By Sulayman Bah
It was the 2012/2013 Belgian Premier League season. Ibou Sawaneh that campaign dragged a very average club side OH Leuven to a tenth-place finish with a near quarter of their goals coming off the Gambian’s boots.
The Belgian division, now christened First Division A, was and continues to be, the fishing avenue for all big-name footballing outfits. Scoring a combined 19 goals, 17 in the league, it was only a matter of time before attentions of outfits in the English Premier League, French Ligue1 or the Serie A are drawn towards the Serrekunda-born. Demba Savage was the sole foreign-based to have notched up double figures that term, coming five goals shy of matching Sawaneh’s tally.
Carlos Bacca ended up snatching the golden boot on 22 goals while DR Congo’s Mbokani and Ibou were joint-second in the scoring charts.
Colombia international Carlos then found his way to the Laliga with FC Seville the preceding year on a reported €7m sum while Mbokani, then of Anderlecht, signed for Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kyiv in excess of €10m.
The Scorpion was expected to follow suit to cut it into at least one of Europe’s top-five leagues. Instead, Al Mu’aidar in the Qatar Stars League secured his services. That deal happened arguably, against the forward’s wish, at moments when the European transfer window had already closed. For some undisclosed reasons, gaffer Ronny Van Geneugden was umbraged at Sawaneh’s decision to skip training who’d handed in a transfer request agitating to exit OH Leuven. Qatar became his destination as the then 24-year-old’s desperation boiled over.
His goal rivals, Mbokani and Bacca later flourished in their trades, playing for Norwich and Hull City in the EPL, AC Milan and now Villareal in the Laliga respectively.
Looking back, the Gambia international insists he has no regrets his career didn’t take off like his rivals, viewing it as the work of fate.
‘That season, I was even more decisive than them (Bacca and Mbokani), since I had more assists (than them). I am someone simple and, above all, a very firm believer. I see it as everyone’s fate is written somewhere. And what happened was just what was going to happen to me. And I have no regrets,’ he says, opening up on the topic for the first time.
St Etienne from the French Ligue1, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Bayer Leverkusen and Einracht Frankfurt –from the Bundesliga –enquired with Leuven about their prized possession’s availability in the transfer market. None, however, could meet the £1.5m asking price.
‘It must be written that it is so (that I’m not going to transfer like Bacca and Mbokani). At the time, there were still other interested clubs. This did not happen for various reasons. My club, Leuven, asked (for) a lot (of money). But you know, being born in The Gambia and growing up in Germany, in Frankfurt, in a neighborhood that was not very rich, I was part of a group of crazy football lovers. We played as soon as we had the opportunity. And among those boys, there were (some) more talented than me. Becoming a professional was a dream. And I managed to become one, to have the most pleasant of careers in the world.
‘Then, I was spotted during a tournament by the Polish club Lech Poznan. Before arriving in Belgium, in Beveren, where I finished second best scorer of the division two in 2007/2008 season. In short, I do not have to complain,’ he said, still reiterating an initial position he does not envy his erstwhile competitors.
Sawaneh would return to Leuven at conclusion of his six-month loan spell in Doha prior to sanctioning a switch to rejoin former club Waasland-Beveren. Then stops at SV Roeselare, Tubize and now UT Petange followed.
In 2015, 2017, injuries slowed his progress even though he got to score, it arrived rather intermittently during Tubize’s promotion-play-offs crusade – a plan that ended up hitting the buffers.
Moving on, the dynamics have changed, the fogginess paving way for a now brighter-looking future as Ibou attempts to redeem his career at Luxembourg’s first division side Petange.
This redemption journey begins this Sunday on the road at third-from-bottom Hostert.
The faithful at his new club will sure be counting on the striker’s wealth of experience and, for the goal-getter, it will be a chance to give a reminder of the talent he’s.