Pacy midfielder excited by move to Saints after debut against Dundalk
St Patrick’s Athletics’ new signing Serge Atakayi has revealed how he left his native Congo and sought asylum in Finland at just ten years old.
The 23-year-old arrived in Ireland for the first time on Thursday and made his debut for the Saints the following day, coming off the bench in their 1-1 draw against Dundalk.
Atakayi travelled to Finland with a regional Congolese team, and took part in the 2010 Helsinki Cup. Rather than return home to the conflict after the tournament, Atakayi and his teammates decided to walk into a Finnish police station to seek asylum.
He joined FF Jaro’s academy shortly afterwards and was granted citizenship at age 16.
After a whirlwind few days for the winger, he reflected on his journey to date, and how the courageous decision to leave his family and follow his dream paid off.
“When I think about it now, it was a very good decision,” said Atakayi, after Friday’s match.
“It was very hard when I first moved to Finland. I didn’t know where it was, but I learned quite a lot there. When I was a kid, it was so hard for me. I missed my Mam and my sister.
“When I was young, I just wanted to play football. My mam didn’t want me to play but now she is so happy. They are still in the Congo. I was there last year to visit them. I hope all the time that everything is safe for them.”
Atakayi made his senior debut for FF Jaro in 2015 and became the youngest ever goal scorer in Finnish top-flight at 16. He had trials at Leicester City and Fulham before signing a three-year deal to join Rangers’ academy in August 2016.
The 23-year-old was grateful to be able to learn from Steven Gerrard at the time, but disaster came when he broke his ankle on his first-team debut in 2018.
“It was a bad moment,” said Atakayi.
“I was waiting so many years to make my debut. Gerrard gave me that chance and bad luck, break your ankle. It was good (under Gerrard). I tried to improve finishing to take the full-back on, that’s what he wanted.”
Atakayi returned to SJK in 2019 and was loaned out to TPS last season, where he played under St Pat’s assistant manager Jon Daly. He has penned an 18-month deal at Richmond Park.
"The winger hopes to improve in Inchicore and could also make his European debut against Slovenia’s NŠ Mura on Thursday.
“I got a call from Jon on Wednesday, and everything was sorted,” Atakayi added.
“I was a little bit surprised I could play (against Dundalk). I have a good relationship with him. It was an easy decision for me to come here and improve as a player."