My first memory of football is playing in the street when I was eight or nine in Bamako [Mali's capital city]. There were 18 or 20 of us. Quite a lot of them have gone on to become professional players. We set out our own pitch, put stones down a metre apart to make a goal, and played two hours without a break. The best!
We'd get an old ball – one that had burst – from an older brother, cut a hole in it and stuff it full with old clothes so we could keep using it. Those balls were hard, no bounce at all, but playing in the street was easier for us then. Now there are more children, and the streets are full of cars.
I love being around youngsters. I go on holiday to Mali, back to the street I grew up on. The kids there want to laugh with me, play football with me. And so we play, for five or 10 minutes, but sometimes they don't want me to go and I find myself in the middle of a game. I know I have to play with the ball in the air. If I play on the ground they'll run between my legs, or kick me in the shins! I play against five or six of them: it's funny.
The street's where I started out and that's where my heart will be, always. The friends I first played with will be the same guys I finish with, too, I hope. We speak all the time, and when I'm back in Mali we meet up to play. Nine against nine, 30 minutes each way. I'm the captain of Mali but, with my friends, they won't let me be captain. We grew up together and they know better! We play for a side of beef which I put up instead of a cup. The winner takes the beef but, whoever wins, we all eat it together. It's a party. How can I ever forget my friends?
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