England star Bukayo Saka was in contact with neighbours on his old estate after last night’s big win and is well-known for helping people move house as well as sending footballs, games consoles and money to help hard-up families in the area, MailOnline can reveal today.
His man of the match performance against the Czech Republic last night marks an extraordinary journey for the Arsenal winger, 19, who was born five miles from Wembley and is nicknamed ‘little chilli’ by teammates because he spices up attacks.
The teetotal hero and straight-A student lives with his mother Adeniki and father Yomi who always order him to go to bed early before big games. They moved to Hertfordshire to be closer to Arsenal’s training ground last year.
Bukayo’s Nigerian parents, who are devoted Christians, settled in Ealing when they came to the UK in the 1990s as economic migrants to give their unborn children a better life.
But while their son wowed on the immaculate Wembley turf last night, it was a scrap of land outside his family’s former terraced property in west London where it all began.
Saka, who lived as a child in a cul-de-sac in Greenford, north London and went to Edward Betham C of E Primary School and then Greenford High School, was ‘always kicking a football in front of the house’, said Loraine Cain, 62. She told MailOnline: ‘They were a lovely, polite and very quiet family. Bukayo was never without a ball and was always kicking one around outside.’
Fellow neighbour Eileen Nolder, 91, said he had moved to be closer to the Arsenal football ground to give his son every chance of succeeding without having to leave home.
She said: ‘They are a lovely family, Yomi in particular. He was fantastic and the boys were lovely. There were a couple of times when an ambulance was called for me. Yoni noticed and came straight over to help. Anything you needed carrying or doing, he would come and do it. She added: ‘Yomi was convinced his son was going to be a star and they moved to be closer to Arsenal. I was very sad when the family left.’
Another neighbour, who did not want to be named, texted Bukayo to congratulate him last night. He said: ‘We’re very proud of him.’
Bukayo Saka dribbles past Tomas Holes as England beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in a man of the match performance
Bukayo was given a hug and a pat on the back after a brilliant game as he made his Euro 2020 debut
His football career began here on this green in Ealing, where he would play every night with his brother and father from the age of three
Meseret Degeti, 34, from Ethiopia and a mother of three boys, remembered the Sakas as a generous family always willing to lend a helping hand. Although they left the house where Bukayo grew up in April last year, his father Lionel – known affectionately in the neighbourhood as Yomi – still pops back to see if Mrs Degeti needs any jobs doing around the house and helps with the school run.
Bukayo and his family ignored the signs and played football outside every day
And when she moved in two years ago, the Saka family introduced themselves by presenting her sons with a sack filled with 20 footballs.
Mrs Degeti said: ‘They are so kind, friendly and always helpful. Bukayo and his brother helped me move furniture when I was moving in. Their father is just fantastic and his wife is very kind.
‘Yomi gave my boys an X-box last Christmas and £40. He was always encouraging my sons to play football. He only told me his children played football and were good, but he did not say exactly how good.
‘He still comes and visits, especially when I have issues with the house. He was here in April to sort out a plumbing issue.
‘When they were living here, he would often drive my children to school.’
Mrs Degeti said the Sakas were devoted Christians and when Bukayo’s father visited, he would encourage her children to pray with him.
She said: ‘He would tell them they needed to pray, to help their mother and to be kind to each other. He would ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. He would talk to them all the time about football and always brought them gifts.
‘My eldest is now 11 years old and obsessed with football.’ Mr Saka worked as a businessman and manages property.
From the age of three he was playing football on a small green with his father Yomi and older brother Abayomi every night, who were so worn they had to beg him to go inside to bed.
His mother Adenike and father worked menial jobs to pay the bills while ferrying their son to football in the evenings and on weekends after he signed for Arsenal aged seven – but were clear that if he wanted to be a professional footballer he must also succeed at school.
Bukayo duly left Greenford High School in the summer of 2018 with four A*s and three As in his GCSEs, with his teachers describing him as ‘the humble boy who achieved his dreams as well as a first-class education’.
The school’s PE department tweeted last night: ‘Bukayo Saka at Greenford High School: always ready to learn, so respectful towards staff and peers, wonderful family and top grades. Such a proud night!’.
After a brilliant season at Arsenal, where he became player of the year, and a turgid performance by England against Scotland last Friday, Saka showed his world class football skills when he replaced Phil Foden and sparked the team into life last night. He was also instrumental in Raheem Sterling’s goal that saw England beat the Czechs 1-0 and win the group.
And like after every game, Bukayo, whose name hails from the West African Yoruba tribe and means ‘adds to happiness’ – will have FaceTimed his doting parents at full time.
After a barnstorming first half Arsenal legend Ian Wright said Saka was ‘burdened with glorious purpose’ – the motto of Marvel anti-hero Loki, the trickster god and adopted son of Odin and brother of Thor.
While Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has given him the nickname ‘Little chilli’, because he ‘spices up’ the team, even buying him a jacket with a jewel-encrusted red chilli and Saka’s sewed along the front.
Bukayo Saka, believed to be pictured with his brother Abayomi on holiday, in a rare personal picture on his Instagram
Bukayo with staff at his former school during a visit after leaving in 2019
His school are rightly proud of the heights their former student has reached
Greenford High School where Bukayo Saka was a pupil, gaining all As and A*s at GCSE
He started his academic life at Edward Betham of E Primary School School, where his sporting prowess also showed
His family is his anchor, living with his parents and close to his brother. Bukayo’s Instagram has the biography ‘God’s child’ and unlike other footballers he is not full of pictures of mansions, flash cars, and expensive jewellery, and only has one holiday photo.
He was reportedly the only England player without alcohol on his table in the team’s lounge. He prefers juices, smoothies and milkshakes.
And despite signing a four-year deal earning him a reported £10,000-a-week, he still lives with his parents after buying them a home near the club’s training ground in Barnet. He is believed to be single and goes on holiday with his brother.
He told arsenal.com: ‘From the age of three or four I would be playing football at home with my dad, and my older brother, Yomi.
‘It was always like that. We would play for hours. My dad and brother would want to go back inside but I never let them. We kept playing until I won. I’m serious, you can ask them! As long as they were winning, I wouldn’t let them back inside.’
He added: ‘I still live with my parents, but we’ve moved away from Greenford now, closer to the training ground, and my brother has moved to Reading to go to university’.
Saka drove England forward last night and was instrumental in Raheem Sterling’s winning goal
One source close to the star says his feet are firmly on the ground, adding: ‘He’s a brilliant, brilliant kid. Very polite, very courteous, actually very smart and very studious’.
Describing his personality Neil Dewsnip, who coached Saka for England’s Under-18s, told The Athletic: ‘He’s really quiet, self-disciplined, really focused. But underlying all that is a really dry sense of humour. He’s a cheeky little chap, whose self-confidence is obviously growing all the time.’
Just six months after leaving school he made his first team debut in 2019, aged 17, but the humble footballer chose to praise his family rather than his own performance.
He said at the time: ‘My family were buzzing, they couldn’t stop smiling when I told them. But they managed to put me to bed early to focus on today, they were so happy.’
After the game he tried to speak to his proud parents and brother but was taken away for an ice bath. But he still managed to FaceTime them from the freezing water.
Saka is also a hero to students at Greenford High School in Ealing, where his framed and signed Arsenal shirt is on the wall.
His former PE teacher Mark Harvey told The Times: ‘In the last year of doing GCSEs, Bukayo was out of school with Arsenal quite a bit, but he was brilliant.
‘He knuckled down, got really good grades and came out with flying colours. In terms of a sportsman: superb. In terms of a student: role model’.
He added: ‘The family were always insistent that schoolwork had to be addressed. Thankfully, Bukayo was brilliant with his studies — and it was never a concern for us.’
For Bukayo there was never any doubt he would choose England over his parents’ native Nigeria.
He said recently: ‘My whole family has been in England like forever. When I grew up all my documents stated that I am English, hopefully Nigerian people will understand’.
From the age of three he was playing football on a small green with his father Yomi and older brother Abayomi every night.
He played for his local club, Greenford Celtic, until he was picked up by Arsenal, aged seven.
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