Musa Barrow has come a long way from The Gambia. At 23 years of age, the sky is the limit for his potential. FTF spoke to his agent Luigi Sorrentino.
On the outskirts of Banjul, Luigi Sorrentino’s eyes were fixed on a scrawny 14-year-old boy playing on an artificial pitch.
He ran rings around his opponents in the glaring sunshine. Barely breaking a sweat as he sent his opponents tumbling to the ground.
Sorrentino liked what he saw.
He turned to his friend on the sidelines and he smiled at him with a big grin, eyes widening.
‘I told him, we had found the new Kaka!’ Sorrentino recalls to FTF eight years on from the moment he first spotted his young prodigy.
‘He was playing in the attacking midfield role, and he played like Kaka, great passing, brilliant skill. He was already a very intelligent boy.’
Sorrentino asked around on the sidelines to discover the name of the boy.
The response he got was:
A never-ending story
At the end of the game, Sorrentino approached Musa and his mother.
The frail 14-year-old boy was so shy he kept staring at the ground and talked little as Sorrentino explained he would like to bring him to Europe.
The words were simple, and the promises clear.
But even Sorrentino himself did not anticipate the struggle he would incur to bring Barrow to the continent.
Sorrentino discovered Musa’s international teammate Ebrima Colley at the same time and had already arranged a transfer to Atalanta.
‘We waited over two years to get the Visas, it was a very complicated process, embassies have a very long waiting time.’
Ultimately, Sorrentino secured a student visa for Colley and Barrow.
In the two years he frequently visited the boys and stayed in Banjul to monitor their progress.
‘They worked very hard throughout. When we sat on the plane to Bergamo, Musa cried. He could not believe it that we had made it.’
Musa Barrow comes from a humble background. His father passed away when he was just two-months old.
Barrow was raised by his mother who was helped by brothers who emigrated to America and constantly sent payments back home.
Football has always been his life.
As a child, instead of teddy bears, Musa asked for footballs for gifts.
He’d play on the open fields of Banjul until it was dark.
Sometimes he cradled the ball to sleep.
In Bergamo, The Gambian forward was able to spread his wings almost immediately.
Sorrentino discovered him as an attacking midfielder, but the Italian coaches moved him further up the field.
‘In a short space of time, he became a very big player in Italy,’ Sorrentino says proudly.
Barrow scored 13 goals in 17 appearances during his first season with the club’s Primavera team. He ended the campaign with a remarkable 8 goals in his last 3 games.
In total he scored 39 goals and registered 8 assists in 37 games for Atalanta’s Primavera team.
In his second year, the inevitable breakthrough to the first team bore fruit.
Barrow scored 3 goals and registered 1 assist in 5 starts for Atalanta in 2017/18.
He began the following campaign scoring 4 goals and registering 2 assists in 6 Europa League qualifying games.
But he struggled to fight himself into the starting eleven and made just 6 Serie A starts.
Making a side-step
After another six months of being shunned at Atalanta, Barrow needed a move away from Bergamo.
‘We had to move because he wasn’t playing much and there was no room for him there at the time,’ Sorrentino, who represents Barrow as his intermediary, explains.
The next destination was hard to turn down.
‘Torino and Verona wanted him, but the Bologna coach (Siniša Mihajlović) wanted him so so much. When someone wants you like that, you want to go to a team like that.’
The move paid dividends.
Musa Barrow only arrived in January but he ended up as the top-goalscorer for Bologna in Serie A netting 9 goals in 17 matches for the club.
‘He loves living in Bologna, it’s a very nice calm city,’ Sorrentino says.
An all-round player
Musa Barrow is an intelligent player on the pitch.
The Gambian attacker is able to play in multiple roles across the front three.
‘For me he has to play forward, maybe on the left-side, because he can use his right foot to cut in and shoot. But he’s very good with his left-foot too.’
Sorrentino is right. Barrow is at his best when playing on the left-wing. His ability to cut-in from the wing can be used to a devastating effect.
At 23 years of age, Barrow’s vision and decision making for an attacking player is beyond his years.
For U23 players in his position in Serie A, Barrow ranks in 3rd place for through passes per 90 according to Wyscout with 0.94 which is higher than Kulusevski, Chiesa and Rafael Leao.
He has also registered the 2nd most assists with 8 (1 behind Hakimi) for U23 players in Italy’s top flight.
Barrow can progress the ball through dribbles and offensive runs to mix-up his attacking output too.
By using his pace, and body, as well as his quick feet he is able to beat his opponents with ease, especially when there is space to run in behind the opposition.
He ranks in 6th place for progressive runs with 2.47 per 90 for U23 players in his position in Serie A.
His best trait though is the way he strikes the ball.
The Gambian forward is lethal inside the box, but he’s also a threat from long range. He scored 3 out of his 8 goals last season from outside the box.
‘For me his fitness, and his shooting is his best trait,’ Sorrentino explains. ‘I have never seen another play who shoots as well as him.’
‘He works on this a lot – that’s also his best quality, he is always working to improve and get better.’
Maturity beyond his years
Forced to train by himself for years before his move to Italy, Musa Barrow has developed an insatiate work ethic.
The years of being stuck in a limbo – unsure about his fate – have taught him to appreciate every moment in European football.
Sorrentino is proud of how far his protege has come and the talented man Barrow is growing up to be.
‘Musa is a very simple guy, he doesn’t like to go out much, he trains, then goes home and stays at home with his brother. He is a very smart guy who lives and breathes football.’
Sometimes even Sorrentino can’t help but be in awe.
‘It’s amazing, you forget he is so young when you speak with him because he knows what he wants and he is very mature.’
Even Real Madrid have reportedly made advances for Musa Barrow but Sorrentino says his client is not in a rush.
‘I think he will stay (at Bologna) for now, but you never know. The market can change day by day. There are a lot of clubs interested in him – I get calls from a lot of people about him everyday.’
The dream is a path to England.
‘Our dream is to go to the Premier League. It’s the best league in the world and it’s the dream of most Gambians.’
At 23 years of age, Barrow has already played over 100 games for Atalanta and Bologna.
He’s also going to lead his country in their first ever major tournament at AFCON next year.
According to Sorrentino the sky is the limit when it comes to Barrow’s potential.
‘Who knows how far he can go. He could go to Real Madrid. If he continues the way he is now, there is nothing that could hold him back.’
And the hard-work for the next-step will begin in pre-season.
‘Next season we have to improve and get better and better.’
For Sorrentino, his client is no longer the second coming of a once famed star – but rather an entity of his own.
‘Before I used to compare him to Kaka – now I prefer to say he is Musa Barrow.’
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