Sports Features of Sunday, 13 January 2013
WWhen the Africa Cup of Nations rolls around on the 19th of January, the international audience will begin searching for a standout star of the tournament, for Africa’s prized possession, for the continent’s golden son. The next day, on the 20th, Ghana kick off in Port Elizabeth against the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people may not be looking for long.
Among the Black Stars, there is one that shines particularly brightly.
Kwadwo Asamoah is no secret, there is no guessing game here, there is little speculation anymore. Here is a player who is approaching his prime, is settling in comfortably at one of Europe’s elite squads and is poised and prepared to take the continent by storm.
Ghana’s legendary captain Stephan Appiah, who preceded Asamoah at Juventus, argued in the summer that he was already one of Serie A’s finest midfielders, and Afcon 2013 will provide the former Udinese man with the perfect opportunity to cement his place as one of Africa’s greatest as well.
Recently named in CAF’s initial shortlist of 34 candidates for the African Player of the Year award, Asamoah’s talents are already acknowledged in Africa, and spectators will be keen to see the player unleashed upon Ghana’s Afcon opposition.
Combining sharp technical proficiency with energy and dynamism, Asamoah is somewhere close to the complete, all-around modern midfielder. Perhaps slightly on the short side at 5’8", the Accra-born star compensates for this by competently contributing both in attack and defence, permitting his team—be it Juventus or Ghana—to transition the play quickly and subtly between different phases of play.
His rise to the top has been forecast ever since emerging as a wunderkind at Liberty Professionals, the midfielder’s first club, in Dansoman, and it now appears that Asamoah has finally arrived in the sport’s upper echelons.
A summer signing from Udinese, in Italy’s industrial northeast, Asamoah is an ideal illustration of Zebrette’s guiding method, that of using their broad scouting network to pluck potential stars from the world’s far corners, trusting them in Serie A, blooding them domestically and then eventually selling them on to larger clubs for a handsome profit, allowing the cycle to continue again.
While his fellow Ghanaian and close friend Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu continues his tutelage in Udine, Asamoah has already arrived at the terminal stage of the conveyor belt, having been bought by Turin superclub Juventus this summer.
Asamoah’s early-season form has been impressive at the Old Lady. His first appearance in Serie A saw him set up a goal for full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, and he hasn’t looked back since.
I initially imagined that Asamoah would contribute to Juventus’ multi-talented midfield, adding vim and vigour to complement technicians such as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. In fact, it hasn’t always worked out that way, and Asamoah has often been deployed in a left wing-back role, or even as a utility winger, marauding down the flank and adding an extra dimension to Juventus’ play—certainly as a valued alternative to the more static players beside him.
Juve supporters can be confident that, regardless of his future role in the side, in ‘Asa’ they have a one of the game’s finest prospects. The midfield man is primed to step up to the dual challenges of the Champions League—where Juve qualified from a group containing Chelsea and Shakhtar Donetsk—and the defence of Serie A—which the Turin side currently lead by four points.
The Afcon in South Africa may seem like a walk in the park after becoming habituated to fortnightly outings in front of more than 40,000 at the Juventus Stadium.
Ghana will be hoping to improve on last term’s disappointing semifinal exit, and with Michael Essien ruling himself out of contention for the squad, StepApp’s Ghana career a distant memory and Sulley Muntari contending with a long, drawn-out rehabilitation program, the time is now for Asamoah to step up and claim his rightful place as the Black Stars’ navigator, heartbeat and talisman.
If the Juventus man flourishes, Ghana could well find themselves sitting at the head of the continent’s high table.