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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Better than Maradona? The greatest African to play in La Liga

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Does Alhaji Momodu Njie ring a bell? Probably not, does Biri-Biri as he was commonly known? I would guess not either, but in Seville and in his homeland, he is a legendary figure, talked about in the same breath as a certain Diego Armando Maradona, such was his footballing prowess.

Biri-Biri was born in Banjul, the capital of Gambia on the 30th of March 1948. His first steps into football were playing for local clubs such as Black Star and Black Diamonds, before he got his first senior gig with Augustians FC, for whom he played for, from 1965-1970. Biri was comfortable playing in many positions, but such was his technique and ability to go past defenders, he settled as a right-winger.

In 1970 Biri got his first break, when scouts from Derby County (at the time managed by a certain Brian Clough) saw him play and invited him over to England. However things didn’t work out in England, due to a lack of opportunities and the culture-shock that Biri experienced and he was soon back in The Gambia playing for Wallidan.

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It wasn’t long again though until foreign scouts came calling, such was Biri’s talent, his phenomenal dribbling skills and goal-poaching instincts. Biri signed for Danish side B 1901 in 1972, thus becoming the first African player to play professionally in the Danish league. It was however the following year when Biri got the move that would change his life forever, when he signed for Sevilla CF (note this was still during Franco’s regime, hence the CF instead of the anglicized FC, as Franco had banned all “non-patriotic” football club names.)

Biri quickly endeared himself to the passionate crowds at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, with his breath-taking skills and the ability with which he could turn a game. His greatest achievement came in his second year in Seville, when he  was instrumental in helping the club gain promotion to the primera liga. Biri was a cult-figure for the fans during his five years with Sevilla, and such was his legacy, that the largest organised supporters group in the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Biris Norte 1905 are named in his honour.

In 2000, Biri was named as Gambia’s ‘greatest footballer of all time’, a title well-deserved according to his international team-mate Alhaji Babou Sowe. ”I classed Biri Biri even above Maradona because he was a great goal scorer, dribbler and could play with both feet,” Sowe said. “Biri Biri is the best player Africa has ever produced.”                                             (AFP) 

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Author:  Lamin Cham


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