THE BIG INTERVIEW: Modou Barrow
21st November 2015
Modou Barrow's journey to becoming Gambia's first Barclays Premier League footballer is a remarkable story.
Fearless and determined, when he burst onto the scene in Swansea's 2-1 victory over Arsenal last season, very little was known of the tricky winger that had arrived from Swedish side Ostersunds FK that previous summer.
Born in Banjul, the capital city of Gambia, Barrow spent his teenage years growing up in Sweden, where he climbed the divisions of Swedish football before making his dream move to the richest league in world football.
But Barrow's extraordinary tale has a sad beginning.
"If my mum was here now, she would not be surprised that I am playing in the Premier League," reflects Barrow, who tragically lost his devoted mother to illness when he was just 11 years-of-age. "She always knew I would make it.
"I wouldn't have achieved what I have without her - my mum supported me a lot.
"Every time she had her last bit of money left for the family, she would buy boots for me so that I could train and enjoy playing with my friends.
"I just want to make her proud. Before I go out onto the pitch I pray that she will be with me when I'm playing. I know she's watching over me, so I take confidence from that."
Under the guidance of his mother and during his formative years in Gambia - in an area on the doorstep of poverty - a ball was never too far away from Barrow's feet.
"When I got home, I wouldn't eat; I would get the ball and head out," he smiles. "There was nothing else in my mind."
Football is a game that, he admits, he never gets tired of, which was perhaps more than can be said of his childhood opponents that spent most of their time hacking at Barrow's shadow.
"I used to play with a lot of older kids in Gambia," says Barrow, who is one of five brothers. "We used to play games where you play four against four and try to score. We didn't have proper posts, so we would use shoes.
"I was more talented than my older brothers and their friends, but they didn't like it when I dribbled around them. They didn't like it when some little kid comes on and embarrasses them, so I would get fouled a lot and I would end up crying and running back home - but it helped to toughen me up."
When his mother sadly passed away, Barrow moved to Sweden to live with his father - a plumber by trade - who had found work in the Scandinavian country.
Despite the vast cultural and environmental differences between his native country and his adopted homeland, settling down in Sweden didn't prove a problem for Barrow, whose love of football made him instantly popular amongst his classroom peers.
"It was a great opportunity for me," reflects the 23-year-old. "I started school straightaway - everything was ready for me.
"I met a lot of kids there that, like me, loved to play football. Moving to Sweden from Gambia was not that hard for me. It was a really nice start to life there."
His ability with a ball did not go unnoticed. After his friend's father - a youth team coach at Swedish third-tier side Osters IF - had asked him to train with the club, Barrow went on to impress at Mjolby AI, Mjolby Sodra, IFK Norrkoping and Varbergs BoIS before joining then-First Division side Ostersunds FK.
"We played some really good football and passed the ball a lot like Swansea do," reflects Barrow, who credits his time in Sweden as key to helping him improve his understanding of the beautiful game. "We also had great coaches there who helped me a lot."
Those coaches at Ostersunds were Graham Potter and Billy Reid, who both have firm connections to these shores.
Potter featured for the likes of Southampton, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion during a 12-year playing career and has been in charge of the Swedish outfit since 2011; while his assistant, Reid, was linked with the manager's job at Swansea City following the departure of Paulo Sousa in the summer of 2010.
"I watched Swansea a lot when I was in Sweden as I really liked the way they played football," adds Barrow.
"Billy is a great coach. He told me a lot about Swansea before I came here. He said to me that it was a good club, especially for young players. Both he and Graham are good people."
Having now spent just over a year in Swansea, Barrow has witnessed the coastal life of living in South Wales for himself.
"I am really happy in Swansea," he beams. "I have my girlfriend and daughter here, so I go to training and then go home to spend time with them.
"My friend Adnan (Maric), who plays for the Under-21s is also here, and we both speak Swedish. We hang out a lot and play video games.
"I feel really at home here - with the team and the fans. During the first year, I learnt a lot and was getting to know the league and the toughness of it.
"I worked hard to try and get an opportunity, and I could see the guys in the team believed in me and that the manager believed in me."
Barrow couldn't have wished for a better introduction to the Premier League. Coming on as a substitute against Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium, the Swans were 1-0 down when the young winger entered the fray.
But despite his inexperience of playing in the English top-flight, the Gambian international's fleet of foot struck fear into Arsenal full-back Kieran Gibbs, who was booked for fouling the debutant as he raced forward from midfield in an attempt to penetrate the heart of the Gunners' defence with his first touch of the ball.
Cue Sigurdsson's stunning free-kick and Bafe Gomis' headed winner, and the Swans had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in spectacular fashion. But many could argue that Barrow's introduction proved the pivotal moment in the contest.
"I was not nervous, I was just proud and happy to come on," insists the seemingly fearless Barrow.
"I remember we had a lot of players injured and that I was the only winger on the bench. I had confidence that I was going to come on.
"I'm an offensive player and I like to attack space. The gaffer told me to enjoy the game and help the team defensively, but more so to just do my thing.
"It was fantastic to make my debut against Arsenal. It was a great team performance."
Since his impressive cameo against Arsenal, Barrow has gone on to make 16 first-team appearances for the Swans, while he has enjoyed loan spells with Championship outfits Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers.
"I really enjoyed it at Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers," adds Barrow. "I worked under good managers in Dougie Freedman and Gary Bowyer.
"But to get in the team, you have to be with them for a while so that you know the style of play and the players you play with.
"At Swansea, it's different. I already know all of the players and feel at home here.
"I can play from the start when the opportunity arises, but right now I think being brought on when opponents are tired is a useful option for the manager because I can hit space and help the team go forward.
"In the position I play, we have Jefferson (Montero), Andre (Ayew), Wayne (Routledge) and myself. It's great for me because I'm the youngest winger, so I am learning all the time from them."
But despite enjoying life in Swansea and the challenges of the Premier League, Barrow hasn't forgotten his African routes.
"My hometown was not the best, to be honest," reflects Barrow, returning to the topic of his birthplace. "Where I lived in Gambia, there were a lot of poor people.
"There are a lot of kids that love to play football, but they don't have the help to be the players they want to be.
"Whenever I get the chance, I go back to Gambia. Sometimes I try and give money, but I believe more in going and seeing with my own eyes and helping than just giving money."
Barrow's affinity for his home nation is reciprocated. He admits that the Premier League is popular in Gambia and that most of his countrymen are Swansea supporters now, who cheer on their country's rising star week-in-week-out.
"I didn't know that at first, to be honest," laughs Barrow, when reminded that he is the first Gambian to play in the Premier League. "It was only when I saw people writing about it that I realised.
"It makes me very proud to be able to do this for my country."