from my generation. The generation before me sent about four players to Manchester. Some of the players from the Academy are in Norway, a couple of them in Austria and two in Denmark. They have good careers now.”
What have you learnt from being out on loan in Holland?
“I have learnt a lot here from living in a professional environment and training in a professional environment. Back at the Academy, we did everything as a group, it was all developmental. Here, you have to do things on your own, living and training like a professional. I had to learn to live on my own. In the Academy, we had fifty players and we all lived in a boarding house, so there was always someone around. It’s also kind of tough to keep learning new cultures. From Ghana, to Manchester, to Norway, to Holland. Everytime you learn a new culture and meet new people. However I do like it here in Holland!”
Your first goal for NAC Breda was one to remember. Tell us about that goal.
“I remember that, it was in the play-offs against VVV-Venlo! I scored in the youth and with U21, but in my professional career this was the first time. The coaches and players were all telling me I needed to score, so that gave me something more. I remember when the ball came and everything I did after that. The celebration with all the players coming to me, it was just a great moment.”
How are you enjoying life as a Manchester City player, do you feel the pressure of being contracted to such a big club?
“In a way I feel pressure, but it is not the full pressure. Manchester City has a lot of money so they can sign a lot of players. If you want to make it to the first team, you have to be performing at the highest level. I’m on loan, but they have a lot of players based in Manchester as well. That puts pressure on you to play well but all you can do is keep working hard and see what happens. It is a goal for me to get there, but I know it is very difficult. Personally it’s my goal, but I have other dreams too, such as to play in the Champions League and to play in the other top leagues. If I don’t get to play for City, I hope to fulfill those other dreams.”
Who is the best player that you have played with?
“Demy de Zeeuw. He’s the same kind of player as me. Last season, I learned a lot from him because I watched him all the time and the way he played. I have the same qualities that he has, so I picked up a lot from him. He was the reason I made it to the first team because he talked to me a lot whilst playing with me. We actually talked to each other about my playing style. Sometimes in training if I lost the ball, he would say to me: with your playing style, you need to put one touch on the ball there and there. So yeah, he helped me a lot.”
— NAC Breda (@NACnl) February 19, 2016
When you are not training or playing, what do you like to do in your free time?
“I like to go around Breda. It’s not a big city, but I like to go to the city centre and walk in the streets. Sometimes a couple of friends come over and we maybe listen to music, gospel and regular. Also every weekend I’m over at our team manager’s house. His kids like to see me and we play FIFA together and have dinner.”
Let’s talk about your Christian faith, how did you come to know God?
“I actually was born in a Christian family so I picked it up automatically but then as I grew up, I developed a relationship with Jesus for myself. I build up on that. So really I was born into it, picked it up in my childhood and went to church every week.”
You have Psalm 37:7 as your Twitter bio, why is this verse important to you?
“I love that verse. It tells me that in life, you don’t need to always fight your weaknesses. You have to try to live a holy life and be good to everybody, the rest will come at the right time.”
Do you get a chance to share your faith with any of your team mates?
“I do. Last year, we had a couple of players who were Christians too. When Jeffrey Sarpong and Elson Hooi were here, we had a chance to talk a lot about our faiths. Even now we still have a group chats and we send messages or verses to each other.”
Does God feature in your match day routine?
“I do pray before games and listen to gospel music, to prepare myself for the match and focus. Gospel helps me focus on God instead of football. I try to distract myself from the pre-match nerves and I focus on God as much as I can. I’m not nervous every game, especially when I’m performing the way I can, it’s usually okay. However for some games you really want to perform well for the team and then I get nervous.”
Is it hard to balance the pro football lifestyle with honouring God?
“I think it’s really hard. In a relationship with God, you try to lead a truthful life and as a footballer that is almost impossible. As we know in the Bible, you have to do good and strive for goodness and the blessings will then come. Life as a footballer is very different, of course.”
Any idea what God has for you in 2016?
“I just hope that everything I pray for becomes a reality for me. Football, family, friends, joy and happiness for all of them.”