Sometimes not everyone is cut out to be what they dream of. Others go on to achieve theirs on a gold platter, others just don’t even with a tank of effort.
Omar Jessey is one that promised much in football but couldn’t deliver to the heights he would have cherished because fate dealt him different cards.
Talk of series of bureaucracy laced with a circle of misfortune capped off by Gambia’s then and even now unprepossessing football ranking.
It was in the year 2006 when this Latrikunda-born kid left the country’s shores to take roots in the UK armed with two distinct missions –to get a football career and get his family out of the doldrums of poverty.
He was the type who would leave fans mouth-gaped with his skillset. Such was his audacity with a ball to his feet.
South-east London outfit, the great Charlton Athletics, were the first to get a glimpse of what the buzz was about a youngster plucked off the east side of Serrekunda from Samger Football Club whose owner is Fifa pro star and ex-England youth international, Cherno Samba.
He left a lasting impression on the Charlton coaches who in no time offered him a contract but the red-tape with the English game of allowing only players from well performing countries on fifa’s rankings meant Gambia’s low football feat will stand in the way of Jessey ever playing in England.
“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to showcase my talent in those various clubs in the UK,” he said, opening up on a chapter in his life occurring 14 years ago.
“Although all those clubs were very interested in me and I even signed for both Crystal Palace and Charlton Academy but the problem was them not being able get me a working permit due to our (Gambia) country’s low fifa ranking,” he said.
Charlton toiled day and night to get the Gambian midfielder past this hurdle but their relegation that term dampened matters.
“I was even given the opportunity to go to France and Belgium as Charlton Academy had connections with Nantes but later Charlton got relegated with huge financial issues and that kind of set everything backwards for me,” Omar explains. His inimitable yet breathtaking brilliance couldn’t go unnoticed. Crystal Palace and Chelsea later, would tap him, convinced of his worth, however, the same bottleneck barring his signature at Charlton would dog him at the Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho and at Crystal Palace
Mourinho’s Sacking Sealing Jessey’s Exit
Under Jose’s tutelage, six times EPL winners Chelsea were in some quarters branded sanctuary for black players, such was the Portuguese’s preference for well-built Africans. Didier Drogba, Florent Maluda, Mikel Obi, Salomon Kalu come to mind. Omar could have added to that soaring figure had he gotten a European passport and Mourinho not axed by trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich.
He continued: “Replacing (Nigeria’s)Victor Moses at Crystal Palace would have been a great achievement for me but by then I was there with Wilfred Zaha who is a UK citizen and had more chance than me who is from a country whose FIFA ranking is very low and working permit was also a major problem.”
The thought of these missed chances would have had impact on any young player but Jessey isn’t the one to relent emboldened by a solid belief in God.
“I am a very faithful person and also believe everything happened for a reason and that being said, I am never pressurized by any high expectations. I just believe when the time comes for me to sign for a big club it would just happen and nothing can stop it by the grace of Allah.
“That blown opportunity at Chelsea and any other opportunity that slipped away from me, I don’t concentrate on them too much because I believe in God whatsoever has to happen will happen no one can stop it. It would have being a real hit if at all I got that chance to play for Chelsea because I believe in myself, believe in my talent and I know what I can bring on the table. I definitely believe if at all I was able to have a European passport and Mourhino was still the Chelsea coach, I would have gotten the opportunity to play for Chelsea because Mourhino believes in young talents and African players who are very hardworking.”
The glorious lost chance of signing at the London club aside, Waterman’s stay at the Bridge evokes warm-hearted memories.
“Training at Chelsea and seeing the likes of Didier Drogba and Micheal Ballack and the like, will be forever a great memory at the back of my head because they were big players and Chelsea being a big team in Europe. The experience I gained from been at Chelsea is professionalism and putting in hard work,” he recapitulates.
An adventure outside of England beckoned with Canadian side Toronto FC his ensuing destination. The offer came via Crystal Palace who by way of expressed gratitude to the Gambian’s talent, shipped him out to feeder outfit Toronto where compatriots Emmanuel Gomez and Amadou Sanyang were signed to as youth internationals. So fond of Omar, Palace’s Education and Welfare Officer David Muir was that he wrote to inform the winger of Wilfried Zaha’s debut and asked the former Samger sensation keep him abreast with his developments in Canada –notes he still reminiscence with thrill.
“Going to Toronto FC came by when Crystal Palace tried everything to sign me to no avail. That’s the time they linked me with them (Toronto) as the MLS (US Major League Soccer) was much easier to obtain a work permit. They were very much keen to have me in their team but they didn’t agree with my then agent Harry in terms of the fee they wanted to pay. This setback truly slowed my career a little bit because I would have been playing in the MLS and could have signed for other teams,” he elucidates.
Samger’s exorbitant demands meant then 17-year-old Jessey returning to Gambia disappointed and faced with realities of a fresh-start in 2009 following a previous three terms of back and forth at various European teams.
Home team Serrekunda East’s zonal team became his first stop upon arriving. The stint at nawettan football readied him for his next abroad venture as he guided the Buffer Zone-based season team to the Super Nawettan title. Brikama’s Zonal outfit that term, could better tell of the potent Omar posed, annihilating the West Coast Region giants at their home grounds.
A First Taste of Professional Contract Lasting Less Than a Year
Of all the shuttling between various clubs, the Latrikunda-born whose exclusion from the Gambia U-17 team triggered a wave protests, got his wish –to pen a deal –granted.
Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earth Quakes signed him on the recommendation of an agent who by, a struck of luck, was pushing for Saihou Gassama’s deal to Real Zaragoza on the back of Gambia U-17s’ conquest in Algeria that year.
“Coming back to The Gambia and playing for Serekunda East zonal team and winning the trophy in 2009 was a great achievement and a way of giving back to my community for their love and support. I believe it is every Gambian or African player’s ambition to play in Europe in big leagues but as I said earlier, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so because of my Gambian status and I was unable to have a work permit or European passport so that been the case, I was very much happy at the time playing for the MLS,” he said before quitting the American side on a mutual agreement persuaded the European game fits his style more.
Times at Swedish side Mjolby Sodra and Finnish lower team AC Kajaani followed – outfits he used as springboard for an audition with Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen where he had the good fortune of sharing a training ground with Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne -siphoned there on a temporary loan.
“It’s true I trialed with Werder Bremen and shared training ground with Kevin De Bruyne whom you know we both had great respect for each other and he was a great talent because his work rate was exceptional and everything he does on the pitch was very clean. It didn’t surprise me at all seeing him where he is at right now playing top class football in his career with City,” he recalls.
Some bleak moments greeted culminating from Omar’s near deal with a German second division side about two years ago. In the lead up to the mishap he was on the pay list of now third tier side KFC Uerdingen FC.
A side in the Bundesliga 2 had sneaked in clamouring his services but the time he was required to terminate his deal had expired, making any paper work within that duration from the German FA impossible.
Now 27 years old, Omar is only thankful he can still play.
“It is a great pleasure to be back playing football in Germany after a long standstill in my career and I am very grateful for this opportunity and although all these happened but I am very thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to still play in Germany without any suspension. As at now, I am focusing on playing for my present team to help them by any means necessary and the rest I will leave it in the hands of the Almighty. What Gambian people and my fans wishing for me to reach higher level of football, I am also wishing and praying all our wishes and prayers come through,” he said, adding: “I will like to thank you once again for giving me this platform and it shows me people do really care about my success in football and it really makes me happy.”
Ask of Jessey today from locals at his hometown or by large Gambian football followers and their first impression of him is the flamboyant football kid with an insatiable longing to pull off rabonas.