By Sulayman Bah
The previous campaign of Mamut Saine, though it did not deliver a collage of titles, he still has a reason to smile after having clutched the league’s best foreign midfielder award in his first spell in European football. Such recognition did not come without hard work, and achieved at total new surroundings, makes it all the more a fascinating storyline.Saine like all established professionals of the trade’s long journey to European football is a bumpy one with inevitable rough patches.
He spent a couple of stints at local club Seaview as the first stop to a career spanning five years. One of the then GFA championship’s notable midfielders, his flashes of brilliance were not to go unnoticed and the late gaffer Lamin Sarr was vindicated when he tasked the youngster to command the Gambia U-20’s midfield throughout the CAF Youth Championship in South Africa.
Tunisian club Bizertin, which he would later signed for, intrigued by the Gambia’s stand-out show in Johannesburg, came hovering but were overshadowed by a plethora of big-name clubs including, Moldova’s Sheriff, Austria’s Rapid Wein and Porto FC of Portugal.
And understandably, Porto’s offer turned Saine’s head. Soon a round of transfer negotiations between the European club and the Gambian’s representatives followed but the process hit the buffers after disagreement ensued amongst the parties over the player’s Seaview contract – a deal he signed prior to departing for the U-20 tournament.
Upon returning, prompted by Gambia’s youth team acrimonious early exit in the group stages, Mamut took up Tunisian outfit Bizertin’s five-year offer making his debut in a Champions League clash with Morocco’s Raja Casablanca. What began as a fairytale took a drastic turn as the Gambian, after three games, spent several months on the peripheries nursing an injury. His return to the pitch brought an end to the North African side’s 28-year wait for a trophy.
‘My first season with Bizertin was very good after signing with them; I started in the first eleven in Arab Champions League against Raja Casablanca of Morocco. I played the entire game and we won 2-0. And later, after three games in the season, I got a bad hamstring injury which kept me out for months which was very stressful. I later came back and played and we won the Tunisian Cup. I scored in the semis and played 65minutes in the final which we won. It was a very important cup for the club because it was over 28 years since the club last won a trophy and we did it for them,’ Mamut Saine told Foroyaa Sport from his base in Greece.
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Pic: Mamut Saine while at CA Bizertin
However club Bizertin’s flourish took a massive hit amid looming financial trouble. Top ten players on high wages including the Gambia international were asked to take a pay cut in a bid to balance the books. This proposal was met with a rebellious response with a good number of the players, Mamut included, rejecting it. The Gambian midfielder insists he wasn’t lowering his wages because he’d only played a single season and on account his transfer fee from Seaview was yet to be completed.
‘…the (club) president was angry with me and other players and they later asked us to train with the second team (reserves) until we take pay cut. While I was training with the second team there, ES Métlaoui (anther club in the Tunisian top flight) came with an offer. (My club CA Bizertin) accepted and I did too. I signed six months loan with them…,’ Saine says.
The tempestuous relationship between Mamut and the Tunisian outfit ended with a divorce sealed in blood.
He continues: ‘When the season finished (after the loan), we broke the contract in mutual terms and I left.’
Reports preceding the Gambian and other rebellious players’ unceremonious exit triggered uproar when the club’s website claimed the players were let go because the coach considered them surplus to requirement.
Saine ventured into a sabbatical away from the spotlight before taking a dip swim into waters of European football months after he found Greece second tier AS Fokikos’s offer too good to turn down. His spell there lasted six months opting on a move to cash-stabled Anagenisi Karditsa in the same league, completing his first league season in Europe.
Mamut fondly christened after retired Spain international Macus Sena, had his best moments with Karditsa. He didn’t win the league but helped guide the club to a decent finish and for his efforts was named the league’s best foreign midfielder in the second division. Like every decent playmaker, the former Gambia U-20, courted a bevy of interest including two concrete offers from Greece Super League, top flight.
One of the suitors is a regular in the Europa League who’d promised to tie him to a deal and loan him to Cyprus to rake up first-team top tier experience. The player disapproved the offer having spoken to few of his team-mates who’d had spells in Cyprus.
The other Super League club slapped a juicy five-year deal on the table but the deal was scuppered after the club coach and Sporting Director left.
‘The other team from the Super league offered me a five years contract which I agreed already and was supposed to get back to Athens to complete the transfer and later the coach and the sporting director left the club so the deal didn’t go through. And later I decided to take this offer and start preparations as early as possible and they finished 4th in the table last season. They have signed good players in order to secure promotion.’
Second tier Athlitikos Omilos Chania won over the playmaker on a two-year contract after making huge investment and signing big-name players in an effort to boost their promotion chances this season.
He continued: ‘I’m very happy to finally join this historic club, because so many big players played here and left a good name and later they all played in big leagues in Europe and that’s what I want too in the near feature. I had a long discussion with the coach here and we also met when I was on holidays. He told me how seriously he needed me in his team, the project the team is putting on which is promising to any developing player. My agent was also very keen on this move because he knew I will have the playing time that will convince other big teams to make offers.’
On the coming new season he concludes: ‘My ambitions are always the same which is to be at my best throughout the season and be a key player in my club. Hopefully we will make a good season together.’
The 21-year-old owes Seaview former club president Hatib Janneh for his part in his career development.
By Sulayman Bah