It is four years since a 22-year-old Muhammadu Faal signed for League One Bolton.
Hotly tipped for success after record-breaking goal-scoring seasons at Enfield Town, the Hackney-born striker made the step up amid rumoured interest from numerous Premier League clubs.
However, with playing time limited, and off-the-pitch issues at the club making all the headlines, Faal was sent out on loan to Barnet, where he failed to score in 20 appearances for the club.
He said: “A lot of players that make the step up get given time and there’s a plan for them to succeed, but with me that didn’t really happen.
“I wasn’t really looked after and I wasn’t really nurtured.
“It just looked like a series of poor choices but if you don’t know the story or if you don’t ask, then it just kind of just looks like I wasn’t ready or I wasn’t good enough.
“Barnet was a loan that probably shouldn’t have happened, I was coming back from an injury and the [Bolton] manager just wanted me out.
“They said if I do well there, then I could come back but I knew in his head I was gone.
“Barnet weren’t in a good place either – lots of things didn’t add up at the same time within 18 months.”
Now, fresh from another prolific spell at Enfield, and in his second season at Havant & Waterlooville, a 26-year-old Faal is looking to reignite a career which has seen him score over 100 goals.
He said: “Stepping up again is all I’m focused on.
“When I went back to Enfield my main motivation was to prove people wrong, whatever they were saying about me, and show them that I’m more than ready for another opportunity.
“My main motivation since leaving Bolton has been to get back there – you can see it in the numbers I’ve been getting since I went back to Enfield.”
On his Enfield return, Faal notched up 39 goals in a season – the highest individual tally in the club’s history.
He built on that with a 22/23 campaign at Havant & Waterlooville where he was named in the National League South Team of the Season and now has 67 league goals and counting since August 2021.
Even this season, in a Havant team stuck towards the bottom of the National League South, Faal still ranks as one of the league’s best goal scorers.
When it comes to making the step up again to either the football league or the National League, he is careful to avoid the mistakes that were made in his development four years ago.
He said: “I know I’m not a kid any more so any club that takes me on probably wants to play me and sees me as part of their squad.
“It’s important to know where the manager sees me, what he plans for me, whether he values me.
“Everywhere I’ve done well, the manager has valued me really highly and treated me really good and they’ve got things out of me, which is goals.”
Before signing for Bolton, Faal told the local media that he didn’t want to be misunderstood because of his height – he stands at six foot five – and that his game was about more than just being a target man.
This is a message that he is still keen to emphasise.
“I definitely feel that’s played a part in me not getting the moves, I’m unorthodox.
“People can see me and not know what to do with me.
“I hope that when I do make the step up, I have someone who sees me for who I am: a goal scorer, a good dribbler.”
A cousin to Liverpool’s Joe Gomez, Faal’s past is an interesting one which includes a stint abroad in the Italian third division and an impressive appearance on Sky Sports’ Soccer AM.
However, he is keen for people to focus on the footballer he is today.
He said: “I feel like what I’m doing now should be important as well, as much as what I’ve gone through or the career path I’ve taken.”
Perhaps his ultimate aim is to play for his country, The Gambia, and he was very much in the reckoning after his move up the leagues a few years ago.
He said: “The Gambia’s the goal, The Gambia’s the dream, I would love to represent my country and make my family proud.
“If it happens then it happens, if it doesn’t then I’ll still be fulfilled in a way knowing I was good enough to play for them.
“There’s nothing better than putting on your colours and hearing your national anthem.
“The plan is to get back in the league and get that call up. I know once I make it there, the call up will follow.”
Featured image credit: Dave Haines