When working abroad, it is not uncommon to feel a longing to return home. A visit back to your motherland most times is positively nostalgic, a sentiment that holds water even for the renowned stars of the football world, particularly those who possess African roots or are of African descent. Far away from the glamorous stadiums, flashing lights and adoring fans, these athletes have been spotted flocking to various countries in Africa on touching journeys to re-connect with their heritage.
While some seek to fulfil humanitarian aspirations, helping communities in need through charities and foundations, others simply pursue a break from the demanding schedules of their professional careers. Regardless of their motives, their visits offer a unique insight into their histories.
Kylian Mbappe (Cameroon)
Top of the list is Kylian Mbappe who landed in Yaounde, Cameroon on Thursday, June 6, touring the country for three days. The Parisian-born World Cup winner toured West Africa on his first-ever trip back since he was a teenager. Mbappe (24) was born to a Cameroonian father, Wilfried, and an Algerian Kabyle mother, Fayza Lamari. His father moved to Europe at a young age to pursue a football training career and would later mentor his young son at youth side AS Bondy.
"I'm so happy to be here,” said the Paris St Germain star after touching down in Yaounde, adding he felt "honoured" to be visiting his country "of origin" and had been shown a lot of “love" from the people. Mbappe is reported to have made a stop at a children’s school with hearing and speech disabilities, funding its renovation through his foundation. He then visited his father's village on Djelabe Island, where he got first-hand experience of the family homes. He then participated in a small game with the local children, some lucky to get a signed shirt from their idol.
Bukayo Saka (Nigeria)
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka paid a visit to his grandparents in the Oro Irepodun Local Government Area, Kwara State after landing in Nigeria last month. Born to Yoruba Nigerian parents Adenike and Yomi in Ealing, London UK, 21-year-old Saka touched down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on May 31, and was spotted in the Bariga area a day later in all-white attire.
Through a video posted on his Instagram page, the Gunner thanked residents for the warm welcome with the caption “Ẹ kúulé o”, a local Yoruba greeting in Yoruba from a guest to those who hosted them. The England forward then paid a courtesy call to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the Lagos State at his office and awarded a signed shirt.
Memphis Depay and Gini Wijnaldum (Ghana)
Another group of stars who took the jet to Africa for the holidays is the Dutch duo of Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum. Depay was born in Moordrecht, Netherlands to a Ghanaian father and a Dutch mother (Dennis and Cora). The Atletico Madrid forward has been a frequent visitor of his homeland after reconciling with his father, meeting Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addoeven recently last year and even discovering blood ties with the leader (Asantehene) of the Ashanti Kingdom, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.
Wijnaldum, on the other hand, used to have a ‘Boateng’ attached to his name. The 32-year-old’s parents are of Surinamese origin but was born and raised in the Netherlands. He, however, had a Ghanaian stepfather whom his mother got married to and divorced, hence why he dropped the name. “I want to put on record that I am now Georginio Wijnaldum, not Georginio Boateng, in fact, I have been known as George Wijnaldum for four years now. Boateng was the name of my former stepfather who is related to retired Dutch footballer of Ghanaian origin George Boateng,” he told Goal in 2013.
Following the duo’s arrival in Ghana in June, they paid a visit to Ghana's national Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, who blessed them with prayers. They also visited a local gym in Accra, where they interacted with aspiring boxers before Depay funded the gym’s renovation while supporting several charity initiatives including a school for the deaf and blind.
Cody Gakpo (Togo)
Liverpool star Cody Gakpo was spotted handing out food to children in his father's country in Lome, Togo last month. Born to a Dutch mum and a Togolese dad, Gakpo has always expressed a strong desire to go back and give back to the community. With some of his family still residing in Africa. He is said to be exploring the possibility of setting up a charitable project in the country.
Gakpo turned down the chance to represent Togo internationally after an approach by the Togolese FA, choosing to represent the Orange colours since he was at the Under-18 level.
Thilo Kehrer (Burundi)
Born in Tubingen to a German father and a Burundian mother, West Ham and Germany star Thilo Kehrer also visited his homeland Burundi last month. Having already formed a youth centre in June last year, the 24-year-old was captured on video in a heated dancing session with a local group and youth in the area.
Through the Thilo Kehrer Foundation, the player hopes to provide new perspectives and opportunities to youth while helping them develop creativity, desire, sharing and different values in life.
Alejandro Baldé (Guinea-Bissau)
Barcelona’s 19-year-old left-back Alejandro Balde received a hero’s welcome when he paid a courtesy call to his father’s home country Guinea-Bissau last month. Now representing Spain at the senior level, Balde was born in Barcelona to a Dominican Republic mom (Gledys) and a dad from Guinea-Bissau (Saliu). The Barca star, who was in the company of his brother Edi, met President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and awarded him a signed Barcelona shirt.
Sadio Mane (Senegal)
Sadio Mane recently organised a get-together at his home town in Senegal and continues to transform lives back in by spending millions on building community-benefitting infrastructure. Last year, the Bayern Munich star is reported to have spent over 700,000 pounds (Sh120 million) to transform the Bambali area. He took part in a muddy local football match, which also featured former Senegalese Premier League players, El-Hadji Diouf and Papiss Cisse, before visiting a 455,000-pound (Sh84 million) hospital he supported in constructing.
The hospital is reported to be serving more than 30 villages in the area. To cater to the current Bambali population (around 2000 people), Mane has built a 250,000-pound (Sh46 million) public secondary school in the village. Furthermore, Mane is said to have provided each family in the village with a monthly €70 support package (Sh11,000) and presented €400 (Sh63,000) to the top students at Bambali High School. Children in the village have also acquired free sportswear, whilst the village has been equipped with 4G internet.
Other football stars who ply their trade in Europe and have visited Africa during the holiday season include AC Milan's Malick Thiaw, spotted spending Eid in Senegal, Inter-Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana and Napoli's record-breaking Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen.
GLANCE FACTS: PLAYERS IN EUROPE WITH AFRICAN DESCENT
FOOTBALL STARS WHO HAVE VISITED KENYA: