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Sports Features of Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Source: Tetteh, Nii Ayitey

The making of Abdul Majeed Waris

By Nii Ayitey Tetteh



As his mates had dinner, Captain of the Black Stars, Asamoah Gyan and his ever willing and conniving team mate, Derek Boateng, reportedly conspired to officially induct him into the national team. As was becoming the tradition; new players are made to do a routine in presence of the entire team to signal their acceptance into the team.



Abdul Majeed Waris, then playing for Swedish club BK Häcken, was not going to be treated differently. He was made to do a dance routine; yes, you guessed right; he was made to do the ‘Azonto’. Waris’ movement on the night was directly opposite his movement on the football pitch; off beat. That was in 2012 when Waris made his debut for the Black Stars ; a year down the line, Waris will perhaps not look back on that night as one of humiliation, but rather one of exposure; one that put him in the public eye; a night of illumination. In that intervening period, Waris has endured a one big snub and then a recall that has seen him score 3 times consecutively in the Black Stars 2014 World Cup Qualifiers. Today, if you asked many to name their Black Stars’ first eleven, Waris will be one of the first names on the Black Stars team sheet. That’s how quickly Waris has danced his way into becoming a key player for the Stars; that journey however didn’t begin last year, it began in 1991.



SMALL BEGINNINGS



19th September 1991, was when Abdul Majeed Waris was born in Tamale, Northern Region, Ghana. He would move further south to the Eastern Region and specifically to ‘Right To Dream’, a soccer academy where he honed his raw skills. In 2008, Waris benefited from the Academy’s partnership with Hartpury College and moved to the United Kingdom. In his first season, Waris scored 36 goals in only 21 appearances for Hartpury, including hat tricks in the semi-final and final of the U18 Colleges’ Cup. That was enough to convince scouts of Swedish Premier League club BK Hacken, who signed him on a 4 year professional contract in 2009. However, he had to wait till March 2010 when he made his debut.



Waris will go on to make a total of 55 appearances, scoring 26 goals for BK Hacken. Interestingly, 23 of those goals were scored in the 2012 season, where Waris also amazingly scored 5 goals in one single game against IFK Norrköping; becoming the first player in the Swedish top fight and the first Ghanaian to score 5 goals in a single match in Europe. He did not only win the Goal King for that season, he was also voted 2012 Sweden Premier League Player of Year. His rising stock caught the attention of Russian giants, Spartak Moscow, and in November 2012, Waris transferred for an undisclosed fee.



Naturally, it was expected that Waris will make Ghana’s squad for the 2013 Africa Cup Nations in South Africa, but he was surprisingly snubbed by Coach Kwesi Appiah. Waris’ disappointments didn’t ease as he picked an injury which delayed his Spartak debut till March 10, 2013, when he came on as an 82nd minute substitute in Spartak's 3–1 win over FC Terek Grozny. Indeed, that month was a month of second chances, as he was re-invited to join the Black Stars in preparation for a World Cup qualifier against Sudan.



RISING PROFILE



On March 24, 2013 at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, Waris made his full international debut for the Black Stars as the lead striker against Sudan. Once this wasn’t an ‘Azonto’ dance routine, Waris had no problem dancing around Sudan’s defenders. He capped a fine afternoon with his debut goal while also making an assist as Ghana beat Sudan 4-0. His pace, movement was so good; Coach Kwesi Appiah surely recognized his mistake in leaving him out of the Nations Cup squad. Since then, Waris’ profile with the Black Stars has been on the up and up. His position in the national team now affords Captain Asamoah Gyan, who used to lead the line alone, the freedom to play behind Waris and even drop deeper to the middle or the lines to create channels for other players to run into.



Indeed, both players’ style seem to complete each other; while Gyan emphasizes guile and technique, Waris’ direct running, sharp instincts and incredible ability to out jump taller defenders (Waris stands at 5ft 7.5 inches) have Ghanaians drooling at a strike partnership that will guarantee goals. On October 15, 2013 when Ghana thrashed Egypt 6-1 in the first leg of the final 2014 World Cup play off with Waris on the score sheet, Ghanaian fans and pundits weren’t only convinced about Ghana’s seat at 2014 World Cup in Brazil; there was another conviction; Abdul Majeed Waris had come to stay! It might have come a year late but he had won Ghanaians over; similarly the Azonto steps will come with time.



niiayitey29@gmail.com



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(Culled from the 90 Minutes)