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Sports Features of Friday, 12 July 2013

Source: Christopher Opoku

Ebenezer Assifuah – the emergence of a new star

There is no doubt that Ebenezer Assifuah has been one of Ghana’s standout performers at the ongoing FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey.

Scoring five goals; including four to lead the Black Satellites to a semifinal is no mean feat; especially with two of those goals coming at very crucial times against Chile in that unforgettable quarterfinal match.

He is still a raw diamond and so it is frightening to imagine what he would be like when fully refined. This piece will tell the story of how the Liberty Professionals striker came into prominence.

It all started a few years ago when Assifuah represented the Western Regional Basic School football team after excelling for his school in Takoradi.

One of his team-mates in that exciting Western Regional team was Jacob Apau Asiedu, who missed the cut for the World Cup after helping Ghana win silver at the African Youth Soccer Championships in Algeria earlier this year.

Assifuah’s exploits brought him to the attention of second division side Proud United, owned by Jojo Duncan. Duncan once told me that one of Assifuah’s attributes that attracted him was the boy’s never-say-die attitude and immense hunger for goals.

“Assifuah is the type of player that would want to score a goal even if he is playing in the streets. He always has had this hunger for goals about him and that is a major reason why I picked him up.”

Duncan struck a very close relationship with Assifuah’s parents whilst quietly mentoring the boy at Proud United.

Soon, he came to the attention of several clubs but Duncan decided on loaning him to Sekondi Eleven Wise, a club Duncan has fiercely supported all his life. It was a move that proved to be career-defining.

Assifuah was the stand out star for Eleven Wise for the two seasons he played there on loan from proud United; scoring a total of 24 goals for the Sekondi club within that time.

Duncan also told me that the forward needed very little motivation to go out and perform, telling an interesting story about Assifuah telling him before one match that he would score two goals and when he did, for Duncan to hand him 1 Ghana Cedi.

“It was very funny. He came up to me and said, ‘Chairman, I will score two goals today and when I do so, you will give me GH¢1. He actually scored twice that day and came for his GH¢1.”

Eleven Wise soon played against Liberty Professionals in a friendly match and Assifuah left no one in any doubt as per his potential in that game. After the match, Liberty Professionals registered firm interest in the young forward.

Duncan reveals that despite interest from Asante Kotoko and other clubs as well, he gave the player to Liberty Professionals not only because of long standing relationships, but to also allow Assifuah gain regular playing time.

“Many clubs including Asante Kotoko wanted him, but I believed that he would get more playing time at Liberty Professionals. I also have a very good relationship with the people there and so I thought that would be the best place for him to develop. It was never about the money.”

Assifuah thus joined Liberty Professionals and showed promise. It was during this time that Liberty Professionals played against the Black Satellites in a friendly match.

The then Black Satellites head coach, Maxwell Konadu took one look at him and immediately selected him for the team.

Assifuah thus came into the team at a time when Ghana had some tough qualifying matches to play, especially against Morocco.

Assifuah played a major role in Ghana’s qualification for the African Youth Soccer Championships and the rest, they say is history.

The striker showed something that is quite rare in most players; the attribute of perseverance and the mental strength to put whatever slip ups he may have had behind him.

In Ghana’s opening day 1-2 loss to Egypt, Assifuah missed many chances, even though he scored eventually.

He quickly put that behind him and went on to score in Ghana’s next two games to qualify the Satellites for the World Cup.

His appetite for hard work is also one reason why he, rather than Black Stars striker Richmond Boakye Yiadom is a virtual ‘untouchable’ in Sellas Tetteh’s starting eleven.

Indeed, after his extra-time goal helped Ghana past Chile in the quarterfinals, Jojo Duncan told me another interesting story about how Assifuah’s mother had called him to tell him about celebrations at her home, following the victory.

“Assifuah’s mum called to tell me that after the match, a full brass band ensemble turned up at her house to play music, which caused her to dance ‘Azonto’.”

As Ghana aims to win bronze to make up for the disappointment of losing in the semifinal to France, it is clear that Assifuah, who bagged 8 goals in his debut Premier League season for Liberty Professionals, would probably not be around the local scene for much longer.

In a few years’ time, he could turn out to be a long term replacement for Black Stars captain Asamoah Gyan, who interestingly enough, also started his career with Liberty Professionals.

For now, it is clear that Assifuah has emerged as one of the world’s most promising youngsters and should he maintain his focus, the sky would be the limit for him.