Sumareh – rebellion and redemption

  • Football
  • Sunday, 05 Apr 2020

PETALING JAYA: Mohamadou Sumareh is a star of the Malaysian national team, loved by the fans who call him “Keli Boy” or Mo. He is also a pillar for Pahang in the Super League – but the first naturalised player for Harimau Malaya is also a man who ran away from home to prove a point.Having lived in Malaysia since he was 12, all the Gambian-born lad wanted to do was play football, but his parents had other ideas.

An important man: Winger Mohamadou Sumareh is an asset to Pahang. He has been with the team since 2017. Pahang is coached by Dollah Salleh.An important man: Winger Mohamadou Sumareh is an asset to Pahang. He has been with the team since 2017. Pahang is coached by Dollah Salleh.

After studying at MAZ International School from 2007 to 2010, he did his diploma in Business Management at SEGI College, graduating in 2012 but his thoughts were only on football.

“My father did not consent, though. So, I left home. It was my dream to play professional football, and I felt I had what it takes to succeed in the game.”

He has certainly proven his point. From the streets of Kuantan to Hanoi, Sumareh has etched his name in the hearts of many football fans around the South-East Asian region.

The 25-year-old’s pace on the wings, finishing and ability to strike up a partnership with his Harimau Malaya teammates are all well documented.

But it wasn’t an easy journey.

His father wanted him to finish his degree and join the family furniture business but Sumareh was having none of that. So, the 17-year-old left his home in Subang Jaya.

He earned his first contract at the age of 18 when he signed for Police in 2013, who were then in the Premier League. And it certainly wasn’t easy.

“Even though I have lived in Malaysia since I was 12, I was trialled as a foreigner. I was a skinny looking guy against much bigger and experienced foreign players.

“Some clubs and agents even asked me if I was serious. I did train in an academy, but my size was an obstacle. After many trials, I got my break with Police.”

Earning his professional contract looked like an achievement – and running away from home seemed like a wise decision. Not for long. In his debut game, tragedy struck.

“I played my first game and suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL). My world crumbled, and I thought that was the end. The thought of going back home as a failure was terrible.

“Imagine for a year, you do not talk to your father, and you go back with failed results. Usually, if a foreign player is injured for many months, they would be released, and I thought I would be too.

“I did not want to go back to my father as a failure. The whole idea of me leaving the house was to prove that I could succeed in the game.”

Luckily for him, the team kept him and even helped Sumareh with his rehabilitation.

In 2014, he was back. And ready to repay the team for what they did. He stood proudly with his teammates as Police lifted the Premier League champion’s trophy that year.

“I believe God puts us to a test to see how we overcome it. There were some points when I felt like going back to my dad to say sorry and that I should have listened to him.

“But I wanted to fight for my dream,”

After a year with Police, Sumareh went on to play for Perlis and is now with Pahang. In 2018, he was given his Malaysian passport and has since played 19 times in the black-and-yellow of Malaysia.

When Sumareh was doing well in football, his family members did not share much of his football stories with his father.

Instead, the father only got to know of his exploits through other people. In fact, when the senior Sumareh came home from abroad, immigration officer would actually ask him if the player was his son.

When he said yes, the officers would treat him well and gush about the performances of his son.

“He even asked taxi drivers about me, and they told him good things. When he finally met me, he just said to me that I had proven him wrong.

“When I told him of the struggle in the beginning, he teared because I did not have any money with me when I ran away. He said he had the resources to help me and could have sent me to the best academies in the world if he had realised my talent.

“But I understand why my father wanted me to get a degree. Every parent wants his child to have a secure life. He tried to save me from disappointment, and I cannot blame him for that.

“I just told him that I only wanted to come back to him with success. Now he is proud of me, and watches some of my games. He even watched the game where we beat Thailand 2-1 in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur.

“It was emotional when I scored the winning goal, because he was at the stadium. It was the best moment of life.”

Sumareh admits that pressure was high as he was the first naturalised player for the national team. He even thought about the teammates not accepting him as he was not a local boy. However, thanks to his best friend, Matthew Davies, it was smooth sailing.

Now, Sumareh is a much-loved player in the national team and is a key in coach Tan Cheng Hoe’s system. He has shown his versatility in attack as he can play in any wing and also as a striker.

“In 2018, I had no problems at all. The boys accepted me and supported me. My mind was at ease, and all I need to was to play football.

“When you play for the national team, the demand is high, but I am cherishing it. Whenever I play, if I do not do well, I would think about the millions of fans in the country. I do not want to let them down.

“During the AFF Suzuki Cup final, I saw some fans sleeping on the road to buy tickets. We players would be in the air-conditioned rooms, while they are on the streets. The least we could do is give our best.

“Their passion and emotion certainly spur me to do well for the flag.”

Since he made his professional debut in 2013, Sumareh said Malaysian football has improved considerably, and one example is the emergence of Safawi Rasid.

“Now, a local player can be a top scorer. Usually, the imports would dominate the charts, but in the Malaysia Cup, Saf (Safawi) was the top scorer.

“It shows that the league is helping the local players improve. Look, even foreign players who do well in Thailand and Indonesia are struggling in our league. It shows that the quality of our game has grown.

“Some time ago, we used to be whipped by the United Arab Emirates, but now we are giving them a fight. I expect things to only get better.”

He wants better for himself, too.

While his has been smooth sailing, the ambitious player says he wants to win titles with his club and country before he leaves the game.

He admitted that the goal for 2020 is to help Malaysia win the AFF Suzuki Cup, which would undoubtedly be part of his legacy.

Sumareh said being a great player meant nothing if titles are not won.

“I want to win the AFF for Malaysia. That is the goal this year.

“Also, I want to do something for Pahang as well.

“I want kids to say that during Sumareh’s time, he won this and that. I want to be an inspiration for budding footballers.

“I still have time on my side. I know I can be better as a footballer and it is up to me to make a good name for myself. I can assure you that I am working on that.”

Asked if he would be interested in playing abroad, he said: “Some agents have spoken to me about it, but I have been quiet.

“Everybody wants a chance to achieve more in life by getting out of their comfort zone and trying new challenges. I would love to do that, but only when the right opportunity comes.”
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