People said he was crazy, but Anas al-Sarmini made a beeline for Sweden because he so desperately wanted to play football after escaping the devastation in Syria.
His journey from Homs to Sweden was as mazy as one of Lionel Messi’s trademark dribbles.
First he left Syria for Lebanon after his brother had deserted from his military service. Even though he was just 15 at the time he worried that an unscrupulous regime would force him to take his brother’s place.
Next he left Lebanon for Egypt, where the rest of his family had fled. His parents put him in a private school so he could catch up on his education, but soon they could no longer afford the fees.
Sweden - the promised land for an ambitious young footballer
Desperate to get back to school, and to kick a football, he decided to follow in the footsteps of thousands of other Syrians and make his way to Sweden.
After a stop-off in Turkey, he was smuggled to Stockholm in October last year.
“Yes, I got smuggled to Sweden to complete my studies and play football after I was deprived of these two in my home country. That’s what I told the migration board in Sweden when they asked me why I came here,” says al-Sarmini, who recently turned 18.
“Even Syrians in Sweden laughed at me and told me I was crazy to come here just to play football.”
On arrival at a refugee centre in Enköping he immediately started looking for a team, but he hit a snag: no clubs would accept a player who didn’t have a residence permit.
He wouldn’t give up without a fight though, and is especially grateful to a couple of Swedes who went beyond the call of duty to help him out.
An eagle-eyed coach's intervention
His liaison officer at the asylum centre supported his plans and put in some calls on his behalf but she got the same response. His luck changed however once he started training at the local stadium with a newly formed team of fellow asylum seekers.
A coach for Enköpings IS spotted that he was talented and approached him after the session. The skilful youngster explained his situation and the coach, Patrik, agreed to let him train with the youth team, on one condition: that he sign up to play for the club once his papers were in order.
The Syrian teenager jumped at the chance to train regularly with a proper team and in no time he was lacing up his boots in the dressing room.
During one session in May he took a heavy blow to the stomach and threw up. The coach, Patrik, wanted him to leave the pitch but he refused.
This tenacity prompted the coach to contact the national football association. To al-Sarmini’s great joy, they agreed to let him register with the club’s youth team.
“I’m very happy now, I am playing football and studying. I got what I wanted after losing everything I had in my home country.”
His next aim? To go professional and eventually to play with the Swedish national team.
“I thank God night and day for surrounding me with the passionate Swedes who have helped me every step of the way.”