Having left war-torn Angola as a child and eventually settled in Germany, Nando Rafael now hopes to make a name for himself on the international stage.
The 2006 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Portugal may come at just the right time for Germany. For the first time in years the Bundesliga has spawned a generation strong enough to play a major role in the tournament, with Hertha BSC Berlin striker Nando Rafael among the best in his class.
"The secret of my success is that I just want to have fun," he told uefa.com. That may sound naïve, but when you consider Rafael's background, it is hardly surprising. Having been taken from his native Angola by his uncle at the age of eight after his parents were murdered in the civil war, football has provided some much-needed light relief in the player's life.
Initially trained at AFC Ajax's youth academy, Rafael soon fell foul of work permit problems and moved on to the German capital, making his first six Bundesliga appearances in the 2002/03 season for Hertha. He has since become a major player in Falko Götz's side alongside Marcelinho and Yıldıray Bastürk. Having been awarded German citizenship in 2005, many experts believe that the athletic striker will flourish in the senior German set-up. However, with four goals in six appearances for the U21s so far, Rafael's first priority at the moment is to prove himself in Portugal.
"We have got a very strong team and anything is possible," said Rafael, who speaks six languages including German, English and French. "Our goal should be to win the tournament. We did not lose a match in the qualifying campaign and that should be a warning for all our opponents to respect us." Rafael seems at ease with himself at the moment, shining for Hertha and for Dieter Eilts's U21 side. "I feel that my team-mates and my coaches trust in me," he explained. "I really enjoy playing and always try not to lose the element of fun in my job."
This happy-go-lucky attitude has not always washed with Götz, who has been urging the striker to push himself harder. "He has got everything it takes to become a major player but he must learn to prove his class more consistently," said the Hertha coach. Eilts has been less critical of Rafael, doing his best to instill confidence in all of his players in the months approaching the finals. "Eilts tries to have a close relationship with each of us," Rafael said. "He tells us that we have to believe in ourselves, whatever happens."
And whatever Götz might think about his professionalism, self-belief is something Rafael has in spades. As Hertha prepare to take on AFC Rapid Bucuresti in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup, he has set his sights on arriving at the U21 finals with a winners' medal already round his neck. "Winning the UEFA Cup with Hertha? Everything is possible," he said.