Football Over Education: The Unsung Heroic Nature of Scorpions’ Skipper Who Offered Himself as The Sacrificial Lamb
by John Mendy – Freelance
This is about 10 minutes read…
Not everyone would give up their education for football. In fact, advisers will tell you to rather do the opposite or take both simultaneously. But when idle class lessons were taught at a snail pace, football became the imperative for national glory. Such was the bittersweet journey to professional heights for the Gambia national football team captain, Pa Modou Jagne.
With the urge to put up a resistance to define his career path, Jagne had to abandon his studies at the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) to focus on football. A sacrifice he thought worthwhile in order to reach his full potential, whatever it takes.
“At GTTI, it was not going well because I will go for classes and the lecturer will not be there and all you do is to hang around idling. So I said to my uncle, listen, don’t pay for my exam fee, it is better. Now I just want to concentrate on football.”
His bold decision was supported by his uncle and grandmother. Such was the first of many steps the scorpions’ living legend took to set his career into a mostly rough path that put his patience and will to a test but also helped in establishing a benchmark to track his future success.
The storm calmly weathered
The journey to professional height is a daunting one with a lot of sacrifices. When Pa Modou opted for football at the expense of his education he could feel his instincts telling him that the beautiful game is what was going to put food on his table and pay his bills.
At first go, he stumbled following his first opportunity to go to Sundsvall, Sweden for trials. A try-out greeted with a blow as the coach got the sacking the very first day he arrived at the club, and subsequently, the unsuccessful end to his try-out left him at a crossroad – thinking which way to go. He even had to defy some negative influences, urging him to abscond.
Jagne didn’t listen to the bad advice neither did he bow his head in shame. He summoned his courage and stayed ever determined to succeed.
“Some of my friends were telling me ‘stay, don’t go back. You know how the Gambia is. Stay here and do something.’ But I said to them, ‘no, I’m going back to the Gambia because I believed whatever I’m going to have in life, is going to be through football. I’m not staying and start to run away without valid documents. Another chance will come again.”
In 2008, three years after his debut trial nightmare in Sweden, the left-footed player switched from playing as a pointed striker to defending as a full left-back. He was accorded his second trial opportunity, this time, in Switzerland. Unlike his first, this one was a success; his first professional contract was signed, sealed, and delivered. From that moment onwards, he could feel his resilience and humility as the defining factor going forward.
“It was a dream come through for me. It was with a lot of sacrifices to get this far and I was lucky. I have always believed in myself, he said.”
The 31-year-old has represented the Gambia at all levels since 2005. Two years after being a part of the Gambia’s first-ever Under-17 success with the darling Scorpions, his youthful moments started to flourish. His immense contribution in 2007 at the Under-20 level won bronze for the country at the Africa U-20 Nations Championship, Congo. The 3rd place finish also took Gambia to its first-ever FIFA U-20 World Cup, held in Canada the same year.
Advice and criticism that shaped the future
While good advice can make you stronger, some dose of criticism can also encourage your growth. And while growing up, the Gambian skipper had the bosom of his loving and caring grandmother to keep. She raised Pa Modou to the man he’d become after his mother passed away while giving birth. While so many former Gambian football legends have had a positive impact in his career journey, Jagne says, granny’s advice effectively wield soft influence in his life, shaped his leadership decisions, and empowered him
“My grandmother always advised me to be a good listener and this was key in my career journey. She tells me all the time, ‘do not ever ignore the truth when you could identify with it, even if it should cost you your life. She said to me if you keep saying the truth and keep learning, you can achieve anything in life, and for me, this made me who I am today.”
Following the pain and agony of losing his mother through maternal mortality, Pa Modou “Nda” Jagne thought it wise to start a foundation to save the lives of future pregnant women in the Gambia through annual charity work. Pa Modou and his wife, Mariam, co-founded the “Nda” Mariam Jagne Family Foundation (NMJFF) and began donating blood to hospitals through its volunteers; provide access to safe and clean drinking water in the rural communities, and hold football clinics for aspiring young players.
“My family means everything to me because they’re my motivation. They play a big role in my life. All sacrifices I made are for them. My wife, especially, has always supported me a lot and my kids give me hope every time I wake up and see them. They motivate me to go the extra mile. And I’m so grateful to them.”
However, Pa Modou’s 13 years of professional football career has agonisingly been filled with criticism in sparing ways. From sustaining injuries to going club-less, the young man, husband, and father constantly have his name brutalised on social media or directly at him. He says, he used his critics’ arguments to find the right balance for him.
“For me, I am not affected by their comments. In fact, they make me stronger because when they criticize me, they help me to give my all to prove them wrong. Mentally, I’m very strong. So they only push me to do extra. It’s good when people criticized you because that is when you see your mistakes and learn from them.”
The path to history in the making
Even though expectations on the Gambian team at the commencement of the Cameroon 2021 Total African Cup of Nations qualifiers were relatively very low, the scorpions’ skipper already had faith in their ability to succeed and break the jinx.
“The belief was already there that we were going to qualify this time around. And from the unset, I told everyone in the team and the people who interviewed me that this is our time.”
Participating in the qualifiers of the Africa Cup of Nations is no beans and the Gambia have previously had 14 failed attempts. Going into the 15th time was like awakening old dreams that were associated with poor performances and disappointing endings.
As one of the lowest-ranked teams in the continent, the tiny West African nation had to heavily rely on their shot-stopper, Modou Jobe who saved two penalties to get past Djibouti in the preliminary rounds after a 2-2 aggregate, for a place in the qualifiers proper.
And when the draw was completed, the Gambia found themselves paired in Group D against highly rated nations like DR Congo, Gabon, and Angola.
Difficult as it seemed on paper, the Scorpions pulled a shock after they came from a goal down to win 3-1 away to Angola in Luanda in their first match.
Pa Modou pegged back twice to earn a vital point against DR Congo in an entertaining 2-2 stalemate at home.
They later succumbed to Gabon 2-1 in Franceville but recovered in the reverse fixture to beat Panthers with the same margin, to go seven points on top of the summit.
The day of reckoning
Going forward, the scorpions knew a win at home against Angola in the penultimate fixture while Gabon also wins at home over DR Congo would earn them a maiden qualification spot. Captain Jagne was contemplating whether to accept his invitation for the decisive fixtures or not, have not been with a club for almost five months and the growing criticism trending on social media about his inactiveness.
“I did not want to come because I said to myself it was not fair. I was not playing for some time and I wanted to give the opportunity to those who were actively playing in their clubs. I wanted to wait”
But several calls from countrymates, the coach, and the FA, he knew that there was so much to look up to. A mental attitude that overrides his longtime injury layoffs in the past and now his lack of having a club accepted the invitation and joined the team on a chartered flight to Banjul. History was beaconing on a team that has a blend of experience and youth players.
Assan Ceesay, who based in Switzerland along with Pa Modou and also urged the latter to accept his invitation, tapped into an empty post in the hour mark after Ablie Jallow’s long effort was mishandled by the Angolan keeper to win 1-0 and confirmed the Gambia’s place in Cameroon. When Ceesay scored, in the midst of celebrating the goal, both Pa Modou and Assan had a brief celebratory conversation, recalling some emotional messages they shared.
“The moment he scored I said to him, you see, this is our time. And he (Assan Ceesay) said to me I told you to come, we are going to qualify. He was one of the players always convincing me to come and this was very emotional for me.”
Both Gambia and Gabon qualified to the tournament from Group D with a game to spare, although they both lost their last matches to DR Congo and Angola, respectively.
The Scorpions achieved the unthinkable, as they were the only West African team that never qualified for the biannual tournament, cafonline.com noted.
“At the moment of making the qualification, Alhagie Momodou Njie “Biri” was all I could think of. I have great love and admiration for him. He was so close to me including the likes of Omar Sey, Alhagie O.B Conateh. The whole game I kept thinking of them because I knew we were going to win. It was very emotional and I wished he was alive to witness this historic moment.”
The 31-year-old is one of the longest-serving and elderly players in the squad and has featured regularly for the scorpions over the 13 years since. He has represented the Gambia at every level; won gold in the African Youth U-17 championship in 2005 and a FIFA U-17 World Cup appearance and bronze at the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, Congo 2007. Jagne is now a living legend who weathered the storm to achieve a historic feat for the Gambia and its jelling football.
“This is a dream come true for me. We’re lucky to make every Gambian proud and I’m very honoured to achieve this history. Personally, it was a rough journey but I have always believed in myself and the team.”
Leading such an incredibly talented and transformed team to its maiden Africa Cup of Nations, the scorpions’ captain says, now provides so much light for the future.
“It will bring a lot of opportunities for the young lads coming up and for the nation too because the whole world will now get to know more about the Gambia. It’s a big moment for us but it is more for young ones. We have now set the standards for them and they have to follow. Now coaches will look into the Gambia for players especially the Under-20 players coming up.”
Facts about Pa Modou Jagne:
At the time of writing down this piece, Jagne won most senior caps (38) since his debut on 10 November 2008 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal, started 27 matches, and scored 3 goals.
Played a total of 352 competitive professional career club football with 25,752 minutes, scored 27 goals, and made 34 assists.
Captain of the senior national team since September 2017.
Born 26th December 1989 (aged 31), husband to Ndey Mariam Jobe Jagne, who are parents to two awesome children.
Gambia Ports Authority FC (07/2006 – 01/2008)
1900 FC Will (01/2008 – 12/2008)
FC St. Gallen (01/2009 – 06/2013)
FC Sion (07/2013 – 06/2017) FC Zurich (07/2017 – 06/2019) & (09/2019 – 08/2020)
(St. Gallen) Swiss Challenge League winners 2011 – 12
(FC Sion) Swiss Cup 2014-15 and Runners-up 2016-17
(FC Zurich) Swiss Cup 2017-18