Benjamin Agyeman-Badu: Moving abroad at 18 and experiencing cultural differences in Serbia and Slovenia

It has been less than two years since Benjamin Agyeman-Badu, also known as Ben Badu, was released by Blackpool at the age of 18. Some players may have dropped into non-league or returned to education in that time but that hasn’t been the case for the young winger. He has played abroad in two different countries and experienced senior professional football for the first time – as well as entirely different cultures.

“I would say my time at Blackpool was the most enjoyable in my career as I didn’t leave the club without any silverware and in football that’s what it’s about, winning,” he says.

“I was actually quite shocked that I was released, if I’m honest, but I guess that’s football for you.”

Having been born and raised in east London, the winger, who describes himself as a direct player who is technically sound and not afraid of a battle, had a spell at Reading before moving up north by himself to join the Tangerines.

During his first year with the club, he played out on loan as a scholar for Essex Olympian League side Ryan FC, gaining experience in non-league.

He returned to progress at Blackpool, making it into the reserve side and spending three years with the club in total before being released in the summer of 2017.

After release it seemed like he was destined to follow the path of many others who drop out of the professional game but he instead decided to take a gamble.

“I had just been released from Blackpool and had come off a trial at a club and was playing for a semi-pro club,” he says. “I was on my way home from a match and I got a text from my agent saying “you’re going to Serbia, Tuesday”. I was like ‘woah’ but didn’t turn it down.

“I thought it would be a good experience to help my career as a young boy going over at 18 to a foreign country playing professionally. [There was potential] for lots of people to be interested [in the move].”

Agyeman-Badu during his time with Blackpool – Copyright © 2016 CameraSport.

Although it had come out of the nowhere for Agyeman-Badu, he was determined to make the most of the opportunity and flew out to Serbia to join second-tier club Sloboda Užice on trial, a club based in the city of Užice in the west of country. The side played in the 12,000 seat Užice City Stadium, which has previously held internationals, and had spent the previous three seasons in the second division, having been relegated from the top flight in 2014.

On his arrival in the city, Agyeman-Badu would have an initial helping hand.

“I was on trial with a player from  Feyenoord (Aleksandar Janković), his mum was from Cape Verde and dad from Serbia but he could speak Serbian fluently so he helped me settle in well at the start,” he recalls.

“I’ve got a bantery character so eventually most of the boys took to me.”

Having secured a deal at the club, the young winger would now have to get used to his new surroundings and although he says he did not find the move to be a daunting one, it did not take long for the cultural differences between home and Serbia to appear.

“Living in the country was strange obviously because it’s a pretty old fashioned country it’s not as modern as England and especially coming from east London the things they would do were different to what I was used to.

“Being black was challenging as it’s predominantly a white country so when they saw me they were quite shocked and would stare – but I got used to it after a while.

“It wasn’t too daunting for me as obviously I moved out of my mum’s when I was 16 but being young and coming from east London you’re not really scared of anything like that.”

The former Blackpool man would go on to make 19 appearances in all competitions for Sloboda as he got plenty of game time in his first full season of senior football. His side finished just outside the relegation spots at the end of the season and the style of football was a step up from his time playing in youth football back home.

“I would just say it’s a lot faster and a lot more physical. you don’t get a lot of time to express yourself. For example, you have to get at your man and do a couple of tricks and move it or get it and get into the box because the referees out there literally don’t give anything so you’ve got to be smart.”

He would not be part of their battle against relegation again the following season as after a year in Serbia, another opportunity arose.

Having been approached by the agent of one of his teammates in Serbia, Agyeman-Badu was offered the chance to join Slovenian second-tier club Ankaran.

“The agent thought I’d be a good fit for that club and what attracted me was that they had some good things to say about me and also they had just been relegated from the top flight so I thought they’d get more attention and that I would be a key figure in getting them promoted again.”

Agyeman-Badu’s new side were coming off the back of relegation from their first season in the top flight but had widened their recruitment in the aim of bouncing straight back. As well as signing the young winger, they also recruited another Englishman, former Yeovil Town youngster Jeremiah Gyebi.

With a year abroad already under his belt, the Londoner found Slovenia similar to what he had already experienced.

“Slovenia and Serbia are both in the Balkans and being in Serbia for a year I started to speak the language so yeah, it was pretty much similar for me. I was able to help Jerry (Jeremiah) who was younger than me as I could see myself in him.”

He also found the style of play similar as he went on to make seven appearances for the Slovenian club. Both him and Gyebi have now left the club and are looking for their next opportunities.

“My goals now would be to keep going and keep searching for my break,” he says. “Why not keep on playing abroad? If it was a good opportunity, I definitely would.”

It’s been real learning experience for the 20-year-old since leaving Blackpool and he hasn’t shied away from any of the opportunities presented to him so far. With experience in two foreign countries already behind him, who knows what is next for Agyeman-Badu.

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