Assan Ceesay: The Gambia forward's learning curve in Switzerland

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Assan Ceesay in action for FC ZurichAssan Ceesay joined FC Zurich from Lugano in 2018

The Gambia forward Assan Ceesay believes a testing loan spell in Germany helped him become a title-winner in Switzerland with FC Zurich.

The 28-year-old played a key role in FC Zurich's triumph this season as they ended their 12-year wait for a league title.

He scored 20 goals and provided 10 assists in 33 appearances to help secure a 13th Swiss Super League crown for the club.

"We played many good games and we were consistent and personally it was my best season as a professional," he told BBC Sport Africa.

"So it's a season to remember and I'll never forget. It's my first professional title."

He admits the success has not been easy to achieve.

The forward was sent on loan to German Bundesliga 2 side Vfl Osnabruck for the second half of the 2019-20 season, but thinks it was a good thing after struggling to get playing time at FC Zurich.

"It's important sometimes as a player if things are not going [well] on your side you need to change a little bit and maybe to go on loan and come back or try something new," Ceesay said.

"For me, it was good that I went to VfL Osnabruck and it was during the pandemic. It was not easy there but I tried to manage and adapt.

"We were playing without fans so it was a bit boring, but it helped me a lot this season when I returned to FC Zurich.

"I learnt many things in Germany. Their style of play is more physical than in Switzerland, so when I came back it helped me a lot and I didn't regret why I went to Germany."

Facing the future with confidence

The Gambia and FC Zurich's Assan Ceesay celebratingCeesay is out of contract at the end of June - but could remain at FC Zurich

On his return to Zurich, Ceesay enjoyed more game-time but found goals harder to come by - ending the 2020-21 campaign with four goals in 33 outings.

"As a striker you need confidence, you need to work hard and try to develop on your weaknesses and this season everything clicked for me," he explained.

"We got a new coach (German Andre Breitenreiter) who was a striker. He helped me a lot on my finishing, but not only me - [on] the whole team he improved many players.

"We had a nice run this season. It was good that I scored many goals and he taught me a lot. He always tells me 'Whatever you need come and tell me'.

"People always expect me to score goals, and I did it and helped the team win the championship."

The Gambian will be out of contract at the end of June but he is in no hurry to decide his future.

FC Zurich have offered him a new deal, while clubs overseas are also after his signature.

"They (FC Zurich) want me to extend and am thinking about it," he added.

"I'm getting other offers from other leagues and other countries in Europe and outside Europe, but what's more important is to focus on the club you have a contract with.

"My agent is doing the work and at the end of the season, I'll see what's the best for me because I have to look at what's the best for me and the best for my family and discuss it with them.

"I want to achieve many things. I want challenges and everybody wants to play in the big leagues, but you have to look for what's the best for you first.

"At the end of the season I'll see what's best for me and we'll see."

Aiming for the Nations Cup again

Assan Ceesay in action for The GambiaCeesay has scored 13 goals in 29 caps for The Gambia

Ceesay is his country's leading goalscorer and he starred as they qualified for their maiden Africa Cup of Nations finals last year.

He scored three goals in Nations Cup qualifying, all against Angola. He scored a brace in Luanda to earn The Gambia its first ever competitive away victory before scoring the only goal at home to book their place in Cameroon.

However, the FC Zurich ace could not find his scoring touch during his side's historic run at the finals in Cameroon as they reached the quarter-finals.

The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet and Scorpions fans will be hoping Ceesay can replicate his club form as their qualifying campaign for the 2023 Nations Cup continues.

The Scorpions, who had to beat Chad in a preliminary round tie, now face a 'home' tie against South Sudan on 4 June in the Senegalese city of Thies, as The Gambia do not currently have a stadium that can host international matches.

Four days later they travel to Brazzaville to face Congo, and then in September they have back-to-back games with Mali.

"These are the most important games in the qualifiers so far because in the first two games you need points," Ceesay emphasised

"You don't need to lose because it can damage you mentally and it can take away your confidence.

"The first two, three games are the most important and are the most difficult games. We will do our best and try to have six or four points, but we can't think about losing.

"We enjoyed the Afcon last time and don't want to miss out again. We know how it feels to be at Afcon and we want to be there always and every time."

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