Serie A

From fleeing Gambia to AS Roma starlet: The incredible story of Ebrima Darboe

Max Cooper
It has been some journey for Darboe
It has been some journey for Darboe / Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

It's been a miserable season for AS Roma and their supporters, and if Tottenham Hotspur's recent experience under Jose Mourinho is anything to go by, next year could be pretty gruelling, too.

Amid all of the off-field turmoil and on-field disappointments however, there has been one shining light come to the fore in recent weeks; that is the senior debut of teenager Ebrima Darboe, and the heartwarming story that accompanies it.

Taking on the best / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

Life has not been easy at all for the 19-year-old. At the age of 14, Darboe left his parents and his family to flee the famine in Gambia, in order to try and secure a better future for his loved ones. He first arrived in Libya, before making his way to Europe and Italy.

Upon arriving in Italy, he was assigned a social worker and was protected under the SPRAR project (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers). He began his football education in the youth team of amateur side Rieti, a city in the centre of Italy.

His indisputable talent was noticed by Roma scouts, and they offered the teenager a trial where he impressed onlookers with his calmness and talent on the ball. Darboe made his debut for the youth team in 2019, and has become a permanent fixture in their side.

The Gambian was also named in Roma's senior matchday squad to face Milan in October 2019, but he has been made to wait before stepping out onto professional turf. That moment arrived five minutes from the end of Roma's 2-0 defeat to Sampdoria on 2 May, when he came on to fulfil an unthinkable dream for the refugee.

That experience was topped on 6 May however, when a first-half injury to Chris Smalling saw Paulo Fonseca throw Darboe into battle against Manchester United in the Europa League semi-final at Stadio Olimpico.

Darboe gave a fantastic account of himself over the hour he played in the 3-2 victory on the night, showing flashes of the talent which has seen him bag five goals and two assists for the youth team. His exploits have even earned him a starting place in Sunday's team to face Crotone in Serie A.

The teenager could hardly contain his delight in the post-match interviews, and spoke about his journey up to now, thanking the coaches for showing such faith in him.

"I was nervous when I was coming on," he said.

"Four or five years ago I was in Africa, watching players on the TV – and today I was out there playing against some of them. So, I was very excited about that.

"I've had a pretty unusual time. It's true that I had to go through a long journey, that was a bit tough, in order to get here, but since I have been here [in Italy] my life has changed.

"I want to thank the coaches, both Paulo Fonseca and [youth team boss] Alberto De Rossi, and indeed all those who have coached me since I've been here," he said.

"I've learned so many things I didn't know before from them, so if I am where I am now it is because of the coach and the staff. I want to thank all of them."

Is he going to get carried away? Of course not. This boy has learned to take nothing for granted in life, and he's only just getting started.

"I don't think I've done anything yet, I think I still have a long way to go. I try to train as best as I can and do everything I can to help the team."