Bremen (Germany) (AFP) – Werder Bremen striker Ousman Manneh admitted it was “a dream come true” to score his first Bundesliga goal, just two years after the teenage refugee fled Gambia.
The 19-year-old netted Bremen’s winner in Saturday’s 2-1 shock victory over Bayer Leverkusen to cap his fairytale rise having only been plucked from Bremen’s reserves at the start of the season.
“I can’t believe this. One of my biggest dreams has come true. Is this real or am I dreaming?,” the teenager asked reporters after scoring Bremen’s 59th-minute winner at Werder’s Weser Stadion.
“This is the greatest moment of my life.
“It’s hard to describe my feelings. I’ve been so proud to be the first Gambian to play four (Bundesliga) games, and now I’m proud to be the first one to score.”
“I always wanted to play football, of course, to do that in front of 40,000 fans at the Weser Stadion,” he added with a grin.
Having left his family behind and set out for Europe in early 2014, Manneh ended up as an asylum seeker in Germany and settled in a home for refugees in Bremen, where he started playing football.
He scored 15 goals for the youth team of local club Blumenthaler SV and although Bundesliga clubs Schalke, Wolfsburg and Hamburg tried to sign him, he opted to stay in Bremen and joined Werder’s reserves in March 2015.
“I like the city and have found friends here who could help me. Why would I want to leave?” he asked rhetorically.
He only made his debut in Germany’s top flight less than four weeks ago and kissed the stadium turf, struggling to hold back the tears, after scoring against Leverkusen.
He happily posed for pictures with fans afer the final whistle as he lapped up his moment of glory.
Having made his debut against Mainz on September 21, he set up a goal against Darmstadt a fortnight ago and then scored the winner against Bayer, who host Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday in the Champions League.
“‘Ous’ has never been gifted anything, but instead he’s worked hard the last few years and shown a constant development,” said Werder’s caretaker coach Alexander Nouri.
– touching tale –
Both the teenager and Nouri are reluctant to give any details of Manneh’s flight from Gambia which landed him in the Hanseatic city.
“It is a profound, touching story,” was all Nouri would offer.
His fairytale rise is down to Nouri, who brought the striker with him when he was promoted from the reserve team to replace Viktor Skripnik, who was sacked in mid September.
“I really have to thank coach Nouri for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to play on the big stage,” added Mennah.
He made his German league debut in Nouri’s first game and has played in all four matches since when Bremen have taken seven points with two wins and a draw to leave the relegation places behind.
But he says more is to come.
“Last year I didn’t score any goals as I was working on different aspects of my game,” said Mennah.
“Now I need to work on improving my efficiency.
“Even after a game like that, my manager will come to me and say that I shouldn’t be satisfied. It encourages me to keep going.”
His team-mates are full of praise for Mennah’s work ethic.
“He’s very diligent and eager to learn,” said attacking midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic, who set up his winner against Leverkusen.
“He’s a down-to-earth and positive person, always in a good mood. We are all really happy for him and he deserves to have scored this goal.”
Bremen skipper Clemens Fritz says Mennah’s hard work is paying off.
“His progression in the last two years is not a coincidence,” said the ex-Germany international.
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