Player Profiles - ABDULAI BELL-BAGGIE



Only 23 but a much travelled player not least in that he was born in, and has represented Sierra Leone. His family moved to England to escape the war in the African country when Abdulai was 7-years-old. When things settled down back home six years later, his family returned, but by then Abdulai had started his football career and as a result he remained in England with foster parents.

His schoolboy football days were spent on the books of Reading and Southampton, but it was at Reading that he progressed into the professional ranks. Whilst on their books Abdulai had his first loan spell and it was during this that he made his senior debut. That temporary transfer was to Rotherham United and lasted from March 2010 to the end of the season. The youngster played 12 games, including the Millers' Wembley play-off final defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge. Abdulai came on as a late substitute in that game for one ex-County man in Kevin Ellison, to play alongside another in Adam le Fondre. Whilst out on loan, he was one of seven Academy players awarded their first professional contracts by Reading.

At the start of the following season he was called into the first team squad for the Carling (League) Cup tie at Torquay United, a match in which he was an unused substitute. A few days later he was off on loan again, this time to Port Vale. Brought in as cover for an injured player Abs was mostly on the bench with only one starting spot during his five appearances. At the end of the month he returned to Reading's reserve team.

His next club was Crawley Town, then top of the Conference National and on their way to promotion to the Football League. This time he got just one game, an FA Cup Second Round tie the night after arriving. By all accounts he put in a nervous performance when sent on five minutes from time.

Despite the positive comments on his early years at Reading, he still could not break through into the first team on his return, and was released at season's end. The winger joined the massed ranks of trialists during pre-season and a spell with Yeovil Town earned a contract for the rest of the year. However, it proved to be a bad move as despite regularly making the substitute list early during his spell in Somerset, Abdulai made no competitive first team appearances other than in the Somerset Senior Cup. This was despite the Glovers making a very poor start to their League 1 season.

Having been released, it was back to Conference National football for 10 days in January. This short stint ended when former County player Darrell Clarke signed Abduli for the now defuct Salisbury City side. Despite the drop to Conference South he again struggled for first team games, a[[aremnt;y makign just 5 appearances, and scoring once.

The man who took him on loan to Rotherham, Ronnie Moore, gave him the chance to get back into senior football. The move to League 1 came about in August 2012 when he switched to Prenton Park, initially on trial, but soon earning a contract. After a match winning debut goal, coming on as a substitute in the Capital One (League) Cup at Chesterfield; Bell-Baggie was involved throughout the season, except for a period suffering with a niggling thigh injury. The player admitted that at times he found the physical demands of regular football a problem at first. However, he certainly impressed the management and signed a two-year extension to his contract in March 2013.

The winger had got the chance to play for England at Under-16 and Under-17 level whilst with Reading. At the end of his first season at Rovers, he was called up to the Sierra Leone national team by the recently appointed Northern Ireland born coach Johnny McKinstry. Abs missed his chance to earn his first cap in the capital city Freetown when his clearance had not come through, but went on to make his debut in a World Cup Qualifier on 15 June. The Saints unfortunately lost that group tie 1-0 on the island of Cape Verde.




Having been brought to the Wirrall by a man who previously signed him on loan, the arrival of another man in the same category brought an end to Abdulai's Rovers career. Micky Adams had used Abs to temporarily boost his Port Vale squad back in August 2010. Adams took took over at Tranmere, with the side vainly battling against relegation from the Football League, in October last year. It was not long before he was advising Abdulai he would not be in his plans and the player was transfer listed.



Abs rejoined yet another of his former bosses by switching to Conference National club Bristol Rovers, now managed by Clarke, He failed to make an appearance in the Rovers' run in to promotion. At the end of the season he was offered a new short-team contract, which even Clarke described as not a great deal, but the player decided to move on and joined County.

At 5' 6" he's one of the shortest men signed by Neil Young, but the manager clearly feels he is an addition that can carry a real threat to Conference North defences with his pace. It seems likely from his previous manager's descriptions of the player that we will see him switch wings from time to time to test his pace against both opposing full backs.

Since that initial 90 minutes on his international debut Bell-Baggie has gone on to claim another four caps. In September 2013 he played in a 3-2 win in Freetown, as the Leonians beat Equatorial Guinea in another World Cup Qualifier. In May 2014 he helped Sierra Leone to a 1-1 draw in Swaziland, and a 1-0 win in the return leg, in the African Nations Cup qualifying stages. He returned in mid- July as a home 2-0 victory against the Seychelles promised more progress in the same competition. The return leg never took place as Seychelles resigned from the competition. It was later reported that the government had told them to cancel the return game due to fears over the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. It was unclear if Sierra Leone could even have played the game. as airline officials had refused to carry them, after they had checked in a few days earlier, because they had been told the Seychelles immigration officials would not allow the party to enter the country. That non-event appears to be the last time Abdulai was involved with the National Team to date.

Ian Watts

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