Naturally endowed with good jumping ability, fantastic co-ordination and solid catching skills, Wandeh Njie is ranked as one of Gambia’s greatest goalkeepers of all time.
At a time in the late-’80s to early-’90s, Wandeh Njie was considered to be if not the best, then certainly one of the top three goalkeepers in the Gambia.
Njie played with three generations of Gambian goalkeepers. His first generation team mates include late Baboucarr Saho and Sang Ndong. Second generation consists of goalkeepers like Boy Badou, Ebou Jobe, Ebou Ceesay and Ali Samba. Before Wandeh retired, he had his last stint with the Scorpions as the most senior member of a third generation squad comprising of goalkeepers such as George Lobba and Pa Ansu.
At the age of 13, Wandeh started his career as a defender in Bakau. He got his goalkeeping inspiration from Baboucarr Saho, the then goalkeeper of the national team. As a teenager, he grew up admiring and wanting to be like Saho. Because of that inspiration, he started building interest in goalkeeping and joined Super Bakery, a nawettan football team in Bakau.
A very good career at Super Bakery would quickly catapult the young goalkeeper to national stardom and bigger career. In 1982, Wandeh was hired by Dagudaan in the second division of the national league where he spent two seasons. “Despite being young, I adapted very quickly thanks to the other goalkeepers I met there, “Wandeh tells The Chronicle. “I was so determined and always hungry for victory.” 91
In 1991, Wandeh joined Real De Banjul, one of the best teams in the first division at that time. With Real, he quickly built a reputation for himself as the top keeper. “My first game with Real De Banjul was against Wallidan and it was a very tough game, “Wandeh recalls. “Just like any good goalkeeper will do, I organized my defense very well. I was in control and fortunately for me, I had good defenders like Papa Sarr Corr, Modou Lamin Johns and Joseph Jabang, so they all made the job easy for me, “he said.
Njie had quick reflexes, agility and he was good at covering angles. He joined the national team in 1987.
“Wandeh was one of my favorite’s goalkeepers in the national team, “says Hamet Sanyang, one of Wandeh’s admirers. “He was my best apart from Baboucarr Saho who by far is the country’s greatest goalkeepers I’ve ever watched.”
In the same 1987, Njie made his debut with the national team was against Liberia in an International friendly match at the Independence Stadium in Bakau. “I remember George Weah played in that game, “Njie explains. He was a very clever player but he contained by my defenders. I had great defenders then, I was never worried at the back.
Since then, Njie certainly made his presence felt in the national team and had maintained his position as first-choice goalkeeper. “Everyone in the team trusted me and that motivated me to do all I could to help the team, “he tells The Chronicle. “A lot of people contributed to my career and that had always motivated me to sacrifice for my country.”
Pa Suwareh Faye remembers Wandeh Njie as an intelligent and discipline goalkeeper. “He got the passion and he always wanted to win. He was a gifted player…versatile and technical.”
In The Gambia national team, Wandeh became the top goalkeeper. His successes just continued.
Njie’s biggest career highlight came in 1997 during a Zone Two game against Sieraleon in Freetown. A solid shot stopper, he was the undisputed No.1 for the Scorpions that day. “I was just on top of everything that day, “he said.
“He was my favorite goalkeeper in the history of the national team,” says Ebou Joof, “I like his confidence at the back. He was a super intelligent goalkeeper and he was also brave.”
Wandeh retired from national team duties in 1996 to pursue a different career in football. His last game for The Gambia was against the Young Boys football team from Zurich, Switzerland in an International friendly match at the Independence stadium in Bakau. “That game gave mix feelings,” he recalls. “I thought I should give chance to the young goalkeepers coming up and concentrate on other things. I think I gave all I could to my country.
Upon retirement from football, Wandeh took over as assistant and goalkeeper trainer at Real De Banjul and played an integral part in the team’s successes during that time.
Njie was a personal trainer at Arsenal’s youth team in England before he underwent heart surgery, an illness he’s is speedily recuperating from.
He’s also pursuing his coaching badges in England.
On the current state of Gambian football, Njie urges the Federation to open doors for the qualified Gambian coaches to handle the senior national team. We have a host of Gambians who are qualified to coach the national team, “he said.
“Gambian football should have passed this stage, “he said. “The people in charge should be open to criticisms, there a lots of good things one can pick from it.
“It is difficult to tell this federation the reality because most of them will see you as their enemy. “The Federation should also have a scouting network which is better and more profitable than the President going around the world to scout. Can the GFF President write a scouting report, “He asked?
The Gambia should engage qualified Gambians or scouts to monitor these players abroad and at the end of the day, they will provide reports for the technical team.”