Yusupha Njie: Gambia forward on being the son of the legendary Biri Biri

The Gambia’s Yusupha Njie playing for Portuguese side Boavista

The Gambia forward Yusupha Njie insists he does not feel any pressure to emulate his legendary father Biri Biri but that he is still inspired by him.

The 27-year-old is the son of late Gambian football great Alhagi Momodou Njie, whose nickname was ‘Biri Biri’, and he plays for Boavista in the Portuguese top tier.

While fans of Spanish club Sevilla still sing Biri Biri’s name it was his son that Boavista supporters were talking about at the end of the season as Njie scored the goals that helped the club avoid relegation on the last day of the Portuguese season.

“I heard so many things being said like your father did this and that and you’ve to do it. To be honest I have zero pressure with all those comparisons” the former Real de Banjul forward told BBC Sport Africa.

“My focus is to play the football that I love and try to achieve my goals. I’ve to do what I love doing and try to achieve as much as possible to reach my targets but not like I want to do this because of my dad.

“For me I don’t take it as a big thing like I need to prove something or I need to do what my dad did.”

A tough year

Players from Spanish clubs Sevilla and Valencia held a moment of silence to remember Alhaji Momodu Njie - 'Biri Biri'
Players from Spanish clubs Sevilla and Valencia held a moment of silence to remember Alhaji Momodu Njie – ‘Biri Biri’

Biri Biri passed away in the Senegalese capital Dakar in July 2020, aged 72 and Njie admitted it has been a tough year since his father’s death.

Njie senior was one of the first African players to make a name for himself in Europe and was the first Gambian to play professional football overseas when he signed for Danish club B.1901 Nykobing FL in 1972.

A year later he left them to join Spanish side Sevilla, where he spent five seasons.

“It was very hard, very difficult to hear that kind of news losing someone that was so close to you, someone that is so much to you,” an emotional Njie explained.

“It was so difficult for me to deal with but at the end of the day its life and we have to keep moving.

“I lost someone big especially in this game that I’m playing because he was everything to me, my adviser, my confidant but I still keep his words and memory with me and try to do the best to make him happy.

“People see him as a legend but for me I see him as a dad as someone that inspires me, as someone that’s there when I need him, as someone that’s at my back pushing me and, someone who wants to see me win.

“He’s my hero and I feel proud to call him my dad and I see all the work he put in.”

The Gambia legend Biri Biri (left) with his son Yusupha Njie
The Gambia legend Biri Biri (left) with his son Yusupha Njie

Keeping Boavista in the league

The former Real de Banjul and FUS Rabat player may have only scored five times in 21 matches this season but two of those goals were the the crucial ones that saw his side beat Gil Vincente 2-1 on the last day of the season and avoid relegation.

His brace included an 88th minute penalty to secure the three points that guaranteed Boavista’s Primeira Liga status.

“I’m very happy to be the one to help the team to achieve (staying up) this,” he said.

“I think it is safe to say (I have earned myself legendary status at the club) because everyone is saying this so many names, legend, hero all these things I have been hearing it.

“I’m grateful for this and it feels good to help your team in these kind of situations so am very happy to be part of the club’s history.

“The two goals were really important for the team, the Boavista fans and for me personally.

“I’m very happy to help the team stay in the league after a hard season, after so many struggles so many points lost and at the end of the season we finally made it and are able to stay in the league.”

Njie added that despite winning titles in Morocco with FUS Rabat the emotions of Boavista escaping relegation were on another level.

“It was an amazing feeling and also very emotional. I’ve never experienced those feelings since I turned professional even though I won some trophies like league and cups at my former club (FUS Rabat) in Morocco but this kind of feeling I even felt it before,” he pointed out.

“It was all about pressure it was tense, so many things but after we did it I saw on everybody’s face the relief the happiness the joy everything I can see that it’s like lifting a heavy container from their heads.

“Everyone was saying thank you, thank you like I can’t even understand and I was like we all did it. It’s a team I just did what I had to do and now it’s all of us and I think everybody is happy in the club.

“At the end of the day it’s a team we all passed through the season with difficulties, struggling so many hard times but at the end of the day we were all happy as one family.

“Everybody is good now to enjoy the holidays with a peace of mind and knowing that next season we will be in the top league still to fight and correct our mistakes.”

Yusupha joined Boavista on an initial season’s loan move from Moroccan club FUS Rabat in the summer of 2017 before signing a permanent three-year contract in 2018 meaning his deal is coming to an end.

“In football you never know what’s coming, you never know your next move but what I can say is I am a player of Boavista at the moment and am happy with them,” he insisted.

“We’re good but let’s see what the future holds right now I’m just trying to enjoy the holidays and relax after the hard season we came from.”

The best is yet to come

The Gambia's Yusupha Njie playing for Portuguese side Boavista
The Gambia’s Yusupha Njie playing for Portuguese side Boavista

The skilful attacker has been recalled to The Gambia squad for June’s friendly matches after missing the Scorpions’ successful Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.

His last appearance came in September 2019 as The Gambia lost 2-1 in Angola in the second leg of a preliminary round tie in 2022 World Cup qualifying as they lost 3-1 on aggregate.

Despite not playing in the qualifiers Njie is proud of what The Gambia has achieved by qualifying for their first ever Nations Cup finals.

“Since childhood we all dreamed about qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations and we managed to make it happen,” he said.

“I’m for the team and all Gambians, let’s just keep fighting and see what the Africa Cup of Nations will bring.

“It’s always a blessing to see the flag raised high no matter if am there or not, as far as I am Gambian and it’s my friends that are doing this it’s like am there doing it at the same time. When they did it I was happy just like them.”

The attacker will need to fight for his spot in Tom Saintfiet’s competitive squad and Njie says he’s relishing the challenge of battling with players like Musa Barrow, Ebrima Colley and Bubacarr Trawally for a place in the team.

“For me I think that’s the best right now – like the saying ‘the best is yet to come’ – and that means we are a threat,” he continued.

“So for me I like it that way so that everybody can fight to play for the national team it doesn’t have to be easy.

“It is good for me Musa Barrow or any player that’s playing right now. I’m sure they’re happy for this (competitiveness) and they like it so that we can push the flag of the country higher and every player will fight for the nation and the right to play.

“We have to thank god that he has made it possible that we’re having so many young players in Europe playing in the top leagues which is good for the country, we can compete.”