The second week of La Liga is around the corner. In UD Almería, Henok Goitom is recovering for the thigh injury he sustained during an internal friendly during the preseason. Soon he’s going to make his official debut for his new club.
Have you heard of him before?
If not, then let me take you on a little journey that starts not quite far from where I grew up. Although Henok has already travelled quite far, our journeys could still end up relatively close by.
The only difference will be the two of us simply covering different aspects of the sport we love. One on the field – and one from the Bleachers.
Henok Goitom was born to Eritrean parents on September 22nd, 1984 and grew up in the notoriously immigrant-dense Stockholm suburbs of Tensta and Husby.
As a youngster he could be seen in the third gravel pitch, or simply “Husby 3” at six o’clock where he and his friends competed over who could score the most tunnels on each other.
The young Goitom was trained by his father and although the dream of making it as a professional footballer was always at the back of his mind he didn’t start taking football seriously until his mid teens.
In 2003 the Swede-Eritrean took a leap most young footballers can only dream off. He traded fourth division Vasalund/Essinge for Udinese and Serie A.
The rising young talent was discovered by scouts during a qualification game with Sweden for the U-19 European championship in Portugal.
“I was 18 years old and thought “[sic] it”, let me do this. If this doesn’t work out I can always come home and play for one of the Stockholm clubs. I managed it all through discipline and patience.
"I was focused on my goal during the entire time. But people should know that it wouldn’t have worked out without the support from my family and friends,” Goitom told Braxingen.
La Gazzetta dello Sport quickly labeled Goitom “Udinese’s new pearl” where the newcomer was taken under the guidance of Luciano Spalletti and trained alongside players such as Vincenzo Iaquinta, David di Michele and Antonio di Natale.
Unfortunately his dream move would soon become a nightmare as he sustained a rather serious knee injury only one month into the move, that kept him from the pitch for most of his first season in Italy.
On February 19th the following season the forward made his debut as he came on as a late substitute against Inter Milan with only seven minutes remaining of the fixture. It turned out that this was all that was needed as he he grabbed the equaliser with a header in the 90th minute.
Despite the successful debut it was to be his sole appearance in the Udinese shirt.
Having played only seven minutes on the pitch in two seasons it naturally took its toll on the youngster, who missed everything and everyone he had left behind. Goitom later revealed that he even considered a move to Stockholm-based outfit Djurgården (DIF) in Allsvenskan.
“I talked to DIF-coach Kjell Jonevret. I was incredibly close to joining Djurgården that summer. I was thinking; after two years in Udinese I’ve only played seven minutes, I miss Stockholm, I’m 19 years and not that mentally strong for the moment.
“When I talked my Father he said; what are you going to do here? Not even when I’m really bored do I sit down to watch Allsvenskan.”
With seemingly no playing time at Udinese, the then 21-year old was shipped on loan to Segunda division club Ciudad de Murcia where he spent two seasons during which time he scored 24 goals.
During this time he’d also established himself as a regular in the U-21 side, but unfortunately he didn’t make the final cut for the Swedish squad that went on to play the World Cup in Germany.
After having been released by Udinese in 2007, city rivals Real Murcia secured the services of the gangly forward for a fee of €3 million as he put pen-to-paper on a four-year deal.
With his new club, Goitom only netted twice as the side was ultimately relegated to the Second Division. With no desire to go back to the second tier combined with the club’s financial situation the Swede-Eritrean was once again shipped out on loan – this time to Valladolid who had just finished their first season back in the Spanish top flight after three years in Segunda.
Valladolid paid €500,000 for the forward who was brought in to replace Villarreal-bound Joseba Llorente and was given a €3.5 million buyout clause at the end of the season.
Despite establishing himself as a first choice in the starting line-up under José Luis Mendilibar, Goitom was finding it extremely difficult to find the net. The supporters weren’t merciful and soon started to show their discontent with the new arrival.
It wasn’t until the 13th round that the forward found the back of the net. After his second goal he was asked if he thought the supporters would finally warm to him, but the reporters were in for a somewhat different reply.
“The war has just begun. It’s me against them and if I have to fight against 25,000 then I will. I don’t want them to cheer me on. If they’ve been against me once then they can continue on with that the entire year. It’s like you talk behind my back at first and then want to come close to me,” he said to Aftonbladet.
The Swede-Eritrean finished the season as the club’s top goalscorer with ten goals to his name.
Despite the success in the second half of the season Valladolid chose not to exercise their buying option, which meant that the player was once again in the possession of Real Murcia.
In July UD Almería officially announced the €2.5 million signing of Goitom after their star-man from the previous season, Alvaro Negredo, was called back by Real Madrid and eventually headed for Sevilla.
Not too long from now, Goitom will make his first appearance for his new club. The 24-year old is excited about his new club and has already praised them for their attack-minded football.
Around Sweden, Goitom has become a huge inspirational source for teenage boys who just like the Almería forward hopes to be able to one day make it as a professional footballer – and nothing would please him more.
“I like to talk to 15-16 year olds here in Sweden, the ones that can think; he went from Husby to La Liga, and so can I”.
Just like his fellow countryman, the very outspoken Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henok Goitom too is different. They duo simply represent another part of Sweden.
The dream is to play for a bigger side and a good run this season could very well spark interest from the more prestigious La Liga clubs, but there’s no denying that Goitom has come a long way since his days in the Husby gravel pitches.