Doucoure's Strength In Faith As Ramadan Begins

Abdoulaye Doucoure has described the strength he takes from his faith ahead of the beginning of Ramadan on Wednesday.

From this evening, up until the evening of 21 April, Muslims around the world will begin Ramadan, fasting during daylight hours and aiming to connect with their faith.

Doucoure, who was born and raised in a suburb of Paris to Malian parents, will be joined by fellow Everton midfielders Idrissa Gana Gueye and Amadaou Onana, as well as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in observing the holy month.

"I always love Ramadan," Doucoure told BBC Sport. "Sometimes playing football has been hard because Ramadan has been in the summer and during pre-season.

"But I have always been lucky to practise Ramadan and there have never been problems with my physical condition - I am grateful for that.

"My religion is the most important thing in my life - I put my religion first, then comes my work. You can do both together and I am happy with that.

"You get so much free time so I am always able to go to the mosque to pray and to enjoy my religion when I'm at home."

According to advisers Nujum Sports, there are 253 Muslim players in the first teams and academies of the top four tiers of English football, making up around five per cent of the total.

Doucoure reveals he is a regular visitor to his local mosque in the north west and describes England as "one of the best countries in Europe" as an environment to practise worship.

"My family is a very religious family so I learned how to be a good Muslim and for me that is very important," he explained. "My faith helped me to go through a lot of barriers so it is very important to me.

"In football and life you go through pain and disappointment. Football is always up and down - sometimes you don't play, sometimes you are injured, but my faith helped me through this. I am grateful to God for giving me that strength.

"I always make dua [supplication], always pray for Allah to help us in games. Without my faith, I would not be in this position today."

He continued: "I was born in France and worked there, but between France and England there is a big difference. English people are a great example.

"Sometimes you have to listen to the people and understand what the faith means to them. It is not a choice - it matters to us to protect our faith 100%.

"I always wanted to be in the Premier League and I want to stay much longer here. It is the best league for Muslims to be in."

As well as forming an impressive bond in Everton's midfield - Doucoure, Gana and Onana have started all eight games together since manager Sean Dyche took charge - the Mali international reveals the trio are close away from the pitch, too.

When praying together at Everton, Gana acts as the imam, while the group attends the mosque together for Jummah - Friday prayers.

"We speak the same language so are very close and play together in the midfield, which brings us even closer.

"We always pray together and ask for space to pray. People are very welcoming and give us the space. Idrissa usually leads because he is older and has a good voice."

Everton's Muslim quartet of Doucoure, Onana, Gana and Begovic will all receive individual meal plans during Ramadan, with the Club's Head of Nutrition, Lloyd Parker, recommending the players load up with carbohydrates, while respecting their cultural traditions.

Before starting the fast in the early hours, a typical meal would consist of porridge, eggs or jam on toast and fruit juice - and a tray would be left outside players' rooms at away games.

They tend to enjoy a three-course meal at night with a starter of minestrone soup, a pasta or rice dish for main and apple crumble or jam roly-poly to finish.

Match officials across England's top four leagues have also been asked to allow players to break their fast during evening matches over the holy period of Ramadan.

"I fast every day, I don't miss any days," says Doucoure. "It has become normal and very easy for me. I started fasting at 12 or 13 years old and now I am 30. I know my body very well - I have a good breakfast beforehand which helps me through the day.

"Training is still the same during Ramadan, but when we go away we might need to eat later than the others, so the chef prepares food for us, making sure everything is in place as at home. We get halal food so there are no problems.

"During Ramadan the family comes together to break the fast and then we go to the mosque for Taraweeh [evening prayers]. I love this time because you meet some new people as well - Ramadan is a good moment for Muslims to be connected with our faith.

"Reading more of the Quran and learning from it is something that I always do and, during Ramadan, that is something all Muslims have to increase."

Everton wishes all Muslim players and supporters across the world a happy Ramadan.