‘’I always want to play. Whatever resistance, it does not matter.’’ the words of Mo Barrow, The Gambia’s most successful Premier League export.
From a young age, Barrow was a defiant character, whose sole mission was to become a football player. Born in the capital, Abuja, Barrow suffered the pain of losing his mother early in his life and living in a nation that was experiencing great political insecurity.
At the age of 11, Barrow and his four brothers moved to Sweden with their father. It was there where he could begin his career by playing with clubs such as Norrkoping and Varbergs. His big break arrived when Ostersunds came calling, but there was more to come from Gambia’s most successful footballing talent.
Barrow was signed by Garry Monk at Swansea City a move that delighted the highly-impressionable winger. He was the second Gambian to sign for English football after Omar Alieu Koroma signed for Portsmouth.
In less than three months, Barrow consigned himself to the history books for the first time of many. He made his Premier League debut in a 2-1 win over Arsenal, coming on as a second-half substitute for Marvin Eames.
Barrow scored his first Swansea goal in their FA Cup third-round replay win at Tranmere Rovers in a season where he made 25 appearances. He signed a new four-year deal with the Welsh club, and by now international football was calling. A brief presentation for the Sweden under-21 national side, Barrow revealed his allegiance to the country of his birth. He made his debut against South Africa and scored his first against the Central African Republic.
On the domestic front, Barrow was starting to struggle for game time and was sent on loan to Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers. Recalled form his loan spell at Ewood Park, Barrow was determined to make his stay in Wales a permanent one.
In March 2016, Barrow entered the history books as the first Gambian to score in the Premier League. He scored the opener in Swansea’s 3-2 against Bournemouth, The Gambia becoming the 95th different nationality to net in the Premier League.
Preferred by his former first-team coach and now caretaker boss, Alan Curtis, Barrow was an emerging star under the leadership of Swansea’s next permanent manager. Francesco Guidolin employed Barrow as a regular starter, but there were to be no more Premier League goals for Barrow.
As Guidolin and Bob Bradley came and left, Barrow was a player starved of football and was now surplus to requirements under new manager Paul Clement. Now fearing a transfer, Barrow decided to link up with his former boss, Monk, at Leeds United. It was a frustrating experience, but his time at Swansea was drawing to a close.
Barrow is now plying his trade for Reading in England’s second tier. The club’s unveiling of the pacey winger was an interesting take on his name. Like Swansea, Barrow has fallen out of favour at the Madejski Stadium and is now on loan at Turkish side, Denizlispor.
Time will only tell whether Barrow will become a firm fixture in English football once again. Who knows if his return sparks a Reading revival of sorts – they are only ten points off the play-off positions in the English Championship.
Whatever happens in Barrow’s career, he is now a part of Premier League history. The first player to feature and score in the competition. No one will ever take that away from him.