Playing professional football is the dream of many youngsters growing up all over England. Opportunities are limited, so this remained a dream for many, including myself.  I had an eye-opening conversation with the Managing Director and FA/FIFA Licensed Agent of Strive Sports Management also known as SSM. He let me into his world of business, football, and the importance of family.

“I had a trial for West Ham, as you can see I didn’t make the cut. I was heart broken and gave up. Looking back at it, I realised the opportunity was there, but I lacked the support. Not having right resources and not knowing the right people determines why talented players don’t excel in their careers – this is a common story for people from a working class background.”

“I decided to create this agency supporting individuals from less abled backgrounds.
Being talented is imperative, so we help by creating connections with the right people. There are people with the ability to become better and do great things, so we provide a service that harnesses potential and offers opportunities that aren’t given to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

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Mr. Fadlu Gaji pictured left

Mohammed does not work alone and has a strong team behind SSM. He works side by side with his business partner, Mr. Fadlu Gaji, who contributes heavily to the structure and growth of the business. “He is not only my business partner but is like my brother, so it makes it easier to work together.”

“SSM wants to connect young players with the best people. Most of our current clients are talented sportsmen and women from local communities. Our ethos of supporting the less fortunate isn’t just focused on London, but internationally too. ”

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“My culture was a significant influence in my career development, which is positive and negative. It can make you feel not to pursue your dreams, as it will not be supported by your parents. However, you could be a rebel and prove to yourself that it CAN be done. For me, I had to go university and get an academic career. These days, parents have changed their mindset, and it’s great seeing players and parents accept playing sports as a career.”

It’s a common story amongst British children with African parents – instilling the notion of becoming a doctor or lawyer and that being a sports professional isn’t a ‘real‘ career prospect.

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SSM have a development program for individuals who need to develop their skills to take them to the next level. This program nurtures and develops their skills by supporting them on their journey towards becoming a better sportsman or woman. My thoughts lied with the kids who don’t show potential but have that dream – isn’t it an injustice to their futures if they were placed on that program under the assumption that they’ll be developed to become a highly skilled professional?

“Our development program is unique; it opens the minds of our clients to other avenues they could explore within the sporting industry. As an example, my sister played for Chelsea Ladies. However, the opportunity for women’s football is still limited in England and SSM supported her to develop the qualifications to become a sports rehabilitator in football and now works for a reputable sports company full-time and also part-time for SSM.”

Finding Balance

“My biggest challenge has been juggling a full-time job, my business, and family – I’ve always had a full-time job to provide for my family.” A pivotal part of Mohammed’s life is when he left retail to work in the education sector.“Managing a retail store meant that my hours were sporadic; working weekends, late and early shifts made it difficult to live a balanced life. I would go for days without seeing my son, as he’d be asleep when I got back home from work, and when I leave in early mornings for work.”

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“Now that I’m working Monday to Friday, 9-5pm, I can spend time with my wife and son. I’m able to prioritise requirements for my business, family, and social life. However, my experience as a store manager taught me time management, which is a crucial skill to have. I put my diary to good use – even writing in dinner dates with my wife. It’s good to be organised and stick to appointments, or communicating and rearranging when I can’t make it.”

At face value it feels that it’s unattainable to run a successful business, be present in family life and work full time. Mohammed realised from a young age that it would never be easy but believed it could’ve been done.

“I believe family is paramount to achieve success in life and business. I had started my business before I started my family, which reduced the amount of time I used for my business.

“I’m lucky to have my wife who has been very supportive of me. She’s been my champion, backbone, best friend, and business advisor. When I had my son, he became my heart and motivation to work hard, achieve highly and create a legacy.”

I read an inspirational quote on Instagram it said ‘Don’t work 8 hours for a company then go home and not work for yourself to better your life…’ Mohammed is living by those words and his story along with that quote has kept us motivated to bring you more stories!

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If you would like more information about Strive Sports Management, visit their website – www.strivesportsmanagement.co.uk and follow them on Twitter.

Subject – Mohammed Bolaji, founder of Strive Sports Management (SSM)

Photographer & Writer – Kofi Dwaah
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