Idrus Abdulahi on settling in Australia, Joeys stardom and Black Lives Matter

The second-youngest player in A-League history and a star of Australia's Under-17 World Cup squad, Ethiopia-born refugee Idrus Abdulahi has already achieved a lot in his young career. But despite having the world at his feet, the youngster is still faced with challenges that are all too familiar for far too many.

One of seven siblings, Abdulahi arrived in Australia in 2010 and, with his family settling just across the road from the club's rooms, he quickly joined the under-10s side of NPL Victoria side Brunswick City after encouragement from new friends.

His burgeoning talent apparent even then, Abdulahi progressed to the Victorian state side after spending two years at Dunstan Reserve, before being scooped into the academy of Melbourne City by highly regarded youth coaches Anthony Frost -- who had already worked with the youngster in the state setup -- and Lachlan Armstrong.

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"Australia helped me a lot, helped my family," Abdulahi told ESPN in an exclusive interview.

"I'm grateful for this country, I'm really proud to live here because they helped me so much.

"You get small things; people do that to you but it's not the majority. Australians are nice people, they're polite people, they smile, they help you out.

"When I started in my local club in Brunswick, I was the only Black kid in the team. They offered me rides, they helped me, the coach picked me up, they paid for my fees when I didn't have the money. They helped me so much."

Quickly winning plaudits as he worked his way up through City's academy teams, the absence of seven Young Socceroos from Warren Joyce's playing stocks meant Abdulahi -- just a month removed from his 15th birthday -- took up a place on the bench as an unused substitute for City's opening game of the 2018-19 season against Melbourne Victory.

Informed he was needed that night, the unassuming teen offered to catch a bus to Marvel Stadium, only for City officials to hastily arrange him a lift to the ground.

Eventually, while still 15, he secured his maiden A-League appearance in the final game of the regular season. He entered as an 81st-minute substitute in City's 5-0 win over Central Coast Mariners and, in doing so, became the fifth-youngest Australian men's national league player ever.

Late last year, Abdulahi played a key role in Trevor Morgan's Joeys side that reached the round of 16 at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil. A second-half substitute against Ecuador in the tournament opener, he then started the remaining three games at the base of the midfield, playing a full 90 minutes against Hungary, Nigeria and France.

"It was an amazing experience," he said. "They were the top players, the best in the world for their age. It was a very good experience, to work hard and try to get in the first team.

"[I learnt] nearly everything in my game needs to improve. Playing against France and against Ecuador, when I played against them, they were quicker, faster, really good technically -- in everything they were better.

"When I looked at the players in my position, they were amazing. It's good for me to learn from them. I think when I came back it motivated me to work harder."

Now training with Melbourne City's A-league side as they prepare to resume the 2019-20 season, Abdulahi, with a freshly shaven head, is almost unrecognisable.

The beneficiary of an impressive growth spurt, the 16-year-old looks more like a burgeoning midfield general than the skinny kid who sat on the bench against Victory after shooting up a number of inches in the past months and packing on some extra muscle.

Nonetheless, despite being one of Australia's best midfield prospects, challenges still exist for Abdulahi.

With the May 25 killing of George Floyd -- a Black man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes -- in the United States serving as a global catalyst, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced a surge in awareness in Australia in recent months; bringing greater attention to the systemic racism and barriers that are faced by its Indigenous population and people of colour.

Beyond the structural reforms being called for, the attitudes and behaviours that characterise white Australians' interactions with these groups have been challenged in the social consciousness.

"When I open my phone it's always on, people are always talking about it," Abdulahi said of Black Lives Matter.

"You can't avoid it, it's everywhere, everywhere you look. You go on every social media platform and its always on there.

"If I see a white person, I think: 'He's probably smart, he's good, he doesn't get in trouble.'

"It's normal as a human being to judge people. But I think as a Black person, when a white person sees me I'm probably thinking in my head they think I'm Black, I'm a gangster, I don't have anything to do in my life.

"When I walk the street, I could just be walking and a lady will see me -- it's not everyone, but some people from my experience -- when I'm walking she will hold her bag tightly or cross the road and walk on the other side.

"Maybe when I'm in a shop with my friends, the shop person, they will follow me around, follow my friends. They will check our bags.

"It pushes you."

Arriving as a refugee from a country in which English is not the dominant tongue, Abdulahi described how these characterisations and barriers he and his family face increase the difficulty of what is an already challenging endeavour.

"As a Black young man, it's difficult for us to transition from the way we live back home, to adjust," Abdulahi said. "Maybe it takes time for us, especially for our parents, because they don't understand the system.

"There are problems back home, and we are visitors. People don't know what we want, though. But I understand because they never experienced it. It's different for them and for us it's different. It's really strange.

"It would be better if we could help each other adjust. We come here, we are minorities, it's so hard for us to get used to the country, the language."

Abdulahi's next challenge, on the pitch at least, will come when the A-League season resumes on July 16.