In a football inclined country like Ghana, the talent factory has never stopped short of producing prospects every year . From goalkeepers to attackers, the nation has given birth to footballers with various profiles. Some were able to rise to expected levels while others just survived.
The stories of the latter have most often served as cautionary tales for budding footballers with prodigious talents.
I grew up to the story of how hugely promising Nii Odartey Lamptey was. Such immense was his talent that, it’s accurately reported he was touted by ‘Pele’ as the next big thing to happen to football globally. Lamentably it didn’t play out exactly as captured on script, due to various reasons.
Aside from Odartey Lamptey, there are countless names of young Ghanaian footballers who failed to attain levels expected of them. There is Awudu Issaka, the famous ‘disco dancer’ of Ghana’s youthful sides who wowed the world at junior football tournaments in the early to mid-1990s.
During the same period there have been the likes of the smooth-faced, innocent looking ‘Darling boy’ Daniel Addo, the impish Owusu Afriyie affectionately referred to as ‘Bayie’ in his heydays, the silky left footed Adu Tutu Skelley, the crafty nimble footed Bernard Dong Bortey et al.
The stories of these prodigies and their unfulfilled potential during their individual football odyssey have been used to advise, direct and inspire fledglings.
On June 1, 2012, there was gaiety among football lovers across pubs, streets, and various homes as the wombs of Ghana football opened, to give birth to a prince clothed in national colors.
In a 2014 FIFA world cup qualifier
against Lesotho in Kumasi, Coach Akwasi Appiah provided an auditioning platform for a 19-year-old boy who was then widely unknown to the normal football fan. The teenager by name Christian Atsu would dazzle in a manner that generated talk nationwide about Ghana’s ‘Messi’.
2 more games followed after his debut and Atsu successfully etched his name into Ghana’s voluminous book of great football talents dubbed as sure ones for the future.
7 years have passed, and discussions about Christian Atsu have shifted from how promising he was and how much of a great future he had, to the more familiar ‘what has happened to him’.
For every footballer no matter how gifted you are, choosing the right career path can help propel you to desired levels. Career choices have played a prominent role in how young players develop into Stars.
When Atsu made his debut for Ghana, he was what Americans refer to as a ‘lallapalooza’, breaking through barriers in Portugal for Rio Ave on loan from FC Porto. The heightened awareness about his talents and exploits fetched him an opportunity subsequently with the senior side of Porto.
All looked rosy until what Atsu described then as a ‘dream’ move to Chelsea happened for a reported fee of £3.5 million in 2013. Not all dreams turn out exactly as such, in the realms of reality. Some dreams are cloaked nightmares. Sadly Atsu was to learn this the hard way as a once-prominent player in Portugal was lost to obscurity in a tall list of fringe players on Chelsea’s books.
From one loan move to another, Atsu changed clubs frequently in a bid to find the platform with a fertile ground to grow and harness his talent. In the space of 3 years, the Ghanaian had loan stints at 5 different clubs with Newcastle United proving a final stop. Some of the ripple effects of this development is a footballer who could not fully develop due to the changing environments and conditions.
Today, at the ripe age of 27, it’s obvious that Atsu who once touted himself as being who he was then because of his mesmerizing first touch has now become who he is now because of a poor first touch.
A once bright prospect exuding confidence, belief, and positivity has turned into a 27-year-old plagued with bouts of doubt and a lack of precision about his game.
It is quite an enigma how his delightful dribbles, sharp and incisive crosses, sweet left curlers, etc have all been extinguished.
It’s also ironic that what many referenced as pointers to Atsu’s strength are now serving the same purpose in highlighting his inefficiencies.
All those who called the boy a ‘darling’ are snarling at his lack of a wand to weave football magic.
It is however not surprising that after a lustreless performance in Ghana’s first game at the ongoing 2019 Africa Cup of Nations against Benin, there has emerged a clarion call by several connoisseurs of the game that he should be relegated from the starting eleven to the bench.
From Akwasi Appiah’s stoical stance in keeping Atsu on the pitch throughout the entire game against Benin, it’s apparent the Black Stars gaffer is offering an olive branch to the player. Perhaps, of the many Ghanaians to have lost faith in Atsu, the Coach belongs to a small group of people who hold the conviction he has the ability to turn things around.
Definitely, Coach Appiah’s faith in the player will be put to the test again when the Black Stars face off against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in a must-win clash.
The Coach’s trust in Atsu might get him a start, but that won’t be sufficient in making converts out of the millions who will turn on their TV sets to watch proceedings.
A solid performance, however, will do well to allow the player to warm himself back into the hearts of Ghanaian football fans considering how pendulums do swing in relation to such matters.
So like on June 1, 2012, when he auditioned in national colors, Christian Atsu will have another chance to impregnate Ghanaians with belief on Saturday, June 29, 2019, at the Ismailia Stadium in Egypt.
Everyone deserves a second chance and the Ada Foah native is not exempted from being a beneficiary of such grace and mercies.
Source: Michael Asare Boadu