Bayern Munich starlet and Gambia Under-20 international Mamin Sanyang has been discussing with Fifa.com about his move from The Gambia as a child, his medical complications and how he wants to help his nation at the Fifa U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023.
Though still only 20, Mamin Sanyang has already learned to live to the full. The versatile right-back, who can also play on the left and on the wing, has had to overcome a number of obstacles on and off the pitch to arrive at where he is today: preparing to represent The Gambia at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023™.
It was only five short years ago, however, that he thought he would be forced to give up the game he loves due to a brush with death.
Born in Brikama, in the west of The Gambia, in February 2003, he is the eldest of seven (five girls and two boys) and lived a happy childhood, except for the occasions he was caught skipping school by his father and uncles, the result of his preference for kicking a ball around barefoot with his friends and warming his fingers up on a PlayStation.
His life changed in 2013, however. With his mother having fallen ill, the family decided to move to Germany, where an uncle of his lives. Sanyang, who was only 10 at the time, took up the story. “The day before we left for Germany, I was outside playing with my friends,” he told FIFA. “The next day I was gone. My parents said to me, ‘We’re going to Germany’. I replied, ‘What? Germany? In Europe?’”
Sanyang has yet to return to the country of his birth: “I didn’t have the chance to talk to my friends, so I wasn’t able to say goodbye.
“Everything was so hard when I arrived in Germany,” said the player, who finds it easier to speak in German than English now. “The environment and culture were different. The food was different and the weather too. It snowed.”
Once he had got over the shock of his sudden departure, Sanyang rediscovered his first love: football. Describing himself as a player known for his speed, dribbling, explosiveness and shooting, and who is similar to Sadio Mane, Vinicius Jr and Alphonso Davies, he played for FC Heidenheim before being spotted by Hoffenheim in 2018. Two years later, Bayern Munich signed him for their U-19s.
Now a reserve-team player with the Bavarian giants, Sanyang has been able to fulfil one of his dreams. “Bayern have given me the chance to train with the first team,” he said. “I’ve been able to see how the pros are, how they play and train. “Mane spoke to me and gave me some advice. Sadio is one of the best players in the world. He’s modest and he’s one of my heroes. “It was great to sit next to him and to talk to him in Mandinka, because he speaks my language. He explained a lot of things to me: how to be a professional, how to improve on the pitch. I was like a kid. It was like a dream.”
Yet, Sanyang’s path to the Bayern training ground and that chat with Mane was far from smooth. During his time at Hoffenheim, he fell ill and came down with migraines, just as he was about to move up to the U-16s.
The club asked him to go home and rest. A week later he was back training, but quickly felt pains in his chest. Following an ECG, the doctors gave him the news. “Herzmuskelentzündung,” he said in German, meaning myocarditis or inflammation of the heart muscle.
The disease, which can cause sudden death among elite athletes, led to Sanyang spending two weeks in intensive care and another two weeks recovering in hospital.
The youngster was unaware of it all. “It was as if I slept right through and just woke up and left hospital the next day,” he said. “When he came out, I was told to rest – for a long time. The six or 12 months I sat doing nothing were really very tough for me because football carried on and everyone forgets you,” recalled Sanyang, who was 15 at the time and had to learn to be patient. “Nobody cares if you’re ill. When you’re not playing, no-one gets to see your talent anymore.
“Ultimately, I should be happy because some doctors said I might never play again. They said I was lucky because if I’d left it a day, my heart could have gone. “Thanks to God, I’m here today. I’m going to play in the World Cup, so I’m very happy I survived. It could have been worse. I could have lost everything.”
He is now back to full health, while his mother has also recovered from her ailment.
Having had a brush with death, the Bayern man wants to make the most of everything life has to offer him.
“Playing at this World Cup is huge for me because not many players at my age have the chance to do that,” said Sanyang, who also ran out for Germany at U-19 level before opting for his country of birth. “I feel great and I’m happy to be here. It’s a great honour for me. The national association and the coach have put their faith in me, and I want to repay them and take the country forward,” he concluded.