Sulley Muntari to Al Ittihad: An early abdication

The Ghana midfielder looks to be drifting off to the peripheries after signing for the Saudi Arabian side, but could he not have still offered something to a major European team?

GOALEDITORIAL    By Ed Dove     Follow on Twitter


As far as Sulley Muntari is concerned, it is often felt as though his best moment have happened outside the spotlight, and his worst moments have been the ones captured—in vivid technicolour—in the media glare.

Take, for example, the 2014 World Cup, when amidst the unhappy headlines that came Ghana’s way—Adam Kwarasey’s strop and John Boye’s fistful of dollars—Muntari’s own contribution, headbutting a Black Stars committee member on a hotel balcony, was a miserable nadir.

The tenacious midfielder was subsequently sent home, his international career put on ice—where it remains to this day.

Here is a player, however, who is one of only 18 African players in history to have lifted the Champions League. Muntari’s role in Internazionale’s triumph that season—both his 15-minute cameo in the final and his sterling performances for Jose Mourinho’s side up to that point—is rarely brought out for consideration and given the airing it deserves.

Similarly, his performances in both of Inter’s title triumphs—in 2009 and 2010—are barely given the same attention as Michael Essien’s comparable successes for Chelsea, for example, or even Kwadwo Asamoah’s recent performances as part of Antonio Conte’s fine Juventus side.

Yet Muntari managed 27 league appearances in both of those title-winning campaigns.

No one need to be told just how ruthless Mourinho can be—just ask Juan Cuadrado or Filipe Luis—but in Muntari he found a player who could fit his model, who could operate in multiple positions, who would run all day and who could understand and fit the coach’s tactical plan.

Yet no one ever talks about it.

For a player who made over 60 league appearances for each of the Milan giants, and who made as big a contribution as anyone to Portsmouth’s 2008 FA Cup triumph (who could forget that penalty against Manchester United in the sixth round?), he receives remarkably short shrift.

Does Muntari truly get the credit he deserves for his contribution at Inter or AC Milan?

With his recent move to Al Ittihad, Muntari is destined to spend the final peak years of his career outside the limelight that…in my opinion…he rightly deserves.

It was inevitable that the former Sunderland man would leave Milan this summer, having been declared surplus to requirements and apparently burned his bridges with the Rossoneri.

If reports are to be believed, the midfielder had the option of moving to Schalke and trying his hand in the Bundesliga, of joining Galatasaray—and receiving all that life in Istanbul entails—and of moving to England, where Everton and Hull City were reportedly interested.

Indeed, there was also talk of a switch to Major League Soccer—and the glitz and glamour that a career in the United States could bring—although I personally questioned whether a switch to MLS at 30 would represent a premature abdication from the central narratives of the world game.

Ultimately, while a move to Major League Soccer would have ensured that Muntari remained relevant, a switch to Al Ittihad—who finished fourth in the Saudi Professional League last season—may well bring an early close to Sulley’s time in the spotlight.

Has 30-year-old Sulley 'opted out' of high-end soccer too early?

In Saudi Arabia, he will rub shoulders with the likes of Paul Alo’o, Fabian Estoyanoff and Thiago Neves—three of the division’s more high-profile foreigners. The first enjoyed a modest career in French football, most notably for Nancy, while the striker managed less than a dozen Cameroon appearances, without scoring a goal.

Estoyanoff drifted around the Spanish and Greek leagues before returning to Penarol in his homeland when he ought to have been in his prime.

Thiago Neves arrived to Hamburg as a potential replacement for Rafael van der Vaart, only to return home to Brazil after nine league games.

Is Muntari not selling himself short moving to compete against such figures?

None of those aforementioned stars have ever contested the latter stages of the Champions League, let alone won Europe’s grandest prize and two major league titles.

I suspect Muntari will be a success in Saudi Arabia, but I am confident that had he given himself two or three more years in the European rat race, he could have added another glorious chapter to his career—given the right circumstances.

As it stands, this underappreciated player—one of the finest Africans of his generation—looks set to spend the Autumn of his career in the deserts of Arabia.