Musa Barrow: The Gambian wonderkid rivalling Kylian Mbappe

BY: Ed Dove; Football Editor, KweséESPN

It will come as little surprise to the majority of football fans that the youngest player to have been directly involved in six or more goals in all competitions in Europe’s major leagues so far this term is Kylian Mbappe.

The Paris Saint-Germain wonderkid – and World Cup winner – scored four in his first three Ligue 1 matches this season, and contributed assists against Amiens and Nimes before being sidelined by a red card in the latter match.

While Mbappe is a household name, his closest rival for direct goal contributions among wonderkids in Europe’s major leagues is a much less heralded star. Indeed, after Mbappe – who will turn 20 on December 20 – The Gambia’s Musa Barrow is the youngest player to have already played a direct part in six goals this term.

The Atalanta forward is just over a month older than Mbappe, yet remains at a much earlier stage of his development, and only just made his debut for The Gambia during the recent international window. However, last term, he became the youngest person to have scored at least two and contributed two assists in the 2017-18, and last weekend, caught the eye with a cameo in the Scorpions’ home draw with heavyweights Algeria in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on September 8.

After replacing Lamin Jallow in the second half, he was arguably the most impressive player on the pitch, with his movement in dangerous areas – he notably appears to almost glide across the turf – troubling the North African giants.

Barrow has the potential to become the most high-profile player in the tiny West African nation’s history. The forward dedicated his debut to Atalanta, with the Italian club having given him the platform to establish himself as one of Europe’s most exciting youngsters. Barrow was named in the Tuttosport’s 2018 Golden Boy list among the hottest 100 prospects in European football.

“I have to thank Atalanta for what they did for me in these last two years, for getting me here,” he told journalists [as per Il Giorno].

“I’ve always said it's like a second family. When I was a child I’d hoped the day would come when I would play for The Gambia national team,” he added. “I’m very happy to have worn the shirt of my country, in front of all of my family and many friends.”

“There were so many people, more than we could hold in the stadium,” Barrow added. “I came on in the second half, and I’m happy, because there were many people there who wanted me to play.”

Already, this term, he’s contributed directly to six goals for Atalanta, contributing two assists as well as four goals. Unlike Mbappe, all of his strikes have come in continental competition – rather than Serie A – with the starlet netting a hat-trick in the 8-0 Europa League victory at FK Sarajevo.

He also netted in the 4-1 victory at Hapoel Haifa, building on his encouraging form last term, when he scored three and contributed two assists in 444 minutes as Atalanta finished seventh.

His form prompted rumours of potential interest from Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Internazionale and Borussia Dortmund, although Barrow would surely be better served by refining his game further in the Italian top flight before eyeing a big-money switch abroad. Early impressions are good, even though he’s yet to make a decisive contribution in his two appearances to date this term.

The starlet is most comfortable through the middle these days, and showcased his goalscoring qualities with 14 goals in 19 appearances for Atalanta’s youth side. Beyond a ruthless confidence in front of goal, Barrow also offers admirable upper-body strength, the pace to beat defenders and off-the-ball movement to open space up for others as well as himself.

His aerial threat needs refinement, but he has the frame to be a complete all-round forward. Half of his appearances for Atalanta this term have been as a substitute, with coach Gian Piero Gasperini preferring the trio of Emiliano Rigoni, Duvan Zapata and the exceptional Alejandro Gomez.

However, Atalanta are a club who realise the value of youth and the importance of promoting from within, it's a policy that's been central to the club’s 2016-17 season – their most successful in the Italian top flight.

Ivory Coast powerhouse Franck Kessie made his name at Atalanta before securing a move to AC Milan, and if Barrow continues on his current trajectory, a switch to a continental giant surely awaits.