Travel, education, and experience give perspective. French-Senegalese winger Mamadou Baldé has plenty of all three, from Senegal to Mongolia with plenty of stops in-between. Mongolian Football Central recently sat down with the former Arvis FC player nicknamed the "French Legionaire" to learn more about him and his experience in one of Asia's emerging nations.
The 24-year-old Baldé was born in Thies, Senegal to Guinean parents. He comes from a football-loving family. In fact, members of his family have played for the Guinea national team and he has been contacted by the selection himself. In Senegal, football was everywhere and could be played all day.
In 2003, Baldé and his family moved to Paris, France. While school and learning to speak French were his parents' priorities, his focus remained on football. The same year he moved to France he began playing for the academy of CS Meaux. He remained with the club until his high school graduation in 2010, at which point he moved to Reims and began to study law. During his time at university, he also played three seasons for Reims Sainte-Anne. He experienced much success with the club, including winning the Marne district championship in 2013.
Baldé with Reims Sainte-Anne B in 2013
Following the 2013 season, Baldé took his first steps outside of the French football system since leaving Senegal thirteen years earlier. He signed for FK Taurus of the Lithuanian second division but left the club only six months later because of the team's financial hardships. From there he spent the 2015 season with FC Lejre of the Danish fourth division before returning to France for a 6-month spell with FC Sillery in 2016. Before signing for Sillery, Baldé traveled to Italy in January 2016 and trialed with Miami Fusion FC, an American club that competes in the National Premier Soccer League. The trial led to a contract offer but it arrived too late.
Baldé at his trial in Italy with Miami Fusion FC
Two clubs began competing for the player's signature in December of that year, one in the first division of Bahrain and one from the fourth tier of Portugal. After choosing to sign for the Portuguese club, a clerical error kept the deal from being processed and Baldé was left without a club.
Just as the player had decided to put football aside and focus on another career, he was contacted via Facebook by the manager of Arvis FC, a club in the second tier of Mongolian football. Actually, the player began down the road to Mongolia in 2015 when the manager of Bayangol FC, a club in the Mongolian Premier League at the time, offered him a contract. However, the player was not familiar with the country and decided to not sign for the club at that point. Following his initial contact, Baldé began to learn more about football in the country which ultimately led to his decision to join Arvis FC in April 2017. However, Arvis FC were not the only Mongolian club interested in the player's services.
Baldé in action for Arvis FC
Baldé also received an offer to play for Erchim FC, Mongolia's traditional football powerhouse with eleven league championships and four AFC continental cup appearances to its name. Baldé indicated that despite the allure of Erchim, he was swayed by Arvis FC's promise of significant playing time.
With a one-season contract in hand that ran from April to October 2017, Baldé set off for Mongolia. Perhaps one of the reasons Arvis FC desired the player so strongly was because their young team needed someone with his amount of experience since the club was only founded in 2010. Because of the harsh winter, futsal is popular. It was this sport that prepared him for the outdoor season that was to come.
Baldé with FC Sillery in 2016
Baldé looks back on his experiences in Mongolia fondly, noting the rich culture, history, passion, and friendliness of the people. From a footballing perspective, he warns players considering playing in Mongolia not to expect the competition to be easy. Because he faced premier league clubs in friendlies and cup matches, he states that their is not a big difference in the level of competition between the first and second divisions. The level of play is good and style is physical. He compared the level of play to the French third division. Players need to be aware of the current lack of money, stadiums, and training facilities. Fake agents are also common in the country.
Baldé experiencing the local culture near a traditional yurt
Despite the challenges facing the world of football in the country, he has seen huge improvement since he was first introduced to the sport in the country in 2014, particularly in organization and the skill level of young players.
So why did Baldé leave Mongolia and return to France following the 2017 season? A season in which Arvis FC won the league championship and earned a place in the Mongolian Premier League in 2018? The reason was mostly bureaucratic with his visa expiring being the main reason. When asked if he would consider returning to Mongolia to play one day, his response was an emphatic, "if I have a new offer, of course I'm going back to Mongolia" after considering all his options, options which have grown since winning the championship and gaining more international exposure from agents and media members. He currently has an offer to sign for a club in France and recently returned from a trial with FCM Traiskirchen in the Austrian third division.
Baldé is also involved in other aspects of the sport, currently serving as a scout for USA-based Harmon Sports Group. With the agency, he makes connections between players and clubs in Europe.
Whatever lies ahead, whether it is in Mongolia or elsewhere, Baldé believes that "Once Arvis FC, always Arvis FC" and has his time in Mongolia to thank for many of the opportunities currently coming his way.
Arvis FC team photo, 2017
To see the player in action, view: