This season Ousman Manneh became the first player from Gambia to score in the Bundesliga
Can you remember what you were doing at 17 years old? You were probably in school or college fretting about which university you were going to attend. Maybe you had an apprenticeship or even a full-time job after leaving the education system. All realistic possibilities and in most cases probable routes for teenagers in the Western world, right?
Well, spare a thought for a 17-year-old, football mad Ousman Manneh. Mamading, as he’s affectionately known in Gambia, left the country of his birth for Europe to pursue his dream in 2014. Leaving his family behind, the ambitious teen had one thing on his mind when he embarked on his journey to Europe and that was to make it in the game. “Since I was little, I always wanted to play football,” the striker, now a professional at Werder Bremen, told Radio Bremen during the 2015/16 pre-season.
Italy was the first European country Manneh stepped foot in, but due to the country’s strict immigration laws, the teenager had to continue on his travels. He eventually ended up in northern Germany in the Lesum district of Bremen, no more than 15 miles away from the Weser Stadium, where he found himself living with other asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa in a refugee camp. While in the camp, Manneh played football with German amateur side Blumenthaler SV who play in the country’s fifth tier.
Hamburg, Schalke and St Pauli were all reported to be interested in acquiring Manneh’s services after he impressed in Blumenthaler’s youth teams. But, in 2015, the striker signed on with Werder. “It was difficult to decide, but here in Bremen is my first home in Germany.”
Manneh played 28 games and scored three times for Bremen’s second-team in the 2015/16 campaign. This season the 19-year-old has found himself between the reserves and first-team. To date he’s made 17 appearances in total – 11 for the second-team and six for the senior side. In October the Gambian striker scored his first ever Bundesliga goal, and what turned out to be the winner, in Werder’s clash with Bayer Leverkusen.
That winning goal against Leverkusen saw Manneh become the first ever player from Gambia to score in the Bundesliga. “I’ve been so proud to be the first Gambian to play four games, and now I’m proud to be the first one to score,” he told bundesliga.com after the game. Manneh’s only the second Gambian to play in Germany’s top flight after Gambia international Dawda Bah enjoyed a brief spell at FC Augsburg.
The dizzy heights of pro football don’t seem to be fazing the young Werder man, who looks to have a mature head on his shoulders and appreciates that there’s more work to be done. Back in November he told uefa.com: “I always wanted to play in the Bundesliga and have accomplished this goal. It is my dream to become a proper striker like [Robert] Lewandowski and [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, but I know how unbelievably difficult this will be.”
Manneh’s rise is a fairytale. His journey to date is quite remarkable considering some of the decisions he had to make at such a young age. Should he continue to progress and improve with Werder, who knows how far the striker could go in the game? One thing’s for certain though, Mamading has already etched his name in the history books and he’s most definitely putting Gambia’s name on the footballing map.