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Waiting for Dominic Adiyiah, the other member of Andre Ayew's Class

Published on: 14 June 2017
during the FIFA U20 World Cup Semi Final match between Ghana and Hungary at the Cairo International Stadium on October 13, 2009 in Cairo, Egypt.

Sometimes luck is not all we need. For a forward, you simply get the ball across the line, by all means. If Dominic Adiyiah gets this one chance over the line, at just 20 years he will have already eclipsed his accomplishments from a year ago. On this day however, the 2nd of July 2010, his header two minutes from time is goal-bound, yet within Luis Suarez’s reach; Suarez’s hand to be precise.

On the brink of History

You see, Ghana are about to become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA senior men’s World Cup. Tied with Uruguay at 1-1 and deep into extra-time, John Paintsil drops a right-wing set-play and Kevin-Prince Boateng at the near post heads it further deep to the left. Captain John Mensah notices an onrushing Fernando Muslera and heads it down for Stephen Appiah who’s left footed close range shot finds Luis Suarez’s knees on the goal-line. Ball ricochets back into play. Dominic Adiyiah then goes up for it, and it’s clear as day that the U20 World Cup Player of the Tournament from a year ago is never missing that.

Adiyiah as expected gives it all he can muster, and even if he misses, captain Mensah’s right boot is right behind him in the air, you know, just in case. It’s the World Cup and you don’t take chances, so Adiyiah powers in the header. Beats Muslera, beats Jorge Fucile, beats Suarez- but not the latter’s hands. It’s 24 years since a South American illegally scored with his hand at the World Cup, today however, a South American would stop an African dream with his hand. Luis Suarez is sent off, a penalty awarded and missed. The villain had stayed behind to watch if all his efforts had been in vain, and as Asamoah Gyan’s penalty bounced off the woodwork, Luis Suarez ran into the dressing room jubilant.

Maybe it’s Adiyiah’s fault. How dare he? A player so potent! Had he not bagged a trio of individual accolades at the 2009 U20 World Cup? And earned himself a chance to dance with the big boys? Now Ghana and Uruguay tied at 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes will head into penalty shoot-outs, and Adiyiah - just like his captain, will miss his kick. Sebastian Abreu will score his. And the African dream will die.

Dominic Adiyiah was the FIFA U20 World Cup Player of the Tournament in 2009, a showpiece held in Egypt, and the Black Satellites of Ghana crowned world champions. They had seen off an Alex Texeira led Brazil in penalty shoot-outs to emerge victorious. It was Agyemang Badu’s last penalty that had sent Sellas Tetteh’s young charges to the summit of youth football. Before this final however, Adiyiah had netted eight times for the Satellites, half the team’s tally at the tournament. The Golden Boot was his then. So how does Adiyiah - the next big thing, holder of an accolade previously held by Lionel Messi (2005) and Sergio Aguero (2007) only come to appear 20 times for his senior national team later in life? How does Agyemang Badu, a near-peripheral figure in the 2009 campaign, rake up more than seventy caps later on?

Nick Bidwell writes

‘’Only the myopic would argue that outstanding young striker Dominic Adiyiah was an undeserving choice as Player of the Tournament at the Under-20 World Cup,’’ So writes Nick Bidwell in 2011. Adiyiah has just earned the rare opportunity of playing at the senior men’s World Cup and let’s not forget he still is the incumbent U20 World Cup’s most valuable player from 2009. Nick could have been justified, in hindsight at least. The kid was good. How he then goes from AC Milan to the Thai side FC Korat is a discourse Nick wouldn’t fancy engaging in at the moment. To aptly put it, senior professional football has been anything but kind to Adiyiah.

Born 29th November 1989, Adiyiah was just ten when Dutch club Feyenoord set up a soccer academy (also served as a satellite club) in the Coastal area of Gomoa Fetteh. The little boy from Accra was one of its first students and for a better part of its first decade, the club would be Feyenoord Fetteh*, Ghanaian Division 2 champions thrice. His scoring touch didn’t escape the notice of Premier League side Heart of Lions and he was gone in July of 2007. While here, Adiyiah hit the back of the net eleven times and was the league’s Player of the Season. Norwegian tier 2 side Fredrikstad FK then gave him his first professional stint abroad for a 100K pounds fee to Lions.

Then came the Africa Youth Championship and FIFA under 20 World Cup in 2009, and Sellas Tetteh dully summoned Adiyiah for duty. His (Tetteh) charges won both, the first in Rwanda and the second - despite having a man sent off in the first half of the final against Brazil, in Egypt. The boy came out of the tournament even more highly rated as he had just joined the elite club of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero as a Golden Ball winner in the U20 World Cup.  Fredrikstad raked up to 1.4 million Euros from Serie A giants AC Milan in January 2010.

For the three years he was in the books of AC Milan, he would not feature once. Maybe this is where it all went wrong from Adiyiah. First came the loan move to Reggina. Three months and thirteen appearances, Adiyiah left the Reggio Calabria outfit with one goal. Then came Partizan Belgrade, Karsiyaka and finally Arsenal Kyiv. He wouldn’t score once for the three loan spells despite his cumulative 18 appearances. At the end of the Kyiv loan deal in June 2012, Milan made the move permanent for free. They had finally thrown away their 1.4 million piece of gold that had relentlessly resisted consistent polishing.

Adiyiah scored seven times in his 36 appearances for Arsenal Kyiv in 2012/13 before moving to FC Aytrau in Kazakhstan for free. Turns out the most valuable player from three years ago had gradually become a free agent, and where to? Kazakhstan.

Lost from the Golden Lot

It’s devastating that Adiyiah will not be invoked in the same breath with most of his peers from the 2009 junior World Cup. Even in his own country, he is an outlier- a distant statistic to numbers that matter. His captain from 2009 Andre Dede Ayew for example has gathered a cumulative hundred and fifty three caps with Badu for the senior national team. Despite only Adiyiah and Samuel Inkoom occasionally making the team at the 2010 senior men’s World Cup in South Africa, Ayew and Badu wore patience and when their time came, grabbed the chance with both hands. Jonathan Mensah has appeared 58 times for the senior team while Inkoom bowed out early at 46. Mohammed Rabiu (31) has had enough time with the Black Stars while Daniel Opare (16), despite being in the books of Real Madrid at the time of the U20 tournament, struggled to make a name with the Ghanaian senior team.

But that is just Ghana, Sellas Tetteh’s Black satellites. Are there any names from other teams that when sounded now will ring a bell? Let’s see. Odion Ighalo was captain of the Nigerian U20 team at the tournament whereas Cesar Azpilicueta captained Spain. The latter had Jordi Alba in his team. Sven Bender represented Germany whereas Sebastian Coates and Gaston Ramirez graced the tournament in the colours of Uruguay. Silver medalists of the tournament, the Brazil team- Seleção Sub-20, had Alex Texeira and Douglas Costa prodding the South American teenagers on. A look closer here at home and you’ll find Thulani Serero, Darren Keet, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Mandla Masango, Andile Jali and Kermit Erasmus all regulars for the Bafana Bafana senior team. All of these players form the spine to the current South African squad, and all of them- bar Serero- are in Stuart Baxter’s current squad for the AFCON/World Cup Qualifiers.

Bafana Contrast

The Ghanaian 2009 contingent appears spent at the moment, at least in comparison to the South African side that still has the captain’s armband rotating between Hlatshwayo and Jali. During Ghana’s last time out - a 5-0 rout of Ethiopia at the Baba Yara Stadium on Sunday 11th July 2017, only Andre Ayew and Jonathan Mensah seem to have survived from the golden lot, and even then, Mensah sat out the whole encounter with Leicester City man Daniel Amartey being preferred in his place; a center-back pairing to John Boye. Dominic Adiyiah is nowhere close to a call-up and as things look; the consistent sprouting of fresh talent from the West African nation, the 27 year old will have to call it a day with his four goals in 20 appearances for country. You think that’s too harsh for our world cup hero? Look at this, Raphael Dwamena, at 21 already has two goals for the Black Stars in one appearance. It clearly is time to move on.

Adiyiah recently returned to Nakhon Ratchasima F.C. in the Thai league to a rousing welcome. Here in Thai, they call him Adido, and I have no clue what that means. All I’m sure of is Adiyiah is a hero around this place.

England U20 national team are the current holders of the crown, a title won just three days ago. And another Dominic took home the Golden Ball, only this time he was English. Like others before him, Solanke is destined for greatness. Like Messi, like Seydou Keita, like Aguero surely he must become something in the near future. England as a country waited half a century to bag a World title. Repeatedly touted as favorites whenever a world showpiece began, the World too had grown tired of the Three Lions’ perennial anticlimaxes. For fifty one long years they waited, and it came to pass. Have we waited for Dominic Adiyiah long enough?  Will the Serbian League champ with Partizan Belgrade, Serbian Cup winner, U20 world Cup Golden Ball winner finally show up?

It’s only been eight years, but here - in football, we don’t last half a century playing. Maybe it’s the header against Uruguay that turned it all backward for him. Maybe it’s the successive loan spells from Milan. Maybe it's the penalty miss. Maybe it’s the anxiety to sate tremendous expectations he had built around himself. Maybe remains the word for me, but I’m sure now - as I’ve always been; if Luis Suarez had no hands, Adiyiah would have done his part - not for Ghana, but for the continent.

By Fabian Odhiambo

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