By: Essa Bah
The Gambia U20 goalkeeper Youkasseh Sanyang could not hide his joy over appearing in the recently ended U20 FIFA World Cup, which he described as the “best moment” of his life.
Like many other young stars, Youkasseh’s dream has always been to represent his country at the national team level, regardless of the category. This dream came to fruition when he got selected for the U20 WAFU and AFCON championships, respectively, in the space of 6 months.
Sanyang’s first cap with the young scorpions could not come early in the regional championship as he got his wish failed by an injury he endured for the rest of the competition in Mauritania in 2022. However, he was handed his debut at the continental level, where the Gambia finished as silver medalists on the soils of Egypt.
This was not enough to make Youkasseh feel the best moment of his life. He waited momentarily at the global youth tournament in Argentina, where he was handed a start in the Gambia’s group opener against Honduras. The young committed, and dedicated Steve Biko boy said, “That was the best moment of my life.”
“When I entered the pitch and heard the chorus of the Gambia’s national anthem, it was a feeling I have never experienced before; I felt Goosebumps, and my heart was beating in a way I never thought existed,” Youkasseh recalled.
Unlike most aspiring footballers who idolize other International professionals, the Bakau-born, Youkasseh preferred a former home-based and Gambia U17 player, Baba Bojang as his role model.
Often, we hear stories of footballers whose parents never wanted them to play football but instead wished them to attain formal education to become conventional employees in the future. The young goalkeeper’s tale makes no difference as he has had school football as the only option to chase his dream and to avoid his parents’ anger.
“My parents did not allow me to play football much; my mother and father never wanted me to play football; they wanted me to focus on education like the rest of my siblings did,” Youkasseh said.
“I remember when I was young, my mom in some days would not give me any money when going to school so that I could return home just after school, but still, even with that hunger after school, I would stay and play with friends; that is when my mother truly know I love the game,” he added.
In Bakau, a town popularly known for its footballing jamboree, Youkasseh stole the chance to become a footballer — starting his young career with WW Football Club before joining a Nawetan club called Zebra Football Club.
With the latter, he had the opportunity a play in the third division team with Bakau Comani FC in 2019. Months later, in the same year, Youkasseh earned a place in the Bakau Zonal team. This setup competes in a seasonal football championship among heavyweight footballing towns in the Gambia.
“I started playing Zonal while I was very young, people of Bakau did not want me to play at first, but as the Zonal went on, I began winning their hearts through my performances. They will now go to tell my mom how good I am, so she can allow me to play and focus on the game,” he recalled.
These testimonies from the fans were insufficient to convince a Mother who only wants to see her son goes to school and graduate with good grades. And that became the agreement between Youkasseh and his Mother, which he subsequently fulfilled by graduating from high school with flying colors.
“I am happy the boy is succeeding in the game he loves, but I did not regret one bit forcing him on education,” Youkasseh’s Mother, Aji Fatou Jatta, told TAT. “It is because he went to school. He is now comfortable responding to interviews in English. That would have been difficult if he had not.”
At the end of the Zonal in 2019, Sanyang got interested in various Gambian first-division clubs. Still, he moved to Elite United, where he spent four years before returning to his current boyhood club Steve Biko Football Club.
Among his best friends and teammates is Yankuba Touray, who described him as a hard-working young lad who loves to help and see others succeed around him.
“Youkasseh, since our childhood, is someone who believes in himself and his ability, and we are not surprised with what he is achieving because he deserves it. He is my best friend and always corrects me when I am wrong, I am forever grateful for his love and support,” Yankuba acknowledged.
From an unwanted footballer by his parents in Bakau to Egypt, and then to Mendoza in Argentina in search of both continental and global prices for The Gambia, respectively, showed that Youkasseh’s story would stay to inspire many young generations to come with passion and commitment combined with the respect for one’s parents.