You never know when the day will come. How old you will be or if you are ready. I can tell you, you are never ready to retire from football. But because of you, my daughter, I can look back with a feeling of fulfilment and look forward to a new chapter. You are my greatest accomplishment and my biggest dream was to walk on the pitch with you. I got to do that, and for that I will forever be thankful.
After that game I told your mommy I was ready. Although I still played a few more games, that specific game was my career reaching full circle. Of course I would have wanted to continue to play until I was 40, because I obviously love this game, but mostly for you to be able to remember seeing me play. But it’s time, and it comforts me to know that as little as you are, you somehow know ‘papa’ is somewhere on that pitch.
I’ll still be down there looking for you in the stands. No longer as a player, but as a coach from now on.
When you are old enough to understand you can ask your uncle Scoots (Kekuta Manneh) about me. He will tell you how I was an example to him and his friends. The boy from Banjul, who left The Gambia when he was eight and who made it in Europe. A path that seemed a little less out of reach for them because of me. He’ll tell you how much he hated me when I chose to play for the Norwegian national team. A decision I felt I had to make in order to get where I am today. Something he understands now. He didn’t see my struggles then, but surely experienced them later in life himself.
It wasn’t always an easy path and surely nothing was handed to me, but it didn’t stop me from loving this game and fighting for my own and my team’s success.
It’s all up to you baby girl. You can make your own dreams come true, as long as you are willing to fight for it and work as hard as you possibly can. You’ll have to make someone see you, make them believe in you and make them give you a chance. Dream big.
Once everyone saw me, there was nothing that could stop me from reaching my goal; playing in one of the top leagues in Europe. My decision to go to Sweden was was based on the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had left Malmo FF to play for Ajax a year or so before that and I knew leagues like the Dutch Eredivisie were paying just a little closer attention to the Swedish league than the Norwegian one. I could have gone to another top team in Norway but that didn’t feel right. There was no other team than Valerenga Fotball I would play for in Norway. It was time for me to go.
My decision turned out the be the right one, because after only one and a half years in Sweden I signed with Roda JC in the Netherlands. My dream came true and I was lucky enough to play there for seven years. Roda will always hold a special place in my heart. I went through highs and lows with the team, but it was probably the most memorable part of my career. Have you seen my goal? Who would have thought!
It’s also the place where I met your mommy. That’s why it became my second home. I hope to return as a coach one day and make you and the fans proud.
At the age of 31, after seven years in the Eredivisie it was time for a change of scenery. Qatar came along and we went for it. It did turn out to be an amazing journey. We met some wonderful, kind, respectful and welcoming people. And we had never felt so safe in our entire lives. The whole experience made us open up to any opportunity in the Middle East, so when I was able to sign in Saudi Arabia, we didn’t hesitate. Although life there wasn’t easy, it also brought us closer to our religion and made us aware of what truly mattered, appreciate the little things in life and especially our freedom.
Then there was Portland. It had always been your mommy’s dream to live in the United States and I had been hearing good things about MLS. I was almost 33, so I knew this could be our last adventure. It was amazing to be in such a professional environment again. Playing in sold out stadiums alongside some great talents like your uncle D (Darlington Nagbe), brought back that passion and drive in me. The friendships we established in our first year there, with the people you call your uncles and aunties today, will forever be a part of our lives. And let’s not forget, you were made in Portland.
Six weeks before your due date we moved to Vancouver. The best decision I could have made. One day you can ask Carl Robinson about our first encounter. He will tell you how I tried to fight him after one of the Cascadia matches during my time at the Timbers. That he liked it and wanted me on his team from that moment on, I don’t know if that makes me or him crazy. I’m sure everyone thought he was crazy for signing me. Even though I was 34, he saw my worth and took a chance on me. That I will never forget.
I finally got to play alongside uncle Scoots. Or I should say, he got to play alongside me! Something I’m sure made The Gambia very proud.
I got to work with many more amazing people during my time at the Whitecaps and I will cherish so many wonderful memories. Vancouver has been incredibly good to us and became our home. The place you were born, our little Canadian Girl. Maybe one day you will make this city and your country proud.
It’s been an amazing 20 years and although it saddens me to be hanging up the boots for good, I feel incredibly grateful to be given the chance to start coaching for Whitecaps FC and continue my journey here in Vancouver. Thank you Whitecaps FC, for believing in me and giving me this tremendous opportunity.
I would also like to thank;
Allah, for the path you have chosen for me. I feel truly blessed to have played 20 years of professional football.
My dear family, for allowing me to chase my dream and supporting me while doing so.
My wife, for being an amazing partner and friend. The backbone of our family. And for always standing by my side, through the highs and the lows.
My best friends, Aaron, Yasir, & Humphrey for always having my back and making life just a little more fun.
My first club Skeid for laying my foundation as a player.
Donato Biagio and Knut Arild Løberg, for believing in me and giving me the chance to play for Vålerenga Fotball. And Stig Ove Sandnes, for convincing me to play for the national team, which made me the first full black man to play for Norway. There are many more coaches and directors I could thank individually, but they know who they are and how much I appreciate them. Thank you for believing in me, for pushing me and making me a better player and person.
My teammates. Man, I will miss you guys. It brings me ease to know some of the friendships I established over the years will go beyond this game. Your support, belief and loyalty I will forever cherish.
My fans from all over the world who supported me throughout the years. You truly are amazing. Football wouldn’t be what it is today without all of you.
All my previous clubs; Vålerenga Football, AIK Stockholm, Roda JC, AL Khor SC, Qatar SC, Al Wehda, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Football. The love of my life. You made me the man I am today. You showed me the world, made me experience different cultures and brought so many amazing people into my life. Our journey isn’t over yet, and I hope we’ll have many more amazing and successful years together.