Teenage footballer signs academy contract after escaping from war-torn Congo (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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Leytonstone teenager Max Makaka, 16, has signed for Watford FC after being granted asylum seven years ago
A teenager who honed his football skills playing bare feet in the streets of war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo has been signed up by Watford FC.
Max Makaka, 16, of Clarendon Street, Leytonstone, who is a pupil at George Mitchell School in Leyton, was granted asylum in the UK seven years ago after fleeing his homeland with his mother.
He was spotted by a scout after being released by Spurs and has now signed an academy contract with the Championship side and will begin training next month.
Recalling his childhood, he said: "In Congo most families can't afford shoes and boots for kids so they play in their bare feet.
"They don't really have the facilities there so it is really hard to get better. There was only one pitch where I lived so all the kids would play at the same time."
The young midfielder is keen to stress the influence of his "hero" mother, who fought to get her family to safety and a better life.
He said: "My mum is a hero of mine. She went through a big struggle to get us over here.
Max also highlights the support he received from George Mitchell and he is predicted high grades in eight GCSEs despite not speaking English on arriving in the country.
He said: "I have the school to thank for helping me with that. It was hard but the teachers really helped me.
"They always tell you at Watford you have to have a Plan B because you never know what will happen in football. That is why education is so important to me."
And he singled out PE teacher Tom Collier for particular praise.
He said: "The whole school has really helped me but Tom really supported me.
"He made me captain of the team. Whenever I had any doubt about myself he was there to pick me up.
"I don't know if I would be where I am today without all the support the school have given me."
The ambitious teenager is setting his sights high and is aiming to be as good as one of the best midfielders the world has ever seen.
He said: "I want to be as good as my hero Zinedine Zidane.
"Every player has dreams of winning trophies but first hopefully I can get into the first-team this year."
Mr Collier, 28, was full of praise for Max's attitude.
He said: "The great thing about Max is that he never forgot his studies.
"The school wouldn't let him and to be fair to him he continued to work hard even when he was achieving success in football.
"He has not let it all go to his head. He is still the humble, friendly, level-headed and hard working boy he was when he first came to the school."
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