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Posted: 2018-01-08 09:36:38

It was not until five years after Nhial "Nelly" Yoa was attacked with a machete at a party that his journey to "professional footballer", "brand ambassador" and "youth mentor" gathered pace.

On April 12, 2016, he featured on Seven's popular breakfast program, Sunrise.

He was described as an aspiring Socceroo who had offers from a host of professional clubs withdrawn after he was injured.

"It's a long time coming," he said on the program.

"This is my year, and I'd say it's now or never for myself."

But when the young South Sudanese man questioned the commitment of police, government and community leaders last week, in the midst of a furore about African youth crime, the facade he had crafted started to crack.

Back in 2016, a Victorian Multicultural Commission staffer saw the Sunrise segment, and asked Mr Yoa if he would meet them to discuss his experiences.

The young South Sudanese-Australian man from Melbourne's outer south-east had a compelling story, and there was a dire need for them: a month earlier, young men had brawled at Moomba, triggering calls for drastic government and police interventions to stop a youth crime crisis.

What better way to understand the problem than to meet with Mr Yoa, a survivor of a violent attack who appeared to be working with youth, and was on the cusp of a professional football career?

He met with commissioner Helen Kapalos on April 29 that year, and was subsequently invited to an upcoming commission meeting that Premier Daniel Andrews would be attending.

Minutes of the meeting detail that an excerpt from the Sunrise piece was shown before Mr Yoa spoke about his experiences.

A general discussion with the Premier and the 11 others present ensued, focusing on the complex issues in the community, the important role the commission has to play, the need for non-English language settlement services, and the possibility government infrastructure projects could provide work experience for youth.

But Mr Yoa left the meeting excited about something else: according to government sources, he later told them Mr Andrews promised he would help him land an A-League contract.

Mr Yoa was given a government contact to deal with and after insisting on several occasions that Mr Andrews had made the promise – despite being told the claims were preposterous – he was sent contact details for Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

After reviewing Mr Yoa's football resume, it is understood neither club would offer him a trial.

But Mr Yoa did not have to wait long for his next lucky break: that November, he bumped into sprinters Usain Bolt and John Steffensen​ at the spring racing carnival. 

He had been photographed with them six months earlier, but this time he suggested in captions on his social media profiles that the trio were great friends.

This undoubtedly helped him when he shopped a story on November 7, 2016, to the Ballarat Courier that Bolt and Steffensen had rushed with him to the local hospital for the birth of his child.

Steffensen said he and Bolt were not present at the birth of Mr Yoa's child in Ballarat. It is not believed he is friends with Mr Yoa.

There were other claims made in the article – that Mr Yoa played for Melbourne City, lost a contract with Melbourne Victory because of the attack, and trialled at Chelsea. There is no evidence any of the claims are true.

It is understood that by this point, Mr Yoa had repeatedly attempted to contact the office of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy.

He had started the year meeting the Premier, and ended it trying to meet the man who wanted to replace him.

In April last year, about a week after Mr Guy announced a new mandatory sentencing policy, his office responded to an email from Mr Yoa, explaining that the Coalition would be stronger on crime than the Andrews government; a short and polite response, of the kind sent out in their hundreds.

Text messages seen by The Age suggest Mr Yoa was attempting to convince some within the community that Mr Guy had applauded him for his youth work, and sought a private meeting in June, but the Coalition says this never occurred.

Government sources believe Mr Yoa had been refused a grant in recent months, another motivating factor for his discontent, but Mr Yoa denied ever applying for a grant.

Internally, his motivations were being questioned, but he was considered harmless: – until New Year's Day this year, when his piece in The Age on African gangs infuriated his community.

"I find it personally disappointing that this young man seems to have misled people about the work he is doing with communities and made claims that now appear to be exaggerated," Ms Kapalos said on Monday.

Mr Yoa claimed he was sponsored by Nike, a brand ambassador for American Express Australia, and posted a video on his social media profiles suggesting he worked for Mercedes-Benz. All three companies confirmed on Monday they had no arrangement with Mr Yoa.

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