HUGE BAGS OF TALENT, INJURY HEADACHES, GROWTH PROBLEMS AND NO END OF MOTIVATION - NOAH SEEMED DESTINED FOR THE LIMELIGHT FROM AN EARLY AGE, BUT HIS PATH WAS NOT AN EASY ONE.
"The blessed one" is the meaning of Noah's second name, Arinze. It also happens to be a good summary of his season so far. It isn't just a story of fortune and great moments, as there has been so much hard work and patience behind it. He has battled all the way to achieve his successes - and how magnificent they have been! The highlight of them all has to be his winning goal against FC Sevilla, which saw him cap his comeback from injury and put us on the way to the Champions League last 16:
In football, and in these kind of moments in particular, it always goes so quickly that you don't recall what you were thinking exactly when you look back at it. I just know that I felt incredible joy the moment I realised the ball had hit the net. We made history and are still very proud of it!
The 21-year-old has not only sent Salzburg but also his home country into raptures already this season. The speedy attacker's strong performances for us earned him a recall for the Swiss national team under Murat Yakin and he more than justified that decision. Noah shone on his first match back by providing a dream assist in a 1-1 draw against European champions Italy. He then put the Swiss into a vital lead against Bulgaria with a header that saw them secure their spot in the World Cup:
They always had me on the radar, but they waited a bit until I had made my breakthrough. It was just a matter of time, as long as I could stay fit and perform, until I had another call-up. The officials in Switzerland always believed in me, and we were in regular contact. I have earned it, ultimately, with my hard work and performances in recent months.
You could be fooled for having the impression that amid all the euphoria around qualifying for the UEFA Champions League last 16 and the World Cup, the winter break came at a bad time. It was a perfect time for Noah to enjoy some downtime, however:
It was a very intensive first half of the season. We had a lot of matches, and it definitely did us good to step back for a bit – mentally too! It's all about the preparation period now, and we want to keep going the way we have, or do even better.
This continual drive to improve inspired the Swiss youngster to fantastic performances, but only after his move to Salzburg from FC Basel in January 2020 brought Noah the odd teething difficulty or two. Having spent his entire life in the Basel area, the teenager was suddenly in a completely new environment:
You can easily underestimate how difficult it is to leave your family and home at the age of 19. Okay, you might know more or less what to expect but there is a lot of new things to get used to. Then there was the pandemic, of course, which didn't make it any easier. I now feel really, really happy here though.
That Noah would be a success with us was never in doubt, however, despite all the challenges. Getting the backing of Christoph Freund & Co was vital for his development:
I never doubted it. I always knew that it was the right step for me. All the people here have always been right behind me, have always been really honest too and told me what things I can improve. I was given enough time, as every player needs a different amount of that. I have always felt the warmth of the people here, which allows me to go about my work in a relaxed way, give my all and seize my moment, which is now!
Another thing for sure is that it is not the kind of development a player could take alone. Noah's breakthrough has coincided with Matthias Jaissle taking charge as head coach. He doesn't mince his words about it:
As a young player, sometimes you need a kick up the arse to stay awake and give your all. Matthias was always very honest and direct with me from the start. He pushes me in every training session. If I let up by a single percent, he tells me that as he knows what I am capable of. I find that really good, and it makes me feel very confident.
Even if it is two years since he left his homeland, his family remain very important to him. It helps, of course, that he is not a million miles away:
It is four or five hours away by car. My family are always coming here, we speak every day and spend holidays together. Of course you miss them a bit to start with, but I think if you are aiming for big things in life, you have to sacrifice something for them.
It was clear at an incredibly young age that Noah is capable of and will achieve great things. As the son of a Nigerian father and Swiss mother, his ability stood out in the quiet Basel suburb of Arisdorf. At the age of nine, he joined the youth ranks at FC Basel, and spent close to 10 years impressing there:
Since I was around 12, a lot of people and coaches had said I will become a pro. I noticed at the age of 14 or 15 that they could be right. From then on it was clear to me - I had to stay healthy, give my all and enjoy my football. I made my hobby my profession, and I can't imagine anything better than that in life. My family have been there behind me since Day One. It was definitely an important part of my development to have parents pushing me and always behind me.
Noah's route to the top wasn't so easy though. At the age of 14, just as the path to the professional game was becoming clearer, the young talent became plagued by growth problems. In no time at all, 1.85-metre Noah grew by around 13 centimetres and his body had some catching up to do:
I really noticed it in the groin and knee areas. The first few weeks after my growth spurt, I just wasn't so fast any more and had some pain. I was really limited when it came to sport for six months. Things are going really well now though when it comes to my genes and muscles.
Back in the Salzburg present, there is usually one team-mate at Noah's side: Karim Adeyemi. Not only on the pitch, as the German has become the best friend of Noah off-the-pitch. The dream team even spent a winter holiday together:
We are like two peas in a pod. We have the same sense of humour. At the start I was a little withdrawn here but now I've opened up. We've gotten on really superbly for a while. You can see our connection on the pitch too. I set up goals for him and he does the same for me.
As much as Noah likes to be the focal point of our play, off the pitch he looks for peace and quiet. There is nowhere he likes better than his own four walls:
I often just relax at home. I can do a bit of stretching, play FIFA, watch TV or call my family.
Noah has no shortage of virtual footballing talent either. He has managed to go unbeaten several times in the FIFA Weekend League – which is something a lot of professional eSportspeople would be proud of. The ratings of his pixelated version have shocked Noah, however, with the Swiss attacker unhappy with his speed - but game creators EA Sports have not yet been in touch:
Almost every child plays FIFA, and when you have your own version of yourself in the game, it's even more fun. I just try to perform as best as I can, and at some stage they will notice it. It doesn't really matter. I know that I am fast, and the most important place to show that is on the football pitch!