By Sulayman Bah
It’s no overstatement to say Gambia is embarrassingly rich with football talents to the extent our very own are poached or lured to play for other nations at international level.
Theories have offered varying reasons for this with sporting ambition central in most such decisions.
Eligible Gambian footballers who go onto star for other nations have come to be known as the ones who got away. A sight of our very own in the colours of a European country would sure ache the heart of any nationalist.
However, it’s worthy to point out process of switching international allegiance, without willingness or a player’s agitation to defect would be null and void.
Meaning, swapping nations must be underlined, most often than not, with written intention to change cause. Gambia’s football body have gone onto pursue some of these talents before they naturalised but are left bereft after being shunned or turned down flatly.
Foroyaa Sport takes a look at eligible Gambian players who refused or turned down call to play for the national team in favour of other countries.
Among players of his generation, Joe is the most high-profile man to turn down playing for Gambia. Born in Catford East London, to a Gambian father named Gus, his parent’s origins alone would have qualified him a call-up to the West African country’s national team.
In a not-long-ago interview, his father – a big influence in Joe’s life –revealed his son playing for Gambia was never a dismissed notion until Charlton came into the picture and his performances led to summons in England’s youth national teams. From then on, it was clear as day’s light that Gambia’s FA knew getting the 21-year-old commit to their cause was the sure equivalent of squeezing water out of stone. But tried they did still, and the answer was an expected flat but thunderous no. Aside from coming to Gambia few times on holidays as a kid, the cultures between the UK and Gambia are streets apart and giving The Scorpions have never qualified for any major senior football tournament, for sporting reasons Joe sticking with England would be a bet he won’t likely regret as he stands chance of fielding in the Euros and in future World Cups.
Now a centre-half or right-back at Liverpool, fans in Banjul can only watch him in admiration but never in Gambian strips.
Trading his services with AFC Bournemouth in the English Premier League, Joshua made the rounds in the back pages in 2009 as ex-coach Egyptian Tarik Al Siagy readied Gambia for the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. King was seriously being considered by the Seedy Kinteh-led GFA who even dispatched a delegation to talk to the striker’s parents while he was a Manchester United youngster. Gambia at the time presented a better challenge than the player’s country of birth Norway who in spite of their riches lagged behind in the game. However, Joshua remained resolute but flirted back in his refusal letter to play for Gambia saying, the call-up makes him ‘a proud Gambian’, insisting he was at the time more preoccupied with securing a starting place in the Red Devils’ first team that had the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney.
Two years later Gambia still came back pestering the goal-getter for the Africa U-20 Championship under late gaffer Lamin Sarr’s tutelage but the reply this time from the player’s Gambian-born dad Chuku King was a flat no.
United would cast him out months on but restored his career with AFC Bournemouth. To Gambia, he will be remembered as the one who got away. He is capped 39 times for Norway’s national team scoring 14 goals but has never played in a World Cup or in the Euros giving the Scandinavian country are football lightweights like the Gambia but better equipped.
Perceived mostly as amongst the football wonder-kids who promised much but never fulfilled their potentials, Davies would have been a Scorpion. Kofi Davies, his Gambian father would have made him eligible for the Scorpions.
Now 32 and diagnosed with cancer, at height of his powers, Charlie was a hotshot, courting attention after his 21 goals 56 appearances for Swedish top tier side Hammarby between 2007-09. A stop at French Ligue1 outfit Sohaux followed where he failed to hit the form that morphed him into a deadly force. This drought and poor form extended to his time at Danish Superlig side Randers, then Newengland Revolution to Philadelphia Union. It’s however unclear whether the GFA had ever made efforts to lure him to Gambia before he committed to the USA who he is capped 17 times for, scoring four goals.
John Alieu Carew is the striker Gambia never had. His 24 goals for Norway’s national team speak volumes. Born in Oslo to a Gambian parent and Norwegian mother, Carew was, in his heydays, Europe’s most sought-after striker. Rosenborg, Valencia, Lyon, Besiktas, Aston Villa, Stoke City and West Ham United are the sides he has played for. Aged 39 and retired, he shares the same generation with the calibre of Pa Dembo Touray, Njogu Demba and Jatto Ceesay. Making his international debut for Norway in 1998 at 19, Gambia stood no chance as he became the first black player to play for the Scandinavian nation.
PA MODOU KAH
He was born in Banjul but turned up for Norway at international level. Futty Danso is the first capped Gambian player to have been his teammate at Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers and the duo forged a solid partnership in defence.
In 2004, he switched sides leaving Sweden’s AIK Solna for Roda JC –the second Gambian in their books after Edrissa Sonko.
Quite a globetrotter, Pa Modou would later take his services to Vancouver Whitecaps where he found companionship in Bakau-born Kekuta Manneh who, like him, said no to playing for Gambia, taking greater preference in featuring for the United States through naturalisation.
The Gambian FA gulped it down, it must be said with disenchantment over yet another poaching of their own –certainly a personal decision for Kekuta.
Manneh secured US citizenship and later a call-up to the Americans national team. It however, didn’t go beyond this, as his form took a nosedive, meaning he has not yet played a formal match for them and Gambia still could swoop for him.
If that even gets to occur, in the current realities of events, Kekuta will struggle to break into Gambia’s starting lineup with the Scorpions’ gaffer spoilt for choice in every ministry of the forward line.
In hindsight, every nation would prefer their most maverick of players stick around and star for them. In Gambia’s case, deserting is no peculiar occurrence and it’s most likely to happen in the future until we not only qualify at least for once in the Africa Cup of Nations but become regulars there including the seemingly unachievable World Cup.
Where objectivity is to play into setting, these deserting players are the least to be blamed for harbouring high sporting ambitions –dreams a below par performing Gambia may never attain if the mess of frequently short-funding the national team fails to cease.
However, it’s not all a story of losses. A quick trawl through our file of uncapped stars abroad shows there are still other potential Gambian players with huge prospects –once the GFF could get quick caps for before bigger nations come calling.
Top on that list is Cologne-born Leon Guwara, a 22-year-old left donning the colours of Utrecht, an Eredivisie side (the Netherlands first division). Born of a Gambian father, he has represented Germany’s U-16s, 17s, 19s and 20s national teams.
Oslo-born Sheriff Sinyan is another player. A defensive midfielder and also not out-of-his comfort zone when fielded as a centre-back, Sheriff was being evaluated for selection by Norway’s youth national team coach but confirmed to Foroyaa Sport of his willingness to play for Gambia in future.
Marian Sarr is also another Gambian-hopeful in the German third tier. He was at Borussia Dortmund and has turned up for Germany’s youth national squad. His sibling is Wilfred Sarr, also a player. Moussa Njie of Partizan will take some convincing to play for the Scorpions.