Speaking to me from his current home in Azerbaijan – we discussed his time with Crvena zvezda and his love for the club, his football career since leaving Serbia, hopes for the future and how he’s finding being a father for the first time!
Mamadou Mbodj was born on the 12th March 1993 in Dakar, Senegal. He spent his youth playing for AS Dakar Sacré-Coeur, a Senegalese club based in the municipality of SICAP-Mermoz in Dakar. Since 2015, the club has been in partnership with French club Olympique Lyonnais. So how did Mamadou’s European football adventure begin….?
How did it come about that you went from Senegal to Serbia?
“A friend of my father had a contact with someone in Serbia. They told me there is one club in Serbia who were interested in signing me so I should go for a trial there, in that moment I didn’t really know who Crvena zvezda were and it was the first time I’d heard about Serbia. I went to Serbia for a trial, played 2 friendly games and then they signed me.”
As soon as he joined the club, he formed a connection with journalists and fans, often seen interacting with fans via social media. He was regularly seen at Kombank Arena/Pionir Hall giving his support for the Red and Whites in basketball as well. Over the years, he’s uploaded videos of himself singing Serbian folk songs as well as Zvezda chants which are always great to see!
How did you find your time in Serbia?
“When I first came to Serbia, it was my first club outside of Senegal. I didn’t know the country or a lot of people, my agent would sometimes come to pick me up and we’d go somewhere to eat.“
“Two days after signing for Zvezda, I was sent on loan to Napredak. So my first 6 months in Serbia I wasn’t in Belgrade and was in Kruševac. Nenad Lalatović, who had been manager of Napredak before Zvezda, told me I should go on loan there to play a little bit and get to know the league and how it works. So I told my agent no problem and I went there. It was totally different from Belgrade, when I went to Kruševac I saw a lot of things that are different.“
“When I went back to Belgrade, it was better. I went to my apartment in Vojvode Stepe, close to Marakana. I was training with the team; it was not easy for me because it was my first time in Europe and you go to a big club like Zvezda. As a 21 year old, it was very difficult to adapt and impose myself but it was a great experience for me.“
You managed to form quite a bond with the Zvezda fans?
For someone who didn’t actually play that many games during his time in Serbia, it’s perhaps unusual that Mamadou could be referred to as a “Fans favourite” but he fell in love with Zvezda and Serbia (something I can definitely relate too) and the fans fell in love with him in return.
“For me the respect between myself and the fans was very important, if everything was good for me, believe me, I would’ve stayed at the club. If I was playing every game and was happy, it’s the place I would like to be, money isn’t the most important thing for me, it’s much more important to just be playing as that’s my job and what I love doing.”
“At Crvena zvezda, it was feeling like my home, I can honestly say if I was playing every game, every week, I wouldn’t have left, doesn’t matter if money or no money, I would’ve stayed for sure 100%. When I left, I left because I didn’t play. I’m the kind of player that if I don’t play, then I’m not so happy. I can get my money no problem but I’m at a club to play football and if I don’t then I won’t feel my happiness.“
While I’m sure both Mamadou and us fans would’ve liked if it had worked out better on the pitch, we can’t say he didn’t show a lot of love and respect for the club; which he has continued to do so ever since he left the club as well.
“I want to say thank you to all the fans of Zvezda. Thank you for all the love they have given me. I’m always here for them. I will always be behind the team and will always support them for sure.”
Best player you have played with?
“At Crvena zvezda, I played with so many good players. Look at Luka Jović, he was 17 years old, he was amazing, no one could stop him in training. He was one of the best young players for sure. Aleksandar Katai, top player, he can dribble easy, score easy. Mitchell Donald, amazing player. My best friend at Zvezda. Good character on and off the pitch. He was a leader. The kind of player any coach wants to have in his team. Lots of respect for him.“
“Marko Grujic another talented player, Mihailo Ristić as well. But my favourite player in this team during my time at Zvezda was Savo Pavićević. So technical. Aggressive. I liked to watch this guy play. Great player. Respect for him.”
Everyone loved when you gave out lots of Zvezda shirts to people back in your neighbourhood in Senegal. What made you decide to do that?
“The idea was given to me by my family. Everyone there knows me and my brother, they have been following our careers since we were little. First, I just gave a few shirts to friends that I had grown up with during my childhood. Then I was getting more requests over the internet and since everyone in Dakar suddenly wanted a Red Star shirt, I had problems. Many people called me and I couldn’t please everyone. If I could, I would’ve given one to everyone without exception.“
“In Senegal, a gift is a kind of shrine, it shows respect. When you give money, it is quickly forgotten, while the gift is remembered. It’s the same with the shirt, every time they wear it, they will remember me.”
Mamadou signed for FK Žalgiris (Vilnius, Lithuania) from Crvena zvezda. He quickly established himself in the team and over the 3 years he spent at the club, he played 117 matches, scored nine goals and made three assists. Won a league title, 2 Lithunian Cup’s and 2 Lithuanian Supercup’s. He was adored by the fans of FK Žalgiris – “I never expected them to chant my name one day and I would stand in front of them and sing along. I didn’t even have that thought and it was amazing.”
He was praised by the Lithuanian club for his professionalism, dedication and contribution to achieving the set goals. The club gave him a chance to show his abilities and Mamadou will always be grateful for this. “In Vilnius, for my first season we played Champions League Qualification against FC Astana, second season against Ludogorets Razgrad in Champions League, third season against Sevilla in Europa League Qualification. So it was all good experience for me.“
Now you play in Azerbaijan, how different is it compared to your time in Lithuania and Serbia?
“When I got offered to the Azerbaijan Premier League, I thought to myself I’m taking another step forward, its a new experience and to keep growing as a player. Compared to the Lithuanian A Lyga, there isn’t a massive amount of differences. But in Azerbaijan the league is tough. You have my team Neftçi, Qarabag and you have some other teams all fighting to win the league. There are some good teams, good players.”
“I’m a very lucky guy that everywhere I go; I get the love and respect of the fans. In Baku also, I have the respect. I love the fans. When I’m on the pitch, I give everything. Outside of the pitch, if I meet some fans I will give them my time and we have a joke and laugh and we smile.“
“This season in Baku, Neftçi played Galatasaray in Europa League qualification, we lost 3-1 and I scored our goal which was the equaliser at the time. We probably lost that game due to a bit of lack of experience but that is football sometimes.“
There is a Serbian player at Neftçi, Vojislav Stanković, he spent 6 seasons at Partizan and a season at OFK Beograd. On Vojislav, Mamadou told me: “I speak Serbian with him, he is a good friend. Of course he played with Partizan and I played with Zvezda (laughs). He’s a good guy, experienced player who’s had a good career and I have a lot of respect for him. Sometimes I joke with him when Zvezda play against Partizan, especially when Zvezda win. Vojislav knows the league well, he’s been playing in Azerbaijan for 5-6 years now.”
Most memorable game in your career so far?
“Very difficult to choose. I liked my first Zvezda Europa League game against FC Kairat in July 2015, even though we lost 2-1, but for me personally, I was 21, playing my first game in a European competition. I will remember it for sure“
Photo – Srdjan Stevanovic/Starsportphoto©
“FK Žalgiris game against FC Astana. We drew 0-0 in Lithuania then in Kazakhstan in second leg they scored in the 90th minute to knock us out. It was crazy“
“Also at FK Žalgiris, we played against Sevilla, was a great memory for me against a big team. Lost narrowly 1-0 in Spain, tough but good game, they had one free kick and scored from it.”
“In Baku, I scored my first goal for Neftçi in my first game for them which was against Qarabağ. I always score in my first game, in Lithuania I did, Azerbaijan I did as just mentioned and I scored in Zvezda first league game of 2015/16 season away at Omladinski Stadion against OFK Beograd. My goal against Galatasaray this season I really liked too. So I have a few good memories“
What are your aims/goal for the future? You have played for the Senegalese youth teams and you must have a dream to play for the national team?
“All players have a dream to play for their national team, I’ve played for all the youth teams so of course I want to play for senior team too, I must be playing regular football for this to possibly happen. Honestly, to be at Crvena zvezda, it opened a lot doors for me. When I was playing for Senegalese youth teams, I came with the stature that ‘oh he comes from Zvezda, a big team’. This for me made things easier. And when I went to Lithuania, I was playing every game and was winning trophies.“
I asked Mamadou about the possibility of seeing him play in Western Europe one day, maybe even England. “Yes. Why not. Anything is possible. We’re open to anyone, if we see some interesting project then why not. I will just keep working hard, keep progressing with club and in the future we will see what happens (Inshallah).”
Back in August 2020, you and your wife had your first child? A boy? How have you found the first few months of being a father?
“Best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. To have a child… this is amazing. I can not describe my happiness. Being a a father this is the best gift you can get in your life. I’m really really happy. And I will give everything for my baby and my wife to be happy. This is something I wish for everybody.”
“I just want to say thank you to you for this interview and I hope everyone will like it.”
You can find Mamadou on his social media accounts below: