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  • Justin Grimm

A. Sodmönkh Reaching Full Potential with Brera Ilch FC

Ankhbayar Sodmönkh has been on the radar of Mongolian football clubs and officials for a long time for such a young player. However, a crazy first year in the Premier League with Ulaanbaatar City last season could have derailed what had been a very consistent career. Despite his club's challenges last season, the young attacking star is back in top form with a club whose ambitions are as big as his own.

Let's learn more about one of Mongolia's brightest prospects.

Ankhbayar Sodmönkh was born in Darkhan on 7 August 2004. He wanted to become a footballer from a young age after watching Sergio Aguero on tv. He would play with friends after school beginning around age ten and came to idolize Lionel Messi, as so many young players do.

Because of the cold weather and short outdoor playing season in Mongolia, many players in the country also play futsal. As a youth, Sodmönkh was also an avid player of the indoor version of beautiful game. In 2018 his club won bronze in the national competition in his age division. He was named best player of the tournament for his first major honour.

Later in 2018, he began his organized football career with hometown club Khökh Chononuud FC, better known as Blue Wolves in English. Over the next few years, the player would experience great successes at both the youth and senior levels. Fast forward a few years and the player has even earned himself a full scholarship to the Mongolia State University, studying sport.

The 2019 season saw Sodmönkh compete with Khökh Chononuud in the inaugural National Amateur Cup. Via their bronze medal, the team entered the First League in 2020. He continued his steady progress that year, becoming eligible to compete in the club's First League matches when he turned 16 years old. He made an instant impact, scoring a brace in his first contest and being named man of the match. He continued to also play for Khökh Chononuud's youth teams, leading the U16 team to the gold medal in the National Football Cup the same year.

Sodmönkh parlayed his club success into his first international call-up later that year. He was part of Mongolia's under-16 squad that competed in 2020 AFC U-16 Championship qualification, appearing in all four of the country's matches.

The 2021 season saw even more success with Sodmönkh competing in both the First League and the national under-19 division. With Khökh Chononuud's youth team, the player scored two goals in a 4-0 victory over SP Falcons in the league's bronze medal match. Following the season, he took home individual hardware as the league's best midfielder. The 2022 campaign saw more club and individual successes for the players from Darkhan as the team finished second place in the First League table, earning a spot in the promotion play-offs. Despite taking a 2-1 lead over Khovd FC in the first leg, the Blue Wolves ultimately missed out on promotion by having to forfeit the second leg. It was not all gloomy for Sodmönkh, however, as he was named the First League's top midfielder following the season.

Sodmönkh with his award as the 2022 First League's top midfielder

Although he would not get to celebrate promotion with his childhood club, Sodmönkh was destined to play in the Premier League the following year, joining the ambitious Ulaanbaatar City FC during the winter 2022/2023 transfer window, along with six other Blue Wolves players.

In September 2022, as one last accomplishment as a Khökh Chononuud player, Sodmönkh was a central figure in the national under-20 team that finished second in its group in 2023 AFC U-20 Asian Cup qualification. Despite narrowly missing out on qualification to group winners South Korea, the player scored a goal in a 6-0 thumping of Sri Lank in what would be the nation's best-ever performance in the competition.

Despite playing well with Ulaanbaatar City, Sodmönkh's first season in the country's top flight did not all go to plan. Before the end of the season, UB City forfeited its final matches, withdrew from the league, and ultimately folded because of an ongoing dispute and allegations hurled back and forth between the club and the Mongolian Football Federation. Sodmönkh recalled the feeling of confusion and uncertainty when the team folded. He and the other players, including his friends from Darkhan, received offers to join several other clubs.

Sodmönkh's talent showed through the chaos at UB City and he received his first senior international call-up for the 2023 Intercontinental Cup held in India in June 2023. Despite a very disappointing campaign which saw Mongolia lose all three matches, including a 0-1 defeat to tiny Vanuatu, the player's performance was noted as one of the team's few bright spots of the tournament. After entering as a second-half substistute in Mongolia's opening match against India on 9 June for his debut, he featured in all of Mongolia's subsequent matches. Just two months later he was included in the Mongolian squad for 2024 U23 AFC Cup qualification.

Sodmönkh (center) in Ilch colours, August 2023

Image property of Erdene Gombo

In summer 2023, Sodmönkh ultimately landed at Bayanzürkh Sporting Ilch FC ahead of the 2023/2024 MPL season. The season started poorly, with Ilch entering the winter break in the relegation zone with only three points from nine matches. It seemed as though another career setback may be on the horizon as relegation seemed inevitable. However, Brera Holdings, a family of clubs based in Italy, began the the process to acquire the club, finalizing the deal in October 2023 ahead of the resumption of the league for the spring half of the campaign.

The on-field product changed completely with the introduction of professional coaches, players, and systems that had previously been missing. Within the first three matches of the spring season, Brera Ilch found itself out of the relegation zone. Sodmönkh was also thriving again in the new environment, earning man of the match honours after scoring a goal in a 4-3 victory over Khoromkhon on matchday 12.

Thanks to his top form at Brera Ilch, Sodmönkh is once again part of Mongolia's senior national set up as he was called up to the squad for the country's 2024 FIFA Series matches against Azerbaijan and Tanzania later this month.

When asked if he dreams of one day playing abroad, Sodmönkh predictably answered, "of course". However, for now he is determined to improve both himself and club while at Brera Ilch and is committed to the project the new ownership has started. Just how much Sodmönkh will accomplish is yet to be seen, but it is clear that he is certainly a player to watch closely for both club and country.

Sodmönkh has adapted quickly and is thriving in Brera's professional environment.



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