You are here: HomeSports2015 05 31Article 360323

Sports Features of Sunday, 31 May 2015


Abdul Rahman Baba: The History Boy

The future of Black Stars left-back Abdul Rahman Baba is one of the hot topics in Ghanaian football.

Indeed, the speculation surrounding the talented full-back is both impressive and intriguing, but it ought to be greeted with some apprehension.

It’s wonderful to see one of the nation’s top stars linked with major sides such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Juventus, and even if he doesn’t move this summer, his performances this year demonstrate that Baba is destined for the top of the game.

Even though the narrative this week has focused on the player’s future, and a possible high-profile transfer, it’s important that his achievements with Augsburg this side are celebrated before the player moves on.

Baba and his teammates—as the title of this feature proudly declares—have become history-makers this season.

Heading into this campaign, it was clear that Augsburg were a team on the up.

Even though they were only promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2011, they registered an eighth-place finish last term, and Markus Weinzierl has forged a team laced with exciting young talents and also with its fair share of experienced professionals and calm heads.

They ended this season by achieving history, securing a first-ever European campaign for the Fuggerstadter after ending the campaign in fifth.

Despite a sluggish run of form during February and March, the side’s magnificent run in November, and their composure to see out the end of the season despite faltering conviction at both ends of the pitch, is admirable.

Borussia Dortmund’s struggles during the early portion of the campaign were well documented, but it’s quite remarkable that minnows Augsburg ended the campaign ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s side—Champions League finalists in 2013 and defeated semi-finalists a year later.

Augsburg can only dream of Dortmund’s resources and their plethora of international, world-class names.

While Baba missed a month of the campaign due to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations—the tournament where he truly announced himself on the international arena—he was one of Augsburg’s key men during their historic season.

For one so young, the defender’s defensive poise is admirable, only one player averaged more tackles-per-game than Baba this campaign, while his attacking forays often stole the show.

The 20-year-old managed four assists and was a regular sight bombing down the left flank; he proved to be a valuable weapon for Weinzierl’s outfit either taking men on down the left or arriving late to make his own pertinent contributions to attacking moves.

Of course, there is a case to say that Baba might be wise to remain at Augsburg for another campaign, to sample life in the Europa League in a familiar and comfortable context.

However, such beauty cannot be caged forever, and as the glorious melody of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro rose ethereally from the high walls of Shawshank, so Baba cannot be kept at the SGL Arena forever.

Of his three potential suitors, it is Chelsea whose interest has generated the most headlines.

It’s easy to see why.

The Pensioners play in the most high-profile (if not the greatest) league in the world and are also its reigning champions. They boast Jose Mourinho, one of the few managers who players with no association to the Blues often say they’d love to work with.

He’s a coach who guarantees success, and if Baba is in the business of winning, of collecting honours, there aren’t too many safer bets.

From a Ghanaian perspective, there’s also the Michael Essien factor. When the Black Stars’ greatest player since Abedi Pele—and possibly the second-greatest ever (sorry Zion Train)—made such a big impact at Stamford Bridge, it’s understandable that his successors in the national team would want to follow in such illustrious footsteps.

However, I can understand why Juventus are also an appealing prospect.

The Bianconeri are the reigning Italian champions, and have been the dominant force in Serie A for four years. They are also on the brink of a Champions League final—their first since 2003—and their semi-final performance against Real Madrid reminded many that even despite the ignominy of last decade belong among Europe’s true bona fide giants.

There’s also the presence of Kwadwo Asamoah—himself a former Chelsea target—who has impressed at Juve since swapping Udine for Turin back in 2012. Kojo may be coming to the end of a miserable, injury-ravaged campaign, but his stock and his profile have risen and grown respectively since moving to Juventus.

It’s understandable that his trajectory might have struck a chord with Baba, the man who replaced him at left-back in the national side.

Also, while Jeff Schlupp and Christian Atsu are currently the only Ghana stars in the Premier League—and only one of those is truly thriving—Serie A is currently the hotspot for Italian players in Europe.

Beyond Asamoah, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Afriyie Acquah, Fred Duncan, Richmond Boakye, Essien, Sulley Muntari and Godfred Donsah are just some of the Ghanaians currently thriving in Italy. The likes of Stephen Appiah, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan all featured in Serie A, while Andre Ayew could soon join the party should (as expected) he complete his move to AS Roma.

However, both potential transfers bring potential problems for Baba.

First of all, neither side are short at left-back.

Veteran Patrice Evra has been a revelation at Juve this term, and has regularly demonstrated his class at left-back in the absence of Asamoah. Even when the Frenchman runs out of gas—he is 34 after all—would Kojo not be given his chance to impress Max Allegri back in the full-back berth?

There is no guarantee—at least at first—that Baba would be signed for the first team rather than the substitute’s bench.

While Filipe Luis is rumoured to be on his way out of Chelsea, would the Ghanaian be sure of first-team football ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta? It seems far more likely that the Black Star would be shoehorned into a backup role.

The example of Atsu—who completed an under-the-radar move to Bournemouth this week—should strike concern into the hearts of any talented young players considering a move to Stamford Bridge.

It would be a disaster if Baba simply swapped Augsburg for Vitesse Arnhem.

By contrast, a move to Manchester City could make a lot of sense.

The Citizens have never completely found the answer at left-back despite the presence of two internationals; Aleksandar Kolarov is a wonderful attacking menace, but hardly a world-class defender, while Gael Clichy—now 29—is looking worryingly past his prime.

City, with the oldest squad in the Premier League, are also keen to replace the old guard with new blood. Not only would Baba be a fine compromise between Kolarov and Clichy, he also fits the profile of the kind of player the club are looking to employ.

The player may well end up in London or Turin—and both moves would generate more interest among Ghana fans—but sportingly, for his career, Manchester may be the best bet for the Black Stars’ history boy.