For Gambian striker Ebrima Sanneh, Kenya is his second home and Nairobi City Stars is the club that made him who is today in the world of football.
In mid-March 2020, after coming on as a substitute, he scored to hand City Stars a 1-0 win over Nairobi Stima in the process handing the club the clearest of view to the Kenyan Premier League after four seasons. This was not the first time he was scoring a crucial goal for the club. His 11 goals – including one against Sony Sugar on the final day of the 2015 KPL season ensured the team survived relegation.
His goals in a stellar debut KPL season ultimately earned him the second runners-up New Young Player of the Year award besides nomination for the Player of the Year category.
After detours to KRA, Kariobangi Sharks and St. George’s in Ethiopia, Sanneh was back to save City Stars in the shortened second leg of the 2018/19 season from an unthinkable relegation to the third division with seven crucial goals.
He then led the them back to the Premier League fold the next season with eight goals and at the close of the disrupted 2019/20 season (due to corona virus), he extend his stay at the club for a further two years.
Give us your background – your early school life in Gambia
I finished my school back in Gambia up to high School but dropped out after because I wanted to pursue football to the fullest. I discussed this with my parents to allow me to concentrate on football because I was overly passionate about it. To be honest I never concentrated in school because of football.
You won the league title with Real de Banjul in 2014 at an early age. Share with us your glory days
I started my football with a team called Signatic in Gambia in the lower division and because I was very young I only played selected matches. But the coach (Ansumana Jammeh) really believed in me because he knew my potential. The following year the team got relegated and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because most players left which gave me the chance to play. I ended up scoring 14 goals and it is from there that I got called up to Gambia U17 team. I ended up making the team and I recall going for games in Senegal as well as Nigeria.
I then got scouted by Real de Banjul which is arguably Gambia’s biggest team. This is after Modou Lamin Beyai talked to the club CEO Willy Abraham. There I found very experienced players which limited my play. Fortunately, the coach liked me too and he gave me some games and by the end of the season I had scored just about four times.
In the second last game (against Hawks) Real de Banjul had been chasing the league against rivals Gamtel. I came in very late in the second half and scored once that sent the team seven points clear and to the 12th GFA First Division title. That goal made me happy and it completely changed my life and football career. It gave me a name in Gambian football.
Tell us how you arrived at City Stars and how your early days at the club football were
Winning the Gambian League title gave me the chance and ticket to come to Kenya to seek better opportunities. But what I was promised by City Stars before I came left me surprised and extremely disappointed. I almost went back to Gambia because of stress. I never saw the apartment and money that I was promised.
I was thrown to stay with two other people on Jogoo Road but luckily my uncle worked at the UN here in Kenya and I ended up moving in with him for a year and four months before finding my own place. My issues were more as, since arriving (in July 2014 on a six-months loan), I never played football that season due to lack of a work permit. Only training and not playing was frustrating. I only got to play after three months into the 2015 season. I think I outdid myself after I started because I had never played in the KPL. I scored the goals every week and in most games that saw the team beat the relegation red zone on the last day.
At the end of your first KPL season in 2015 your goals ensured City Stars survived relegation and your contribution got you nominated for the Player of the Year and earned you the runners-up New player of the year award. Share the feeling.
I was so happy with my performance and goals and the same was shared with my team in Gambia as well as Peter Jabuya (Chairman). It earned me nomination to the New Young Player of the Year as well as Best Player of the Year which left me very excited.
I ended third in the first category and missed out on the other but all that left me more than elated. More importantly knowing I helped the team survive relegation let me in a high state.
At the end of the 2015 season you were a wanted man. Are there any big moves that you let go? And why?
Yes. After 2015 I had to leave the team. I had been scouted by big clubs after my first season with Nairobi City Stars.I had an offer from Zambia’s Zesco United and there were interests from all top Kenyan clubs. But I rejected all of them as I was sure (I thought) I would sign a contract with Zesco. Unfortunately, things never worked out which really disappointed me and I ended up signing with KRA on the last day for the transfer window for a year to redeem myself.
You have played for two other clubs in the KPL. How were your experiences in those two teams?
At KRA, work permit issues came to haunt me again and just as was the case at City Stars I ended up training and not playing for up to six months. I only featured in the last eight games where I scored six times before season end. While at KRA I got a chance and offer to join promoted Kariobangi Sharks. Sharks was a team I really admired because of the style of football they played and the way they were very organized.
To be honest it wasn’t good for me at Sharks. The things I expected (not money) never worked out. It just didn’t happen and injuries never helped. I struggled for play time and got much stressed. I had expected to fit in and play good football and earn a bigger move elsewhere but unfortunately all that never happened. From Sharks I traveled to Ethiopia where I trained with St. Georges for some time. After a few months I realized things were not working out and I was back in Kenya.
Upon return to Nairobi, chairman Jabuya called me up to tell me the team was struggling and in relegation danger. And that the team had found a sponsor (Jonathan Jackson). He explained to me their grand plan to return to the Premier League.
I happily returned because City Stars is where it all started for me in Kenya and it’s a club that has been so welcoming to me. City Stars is where I had so many friends and it’s a home to me. I always receive the love and respect here, hence my return.
Which player(s) have inspired you the most?
Michael Olunga in Kenya. I always want to follow in his footsteps because he is a very good player, a very good striker with a clean heart and is disciplined. Ousman Mbele Senghore in Gambia; he is the one who inspired me the most while playing in Gambia. He is one of the biggest talent in Gambia. It’s just that he doesn’t have the chances to go abroad to play better football
Name the most inspiring coaches you’ve worked with
Ansumana Jammeh in Gambia; he is the one who gave me the chance (Signatic FC). He made me believe in myself in Gambia when I was a very young player. He gave me the chances to play in the team. That is what has made me come this far
Tarek Siagy (Gambian U17 coach. Egyptian) – He really helped me a lot. Because he gave me the chance to join the U17 team and really encouraged me and gave sound advice when I joined Real de Banjul
Sanjin Alagic – he helped me a lot in my career at City Stars. He showed me so many things I had never thought of. Especially about how to approach my weaknesses.
As a striker, mean defenders come your way. Who are some of those that caused you nightmares?
The defenders I can identify who gave me tough times in the KPL were Musa Mohammed and Shitu (Salim Abdalla). They were good in the air, had the physicality and were good on one-on-one situations.
What’s your side hustle?
I sell quality shoes and I have very specific clients whom I deliver to.
One day you will retire from the game. What will you venture into?
I will, hopefully, return to school and learn more about business with a view of going fully into it as I love to buy and sell stuff.