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Why Man Utd, Liverpool and half of Europe are red-hot for Teteh Bangura

He's the breakout name of this summer's transfer market.

But for Teteh Bangura, his road to soccer stardom was far from conventional.

The AIK Solna sensation now has Manchester United and Liverpool chasing his signature - but it wasn't three years ago he was playing on-loan at Cascade Surge in the USL Premier Development League.

Expressen rattled off the clubs that had been in contact with AIK about Teteh last week: Newcastle United, Schalke 04, Chelsea, Bursaspor, Lokomotiv Moscow, Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Tottenham. This was before it broke that United chief scout Martin Ferguson would be attending AIK's clash with Elfsborg on the weekend to run his eye over the 21 year-old forward.

The speculation isn't just tabloid gossip, Nebojsa Novakovic, the AIK legend, already regards Teteh - at 21 - as the club's greatest EVER.

"He is already too good for the league and is the greatest attacking talent AIK has ever had," declared the AIK assistant manager.

"The bids from Russia were certainly not a surprise, Russian football is top class but he will attract bids from much bigger clubs and from one of the major leagues if he continues like this."

For the player, Teteh admits his sudden elevation as one of Europe's hottest transfer properties is something he still is getting to grips with.

"I do not know if I'll play in the big leagues, I'm not sure," he said. "Right now I am happy here at AIK, but I hope to someday play in the big leagues. It is every footballer's dream and if it happens, I will appreciate it."

His route to Sweden came only after he was forced to return to Sierra Leone following the bankruptcy of USL outfit Cleveland City Stars.

"It was not bad, but not like here in Sweden," he recalls. "It was different, first and foremost it was the second division, so it was not like here in Europe. I had a three-year contract with the team, but they went bankrupt.

"First, they lent me to another team because I was not ready to play. I played for a team called the Cascade Surge and scored a few goals. After that, Cleveland called me back and I scored a couple of goals at the end of the season."

Cleveland's financial woes forced Teteh back home, but it wasn't long before a new opportunity arrived through his agent, Patrik Mork. The chance came via trials at fourth division outfit Köping FF, which were battling relegation at the time. A contract was offered to the Sierra Leone striker, who immediately repaid Koping's faith with a hat-trick on debut.

"It went well and I scored twelve goals in nine matches, then came AIK and they snapped me up," says Teteh.

"It's been good, but the Allsvenskan is really a tough league. But it has really gone well and I appreciate it. It's not a surprise, because I've worked hard to get here."

That "hard work" hasn't only involved maintaining self-belief as he chased his pro dream around the world, but also overcoming a serious knee injury in 2007 when a junior with BK Hacken.

But it was during rehab and a chance pick-up game with friends which set Teteh on the road to where he is today.

He explains: "I broke a ligament in my knee, so I had surgery here in Sweden and did five months of rehabilitation. Then I went back to Sierra Leone in late 2007 and was there in 2008 too.

"I started practicing and going to the gym.

"I have a friend who was then playing in the United States, he arrived in Freetown having just finished the season in the USA. He had never visited me there.

"Then we played soccer with some friends, just for ourselves - when he noticed me and said 'Wow!'. He came straight over to me and asked if I wanted to play in the US, the club invited me and I got a contract with Cleveland City."

From that pick-up game with friends in Freetown, Teteh is now on the verge of a move to England - something his Sierra Leone coach Lars-Olof Mattson is convinced will happen before the transfer deadline falls.

"He has already shown that he has the ability to take big strides. I think he will be sold this summer," said Mattson.

"He is very ambitious to improve and I am convinced that he can step up his game. I also understand he is a very important player for AIK, but I think he will be sold this summer.

"I hope there will be no second choice in the Netherlands or France. I definitely think he would fit well in England, but I don't think he will meet the rules that prevent English clubs to recruit players from nations that are located less than 75 in FIFA's world ranking."

Perhaps, but you have to believe the UK work permit tribunal that inevitably considers Teteh's case will recognise his credentials. After all, how can they reject the potential of a player dubbed "AIK's greatest" at just 21.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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