Today Gambia boasts of an embarrassment of footballers some of them on the brink of being super stars. However, twelve odd years ago, the story wasn’t the same with just few foreign-based Gambians considered something close to icons. Tijan Jaiteh was one of those, if not the crop of it.
With Bwiam – a small town located around Foni Kansala -considered his birth place, Tijan was a fast sprouting young player changing the dynamics of what was a football oblivion in The Gambia.
Picked to make the 2005 U-17 Baby Scorpions team assembled by the late legend Osam Dodou transitioning into Gambia’s U-20 outfit under the gambits of the late Peter Bonu Johnson, Tijan is one among that generation of aces to hit some decent heights.
Fresh from the bronze trip from Congo Brazaville, he secured a trial along with Nyassi brothers Sainey and Sanna but was the sole figure to sign a contract with Norway’s SK Brann.
Before then Brann had endured a forty-four-year run without winning the Norwegian top division title, the 2004 Cup they scooped aside.
He arrived at the airport escorted by his dad and greeted by waiting club officials, of course upon completing paper works.
Brann were convinced of the Gambian’s worth and swiftly hit the ground running, incorporating him into their A-team, viewing him integral in their plans for an audacious assault at the league title. Matters pulled through and the former Gambia Ports Authority playmaker, who had to begin with contending starring in bit-part roles became a regular.
Fans took onto him and he turned revered, finishing the first season as the club’s best young player and fan favourite in a term the Gambian also added the Norwegian Premier League title to his trophy cabinet, home to his 2005 U-17 and 2007 African Youth Championship gold and bronze medals respectively.
The Youth World Cup 2007 for the U20s in Toronto followed, forming core of a Young Scorpions line up that would jettison off Portugal.
Seeing his steady rise and being Gambia’s pride, a newly appointed Paul Put shoved the Jeshwang-resident into his 2008 qualifier plans even though he had a more experienced Seyfo Soley at his disposal.
A Fax From English Premier League Sides of Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Sunderland
Then just 20, Tijan was not star of the Scandinavian nation’s league but certainly made the noises forcing agents to sit up and take notice. However, the non airing of the Norwegian championship across Europe’s big sports channels meant chances of elaborate scouting are close to non-existent.
Meaning, he could be best seen only during the African qualifiers -games ubiquitous agents have to look at. And, considering Gambia were facing Senegal who had about that time three players from the English Premier League, Diouf inclusive, it was no longer a case of if but rather a one of when a big-name side will come clamouring.
When RTS showed the match live after much dilly-dallying , eyes were fixed on the marauding 20-year-old Gambian marshalling Stoke City’s much heralded Salif Diao in the middle of the park.
Amidst the sad chapter of the Scorpions’ yet another non-qualification, calls began bombarding Tijan’s line from a blizzard of agents, some of them offering their services aware of the limelight awaiting the prodigy.
Any 20-year-old could have his head swung , or more fittingly phrased, pulled in both directions, at news of interest from clubs in the English Premier League. Jaiteh, around that age bracket, was no exception.
Acting ahead to beat other scampering suitors to the Gambian’s signature, Blackburn Rovers sent a fax to Tijan’s then employers SK Brann offering him a trial. Sunderland too did the same as well as Aston Villa, convinced their wooing will sway the balance in their favour. In the heat of the moment, attention turned to Brann who had to issue a release confirming interest from Blackburn.
“We have received a fax from Blackburn that they want Tijan to come for a trial. We have discussed it and with his advisor Per-Ove Ludvigsen. We will think some, but we will decide soon whether we let Tijan travel,” Brann sports director Roald Bruun-Hanssen said in a statement at the time.
The Sacking of Tijan’s Agent
An agent at this point is meant to follow up, keeping tabs on turn of events to facilitate the “dream” trial ensuring it happens for Tijan.
However, issues turned sour culminating into a break in bond, sort of scaring off Aston Villa, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers from making anymore inquiries. By this time, Lens of the French Ligue 1 were lurking in the background hoping to pounce at the slight display of a crack in the proposed audition to England.
Overtures from the UK came around November of 2008 but cooled in December 2009 as a then 20-year-old and former Gambia Senior Secondary School student Jaiteh sought answers to a dream trial that smashed the brick walls. Per-Ove Ludvigsens, who was the Scorpion’s go-between, translating as agent in the parlance of the modern game, got swoop in on with derides for failure of the trial happening.
Reports monitored of the saga appeared to finger SK Brann of blame, who, a Norwegian publication claimed, felt an audition chance was demeaning for a player of Tijan’s calibre and thought a straight purchase made more sense. Hoping to salvage the situation, the ex-U-17 starlet hired Stig Lillejord as his representative but Blackburn won’t budge on their stance. Being a fan favourite and worried over possible break in bond with his employers as Brann grew tense over attempt to force through a move, Tijan came out playing the ball of the committed player.
“I am a Brann player and I still have two years left in my contract, but you never know what will happen in future. My future is not in my own hands because I am under Brann’s contract which I am committed to. I am not in a haste to move away from Brann because I still have a contract with them. I want to enjoy my football with Brann, but anything can happen,” Tijan said on December 22nd, 2009 while on holiday in The Gambia.
This was followed by his new agent’s comment at diffusing a soon-to-be murky affair between player and club.
“My impression is that Tijan is in the period where he was without counsel felt uncertain, not least because many agents called him and offered their services. My task is to provide appropriate advice to him. He is a talented player who needs the right advice,” Lillejord said.
Speculations surrounding the midfield kingpin extinguished around 2010 coinciding with the incredible form of loan acquisition, the combative Rodolph Austin who’d seized and reduced Tijan to a bench-warmer at Brann.
Initial plan etched by Brann and Jamaican local club Portmore United was Austin at Bergen on loan won’t see out the 2010 season amid a looming departure to Stoke City of the EPL – a trajectory which would have had Jaiteh staying put. However, Stoke opted out of the negotiations forcing Brann to make their loan signing of Rodolph permanent consequently throwing Tijan into a compounding dilemma as Austin got picked in the pecking order and Jaiteh, made his surrogate.
The Scorpion eventually settled on a loan exit to Danish first division club outfit Randers who Tijan allegedly refused to play for after they got demoted to second fiddle football. On the heels of this stand-off, the scorpion international arrived to play, scoring a nail-biting acrobatic blast in Gambia’s 3-1 win over DR Congo in 2011 but refused to report back to his relegated club leaving for Italy instead at end of the match. An exasperated Randers terminated the ace’s contract threatening to sue him to Fifa for breach of contract. That melee wrapped up with the Gambian paying fines and joining another Norway side Sandefjord.
Tijan is today without a club amid the lock down over the pandemic after end of his deal with Partizan of Albania with whom he won the league title.