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Sport is very unique. It has the ability to offer the opportunities of a lifetime to those who have nothing more than a dream. Nothing encapsulates that quite like the story of Thomas Deng. He became the first African Olyroos captain at this summer's Olympic Games. Here we'll look at who he is, where he came from and his journey from the streets to the top.
Who is Thomas Deng?
The early years
If you want a simple answer to that question then it is as straightforward as we said in the opening; Deng represented the Australian football team at the Tokyo Olympic Games where he became the first African Olyroos captain. Of course, that only tells you about a brief snippet of his life and does not let you tap into anything about the real Thomas Deng.
Deng was born in the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, in March 1997 and spent the first six years of his life living in the city with his mother, father and four older siblings. The family were only in Nairobi as refugees though as Deng's parent had fled their native South Sudan due to constant rumblings of conflict. At six years old Deng's life was turned upside down; Australia – and specifically Adelaide – awaited the Deng family. Only six of the seven family members made the journey though as Deng's father, who worked as a doctor for the well-known charity Save the Children, stayed behind to deliver medical care to those in need. Never again would Deng see his dad; he passed away before the family reunited.
In Kenya, Deng's experience of football was having a kick about in the streets. After moving to Australia, Deng found football in a more structured format. From there his natural ability shone through; as a youth he spent time with the Adelaide Blue Eagles and Playford City before moving to the Western Eagles at 14-years-old. By the time he hit 16, Deng was making his senior bow.
The entirety of his Australian football career was spent in Victoria as he represented the Western Eagles, Green Gully and Melbourne Victory. A loan move to Europe followed in 2016 as Deng spent time with PSV Eindhoven's Jong outfit; that's their reserve team. Unfortunately, Deng didn't get to spend much time on the grass and a return to Australia awaited where he played for Victory for another three seasons; included in that period was the 2017/18 campaign where Deng and co-won the A-League Championship. Eventually, though, it was time for Deng to move on. That is how his move to his latest club – Urawa Red Diamonds of the Japanese J-League – came about.
Committing to Australia
We've already touched on the complex upbringing Deng has been through; for those not paying close attention to that side, he would have been eligible for three different national teams. They were Australia, Kenya and South Sudan. We know he went on to become the Olyroos captain so, rather obviously, he decided to opt for an international career with Australia. His first taste of football at that level came in the under 23 Championship in 2016; Deng performed admirably with pundits waxing lyrical about some of his displays.
By 2018, Deng was making the step up as he joined the Socceroos on a tour of the UAE where they played Kuwait; it was in that match that Deng made his bow. Fast forward a few years later to the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics, which were hosted in Tokyo, and Deng was putting himself on the map. Not only had he taken to the grass at the Olyroos captain but he did so with an assured display against Argentina. Deng helped his team and back four to a 2-0 win as he was named Man of the Match.
There you have it, the story of Thomas Deng; a South Sudanese national that arrived in Australia as a refugee via Kenya that would go on to lead the national team out at the Olympic Games. Proof that dreams do come true.