When word got out that Seville’s Muslim community were about to lose their mosque, former Tottenham and West Ham striker Fredi Kanoute knew he had to help.
In 2007, the landlord of a converted section of a building in the Ponce de Leon area of the Andalusian city was looking to sell, meaning the burgeoning Muslim community would face eviction.
“I helped the Muslim community in Seville a few years back. At the time they were looking to safeguard their place of worship. I helped them to keep their temporary mosque,” recalled the former Sevilla striker.
Having conducted due diligence to establish that everything was “legit” there was a condition of anonymity which Kanoute insisted on. However, days later, the news was leaked all over the media.
Kanoute’s generosity of $700,000 meant the Fundacion Mezquita de Sevilla remained a place of worship for him and other Muslims in the city.
Today, that building is struggling to cope with the growing numbers wishing to pray there, and now Kanoute is helping the cause again.
A larger plot of land in Seville has been identified to construct a three-storey, purpose-built mosque with underground parking.
This time, Kanoute is aiming to raise £250,000 through the Kanoute 4 Seville Mosque campaign for the first purpose-built mosque in Seville in over 700 years.
In the first few weeks of Ramadan, he was nearing half that target amount.
Kanoute joined Sevilla from Tottenham in 2005. In the seven years that followed, the Mali striker enjoyed his most successful period in football.
He lifted the Uefa Cup twice, the Spanish Cup twice and both the European and Spanish Super Cups, while in 2007 he was voted African Footballer of the Year.
Adored by the faithful at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Seville has remained a special place in his heart and is where he discovered a unique bond with the Sevillanos.
“I played there for seven years, and as a Muslim the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city is you find a place to pray,” he said.
“The place I found was that mosque, that I call the temporary mosque, that is still there. I found a fantastic community that is shaped of not only immigrants – as we always picture the Muslims coming from outside. It’s Spanish or second-generation converts. They’re Europeans, they’re from Andalusia too.
“They were born as Muslims, and there is a fantastic and beautiful mix between Moroccans, Algerians, Senegalese, Malian, and it was just like a beautiful community. That’s the mosque I used to go to every Friday and every time I could go.
“In 2007, unfortunately, they got the bad news that they were going to be evicted because the landlord wanted to evict them and rent or sell the property to someone else.
“I heard about the story at the time and we sat together. We had a little discussion on it and I proposed to help them save the mosque by purchasing it basically.”
Aided by Spaniards Ibrahim Hernandez and Luqman Nieto in the planning of the new mosque project, Kanoute still maintains a close link to Seville.
He almost drifts into another parallel when you listen to him talk about the special nature of this part of southern Spain.
“It has this special flavour, a special light, it’s a special city. Football has a lot to do with it,” he said.
“People are just crazy about their football. I don’t think I can remember having seen one single person there not liking football or not following football and not following one of the two teams, Sevilla FC or Real Betis.
“It’s absolutely crazy there, I’ve never seen that, and I’ve played in many derbies in London.
“But the derby that I’ve lived in Seville is just crazy. So, yes there is a special flavour about this city and it goes beyond football.
“I’ve seen a fantastic community there and I’m not only talking about the Muslim community. The people who received us are very welcoming.”
In 209 appearances for Sevilla, Kanoute scored 89 times, but his goals are now focused on giving back.
Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure and Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy are among the players supporting Kanoute’s project, as is former Arsenal player Abou Diaby.
“We need them and all the athletes because my link was with football. When you see people retweet or support the project, it helps.”
As donations come in from across the globe, Kanoute’s ambition for a new mosque and Islamic centre open to everyone could soon be the newest structure to grace the Seville skyline.