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Sports Features of Thursday, 8 October 2015


Could returning Kwadwo Asamoah complete Grant's jigsaw?

Kwadwo Asamoah Kwadwo Asamoah

Regardless of how Ghana’s upcoming international friendlies against Peru and Canada pan out, the most important news of the week for Avram Grant’s Black Stars is surely the return to action of Kwadwo Asamoah.

The Juventus midfielder has had a disastrous time with injuries of late, and his 2014-15 campaign a successful one for the Old Lady and the national side was completely ravaged.

While the Black Stars reached the 2015 Cup of Nations final in Equatorial Guinea, Kojo was at home, doubtless watching on.

As Juventus lifted their 31st Italian title, Asamoah was gradually feeling his way back to fitness, but played almost no part in their run in.

He was present as Massimiliano Allegri’s side reached the Champions League final, only to lose to Barcelona, but Asamoah—wearing a suit—appeared almost embarrassed to accept his silver medal at the contest’s conclusion.

Ideally, having returned from almost seven months out to feature for Juventus against Napoli at the tail end of the 2014-15 season, Asamoah ought to have enjoyed a positive pre-season and returned to action this term fit and raring to go. Unfortunately, complications delayed his return, and it wasn’t until October 4th that the versatile star finally returned to Serie A action, playing the final minute as Juve beat Bologna 4-1 in Serie A.

All in all, in the 11 months between November 4 2014 and October 4 2015, Asamoah played one match. It has been a dreadful year for a player who, at 26, should now be approaching his prime.

Of course, it will take time for the former Udinese man to return to the kind of form he showed during the 2013-14 campaign, and Allegri would do well to gently bring him back to contention and rehabilitation, rather than rushing his return.

Realistically, however, Juventus may not have that luxury. While the Old Lady are flying in the Champions League—with two wins out of two—they have endured a miserable start to their Serie A campaign.

After seven matches, they sit in 12th, having won only two of their opening seven fixtures.

Allegri has had his work cut out integrating a host of new signings into the side, but the returning Asamoah may prove to be as important as any of them.

Regardless of Kojo’s role in Turin this season, he could surely be primed to have a much greater impact on the Black Stars.

Without him, things have been ticking along just fine since Grant took over from Kwesi Appiah at the end of the Afcon 2015 qualifying campaign.

The Israeli coach has introduced new faces, cultivated a style of play, fostered a positive environment in the camp and has begun to restore some of the pride and direction that was missing after the damaging summer in Brazil at the World Cup.

It’s often been forgotten that Grant has done it all without arguably his best player.

Asamoah hasn’t featured since the victory over Guinea during the Afcon qualifying campaign. He was, at that point, one of only four players (the others being Harrison Afful, Asamoah Gyan and Jonathan Mensah) to have started Ghana’s opening four qualifiers, and there was little doubt of his value to the team.

He was also on the brink of taking a new role within the team.

During his international career, Asamoah has been shunted right across the park, filling in various different roles. He has played as a left winger, a left wing-back, a left-back and a No. 10, but during his peak years, he has never truly been placed in the heart of the midfield and had the team built around him.

Up until the Afcon qualifying campaign, he had been featuring at left-back and indeed, it was in this role that he featured during Ghana’s three matches at the summer World Cup.

However, during 2014, both Jeffrey Schlupp and Abdul Rahman Baba emerged on the scene, giving Ghana a wealth of options in a previously troublesome area and arguably the best left-back duo in the continent.

It was almost famine to feast overnight.

Now, there was absolutely no need for Asamoah to be employed on the left side of the defence, and, in principle, Asamoah could have taken his rightful position in the heart of the midfield.

Of course, we never got to truly see this set up in action, and to date, Baba and Asamoah have only started three matches together.

Similarly, while Ghana are not short of superb midfield options, there is no longer any need for Asamoah to be shunted around to accommodate the trio of Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari, as has been the case in the past.

At his best, the Juventus man can offer more in the heart of the park than his immediate rivals in midfield, and the likes of Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Wakaso Mubarak and even Afriyie Acquah might be nervously looking over their shoulders.

It won’t happen this week, but by the time Ghana return to World Cup qualifying action later in the year—against either Comoros or Lesotho—expect Kojo to take his rightful place as the beating heart of Grant’s Black Stars.