Moussa Niakhate: Nottingham Forest defender says Ramadan ...

16 days ago

For Moussa Niakhate, the last few weeks have been a special time of the year.

Nottingham Forest - Figure 1
Photo Sky Sports

Although on the pitch, Niakhate is involved in a hectic battle for survival in the Premier League - off it, he and some of his team-mates at Nottingham Forest are observing the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Niakhate and his team-mate Cheikhou Kouyate have just taken part in a workshop run by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) with some of Forest's Muslim academy players, sharing tips and stories about how they maintain a high level of performance in the Premier League, while fasting for four weeks from sunrise to sunset each day.

"I didn't have this when I was their age," Niakhate said.

"They are really lucky to be in a place like England, to be at a club like Nottingham Forest, because not every country cares about the players who are doing Ramadan, I'm really happy to be at a club like this.

"Nottingham is like a big family."

Fasting and performance

Image: Niakhate has made 18 appearances in all competitions for Forest this season

It really is fascinating - how do Premier League players do it?

To continue to play at such a high level of performance, on an empty stomach and without fluids - it is mightily impressive.

Nottingham Forest - Figure 2
Photo Sky Sports

This does not go just for Premier League footballers - according to the PFA, there are over 250 Muslim players across the professional game in England.

"I start 10 days before Ramadan, I speak to the nutritionist, and he will start to give me more shakes and more vitamins," Niakhate revealed.

"You have to be really disciplined, it's really important - we have six games plus two with the national team during Ramadan so we have to perform."

Speaking to the 28-year-old, he discussed how last season he played against Leeds during Ramadan and how his statistics were higher than ever.

The Senegalese said: "The athletic coach came to me and said it was my best game running, sprinting and also distance covered.

"It's just mental. Normally I eat a lot but this month, when I'm focused on Ramadan - that's all my focus but I still perform, I can and will do both."

Inside the changing room

These workshops that are run by the PFA are not solely for Muslim players and staff but for those of faith and non-faith. The main purpose is to increase awareness and create an inclusive environment, so if we apply that to a Premier League changing room, what is it like?

Nottingham Forest - Figure 3
Photo Sky Sports

Image: Nottingham Forest's Niakhate and Cheikhou Kouyate were involved in PFA player workshops aiming to raise awareness of Ramadan

"It's the thing I love the most in football, just to understand each other - I think without football you may just stay with people who look like you," Niakhate said.

"You have every different nationality, you have different religion, players who don't believe in God - you learn so much.

"This is a part of football, sometimes people don't think about but I think it's the best."

As Ramadan goes back in the calendar by 10 days each year, Ramadan will feature during the Premier League season for close to the next two decades.

We have seen in previous years the Premier League has adapted its regulations to allow players to have a stoppage to break their fast during matches, which as Niakhate mentioned earlier, is not always accessible in other countries. That is why these PFA workshops are important.

After the workshop run by the players, Riz Rehman - the PFA's Player Inclusion Executive - ran a workshop just for club staff to discuss how they can put different things in place for Muslim players across all ages for the month of Ramadan.

Image: The PFA's Riz Rehman (right) and Forest midfielder Kouyate attended a PFA player workshop about Ramadan

Rehman said: "Ramadan is going to be in the season now for the next 15-18 years, so to create that sort of culture and competitive environment, we need to know about different players' cultural needs and religious backgrounds.

"That way we get the best out of them as well, quite a lot of the time we talk about small, marginal gains on the pitch but that off-pitch support is just as important, especially if you want to enable players to perform at an elite level."

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