Sports Features of Wednesday, 29 August 2012
Udinese were not the first to spot Kwadwo Asamoah’s potential. The Friuliani paid just €1m to acquire the Ghanaian midfielder from Torino back in 2008, before bringing in roughly nine times that figure when they sent him to Juventus on a co-ownership deal this summer. But long before either club’s scouting network were even aware of Asamoah’s existence, others had sought to capitalise on his talent.
“I started young with football,” Asamoah told the magazine Sportweek earlier this month, reflecting on how his childhood interests turned away from still-life drawing towards athletic endeavour. “It was just for fun at first but every day someone would come to my father asking him to let me go and join their training school. But my father waited a while before giving his permission. We were not so poor.”
Nowadays Asamoah is positively rich, of course, earning a wage commensurate with his status as a professional footballer in one of Europe’s biggest leagues. That has allowed him to indulge a growing interest in fashion. He has always preferred to dress smartly – donning a tie as a child in imitation of his father’s work attire – but it was not until he came to Italy that he developed a passion for brands like Dsquared and Dolce & Gabbana.
As sharps as his suits may be, though, they are not the reason he has stood out in Turin. If Asamoah has won over the affection of his new club’s supporters already after just two starts for the club, it is instead for the simple reason that he has been really rather good.
To the seasoned follower of Serie A, that should come as no surprise. As great as Udinese’s profit margin on Asamoah was, many onlookers were nevertheless surprised that they would let him go so cheaply. An energetic presence in the heart of midfield, Asamoah might not get the press of an Alexis Sánchez or Antonio Di Natale but had undoubtedly been a key figure in Udinese’s run to successive Champions League qualifying berths.
He is in many respects the model of what Antonio Conte seeks in a player: tenacious, disciplined and ambitious. At Udinese he had been one of the first to break cover midway through the 2010-11 season and acknowledge that yes, he believed this team could get into the Champions League. He backed that confidence up with critical interventions, popping up with a goal away to Chievo in the penultimate round just when nerves were becoming fraught.
As Conte has discovered over the past two months, he is also an eager student. Although more accustomed to playing in central midfield, Asamoah not only accepted Conte’s decision to deploy him initially as a left wing-back but dedicated himself to learning the position.
Even after an impressive debut in the preseason SuperCup win over Napoli in which he more than held his own opposite Christian Maggio, marking his performance with a goal, Asamoah still felt he could get better. After setting up Juventus’s opening goal against Parma on Saturday with a fantastic run and cross down the left-hand side, he told reporters: “I spoke to [Conte] and he told me to seek out one-on-ones and try to beat my man. I’ve been trying in training and have to try in matches too.” Indeed, above all his physical and technical attributes, it may be Asamoah’s willingness to learn that is his greatest asset. His first club in Italy were Juventus’s neighbours, Torino, who signed him from the Swiss team Bellinzona at the age of 19, yet never found room for him in their first-team before moving him on to Udinese later the same year.
It could easily have been an unhappy period for a young player transplanted into an unfamiliar country and culture, but rather than become dispirited, Asamoah was determined to gain as much as he possibly could from the experience. “At Torino I had players ahead of me like [Alvaro] Recoba or [Alessandro] Rosina,” he said. “I could not get angry if I did not play. I observed them and I studied.” In the meantime he also taught himself Italian, without ever hiring a tutor.
If it is clear Asamoah has already struck up an understanding with his new manager (he dedicated the SuperCup win to Conte and thanking him offering guidance “from the very first day”) then it is also true that he was just as fulsome in his praise for Francesco Guidolin at Udinese. Both have established their credentials as exceptional managers, but it is also a reflection on Asamoah that he has actively sought to tap into their respective knowledge of the game.
He is, in many ways, a manager’s dream, a player who dedicates himself wholeheartedly training and has little interest in a city’s nightlife. He is happily married to Berta, whom he met while still in Ghana and who shares his preference for evenings in. “I like her because she’s like me, too, she doesn’t go out much,” he told Sportweek. “She either went to school or stayed at home with her mum.”
If there is one downside to his inward life it’s that it hasn’t helped widen his social circle. Asamoah admitted in the same interview to having only a few Italian friends on account of the fact that he would never be one to suggest going out after work.
On the other hand, perhaps he will have better luck on that front, too, in Turin. Juventus’s supporters have certainly granted him a warm reception. With Asamoah still just 24 years old, they hope to be watching him learn here for a good many years ahead.