The unfulfilled promise of Sierra Leone’s Mohamed Kallon

A career of huge promise that delivered nothing more meaningful in trophy terms than an AFC Champions League with the Saudi club Al-Ittihad. This was a career which never quite peaked, and what high points there were came before the age of 24 – the age most players are still developing. Welcome to the life and times of Sierra Leone’s greatest player: Mohamed Kallon.

The younger brother of two other Sierra Leonean internationals, Mohamed was aged just 15 he made his debut in attack for Leone Stars against Gambia in 1995 for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. He was part of the squad for the Nations Cup finals themselves in South Africa the following year, and as a 16-year-old Kallon became the tournament’s youngest player and scorer when he fired home the winning goal for his country in a 2-1 win over Burkina Faso.

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By this stage he was an Internazionale player, though more in principle than in practice. He’d been discovered at a Swedish youth tournament the previous year by the club’s General Manager Sandro Mazzola and brought to Italy, but then Mazzola departed and Kallon forgotten as he was pushed out on loan season after season to Lugano, Bologna, Genoa, Cagliari, Regina and Vicenza.

While signing for a famous club like Inter was a great privilege for a young player, in reality it was as bad a move as a player could make. The Serie A giants had a constantly shifting stockpile of world-class forwards who were always going to be favoured ahead of an untried youngster.

To compound Kallon’s difficulty in getting near the Inter first-team, a limit on the number of non-EU players was in place until 2001. The lifting of that limit opened up a tiny window of opportunity for the forward, now six years into his abortive nerazzurri career.

On the opening day of the 2001-02 season for a home fixture with Perugia, the Brazilian Ronaldo was injured again and new coach Hector Cuper chose to partner Kallon with Christian Vieri. Wearing the trademark No.3 shirt he wore for superstitious reasons, Kallon struggled initially but recovered his composure to score midway through the half. Later he added a second, his first goals for Inter but his 26th and 27th in Serie A from his various loans. Thrilled by his fine debut he embraced Hector Cuper at the final whistle, this was the first Inter coach to believe in him.

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Inter could rarely field their dream partnership of Ronaldo and Vieri that season with one or the other perennially injured, so Kallon proved adept at stepping in as a more than competent replacement. That season he scored nine goals in 29 games and was Inter’s second top scorer.

This was not going to be a breakout season for the 21-year-old, however. The following season he was the one now suffering injuries and now had new striking competition in Gabriel Batistuta. The 2003/04 season was even worse as he served a long ban for nandrolone use then found Adriano and Corentin Martins ahead of him in the striking hierarchy.

If unfortunate circumstances hampered his progress in Italy, the 2004 move to Monaco should have opened up a new chapter in his career for the striker. A strong start in the principality quickly fell away after he fell out with coach Didier Deschamps.

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His second season was spent on loan in Saudi Arabia and this set the tone for a peripatetic career that took him without distinction to Greece, China and finally to FC Kallon – a club back in his homeland he had bought and renamed after himself. He last played in 2014 for his own club and finally retired in 2016 after 20 years, 16 clubs and a lingering sense of anti-climax for a career poorly served.