Debora: South Sudanese soccer star who dreams of playing for Arsenal, Barcelona

Debora: South Sudanese soccer star who dreams of playing for Arsenal, Barcelona
South Sudan Women’s national team player Debora Stephen.

Deborah Stephen hit the back of the net 40 times last season. Those goals exclude the five he scored for the national team. That was almost double the number of goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo last season, in a Manchester United jersey.

Debora, the petit South Sudanese women’s national team forward, is currently preparing for the new season – with Yei Joints Stars, ready to terrorise opposition defenders once again, when from September 15.​​

But while her coaches, that include former South African international Shilene Booysen, currently in charge of the South Sudan women’s team, will be hoping that Debora continues her scoring habit, the player has set even higher goals for herself – a dream that could scare even the most experienced journalist.

“I must play for Arsenal before I retire,” she says shyly during this interview.

Having just made her national team debut early this year, Debora has so far immersed goals to her name.

Four of them came against Djibouti, at this year’s CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup, held in Kampala Uganda, a place she has called home, away from home.

“I schooled in Uganda. I could go there when schools open and return home whenever we close.”

Until she joined Gadhafi Integrated Academy, from St Juliana, for her senior 1-6, Debora never thought that she would one day fly South Sudan’s flat on the international stage, leave alone attract interest from some European clubs.

And when Isra Soccer Academy came calling, with an offer, while she was still in school, Debora believed in herself. She went out and conquered.

“I signed up for Isra academy in my second year in high school. I would learn and earn at the same time. That was a nice experience,” said Debora with a ting of a smile.

While with Gadhafi, the Uganda high school football powerhouse, Debora helped the side to two semifinal appearances at the East Africa Secondary Schools Sports Association – first in Rwanda and later in Gulu, in 2019.

“I won almost all regional tournaments during the time (six years) that I was at Gadhafi. We were always at the nationals – I lifted two (national) titles.

“I’ve always been a winner,” said the player now with an ambitious dream of breaking the barriers.

She tells me that she wants to be the first South Sudanese player to play for Arsenal women’s club.

“I want to play for Arsenal or Barcelona,” Debora adds, her eyes tacked to the horizon, perhaps an indicator of the endless possibilities that football talent presents to a 20-year-old South Sudanese international.

But how possible is that for a young player who comes from a country ranked second from bottom in the FIFA ranking?

“It gives me some concerns though but I believe that if you are good then nothing should stop you from dreaming.”

At just 20 years of age, Deborah has established herself as one of the top scorers in regional women’s football.

Debora was among the U20 National Women’s team that travelled to Algeria for 2020, FIFA World Cup U20 Women’s Qualifier Preliminary Round.

Two years later, she scored a hat trick in her senior international debut against the Sudanese side in February this year.

“I think I just need to do my best to keep my football developing, but most importantly, my dream is to see myself at the next level. I want to see South Sudan at the next level, where we can be among the best countries in FIFA rankings,” the Bright Stars hit woman stated.

Last season, she scored seven goals in a single match, making her one of the deadliest strikers in the region.

Her contribution helped Yei lift the 2021/22 Women’s South Sudan Cup for the second time in a row.

The indefatigable Deborah drew inspiration from his elder brother – Aweko Victor who plays professional football in Uganda.

“I am grateful to my brother, who is also a football player, for motivating me. My parents are my biggest supporters,” the Bright Starlets star revealed.

Deborah honed her scoring skill by playing against boys’ teams. However difficult it is to believe, she claims that she once played for a boys’ team – at St. Julian’s primary school.

“At first, I used to play with boys in 2014, and I was doing well, so, as a result, other colleagues advised me to play in the inter-class competition, and I did well. It was at that time that I realized that I could play football, “she told The City Review.

When Yei Joint Stars beat City Stars Women 6-0 to win the Yei Local Women’s South Sudan Cup 2021 (Y-LW-SSC), Debora walked off the pitch with four of the six goals.

In August 2022, she snatched a spectacular hat-trick against Garde Republic FC of Djibouti in a 6-0 in the CAF Women’s Champions League 2022 Zonal Qualifiers.

In 2019, she was also part of the team that played in the same competition in Gulu, where they were also eliminated on the same stage.

She won three regional and two national trophies with Gadhafi Secondary School before she was called up for the bright starlet U20 team in late 2019.

But while these will count as just mere records in the game of football, Debora remains upbeat that her dream of playing top professional football – possible with her dream team – Arsenal, is still on course.