By Christopher Atkins
There is perhaps only one other country that can claim to export footballers in quite the same quantity as Ghana.
Wherever one may be in the world, it is virtually guaranteed that the local league will contain a player either from Brazil or from the West African nation. As producers of footballing talent go, their records are quite phenomenal; albeit with Brazil's exports often earning greater acclaim.
BIRTHDAY BOY | Ransford and his fans during one of his birthdays
Chinese football is no different and, indeed, the country's footballing setup is dominated by imports from the land of samba and carnival. However, Ghanaians have also played a role in China's footballing development and few more so than current Shanghai East Asia centre-back Ransford Addo.
Now 30, Addo arrived in the Far East at the beginning of the 2012 season from Cyprus, having spent the majority of his career in Belgium with the likes of Deinze and Royal Antwerp. In 18 months in China, though, he is yet to miss a game for his side, playing a remarkable 44 straight league games alongside Spanish centre-back partner Iban Cuadrado.
There is no pairing in the country that can claim to be quite as settled as the multicultural duo at the heart of East Asia's defence and their side have benefitted immensely for their presence. Formed in 2005, the club have risen through the leagues based on a successful academy system and now, in just their second year in the top-flight, they are once more on course for a comfortable top 10 finish.
At home in China
At the heart of the defence, Addo has been a major contributor to that success. With a combined 9.8 tackles and interceptions per game, the defender currently leads the charts for defensive contributions in the Super League this season and he is enjoying life in the Middle Kingdom.
“It feels like home here now,” he told Goal Ghana. “I’m playing every game and I’m really enjoying my time here. It can be difficult abroad because you are away from your family and you are alone a lot of the time, but my club here are good to me and it helps you to not think about home.
“I was very young when I first moved to Europe and I already have a lot of experience of this lifestyle already, so I don’t think it’s too difficult now. It wasn’t hard for me to deal with moving to Asia.”
Addo was also in the fortunate position that he has been able to call upon the advice of a mentor throughout his career in the shape of international defender and older brother Eric.
“Eric has been a big influence on my career,” he continued. “He always gives me a lot of advice and insight into the game. I learned so much from him both on and off the pitch - he helped me to be a good professional.”
FEELING AT HOME | Ransford and his team-mates at training
One thing that his brother could not have prepared him for, though, was the lifestyle difference in moving to China. Many foreign players who arrive in the East Asian country struggle to deal with the differences in culture and lifestyle that the move throws up. Addo, though, plays down any such concerns.
“I spend most of my time with my foreign team-mates,” he adds. “We are all very close, we help each other and are always talking to each other. But, we also get on well with the Chinese players.
“We are always busy with games. We have to travel a lot and always need to concentrate on our football. The time actually passes quickly.”
Passing on experience to Chinese players
As one of the most experienced player in the squad, where no Chinese player is older than 25, Addo and his colleagues also take on an important mentoring role. East Asia are known as one of the most talented squads in the country, but are inexperienced in comparison to nearly all their rivals. However, it is a role that the Ghanaian has thrived upon since his arrival.
“There are many Chinese players here who have the potential to play in Europe,” he said. “Wu Lei definitely can play there, while midfielder Cai Huikang also has a big future
“These guys are good with the ball and have qualities they can offer there, but they need to take the chance when it comes.
“It’s very important that we help the younger players. They are learning quickly and we also try to give them the confidence to succeed. I have also gained a lot from Chinese football. The owner of East Asia wants a philosophy like Barcelona, so I have learned to play more with the football rather than a more physical game.”
For all his success in China, Addo remains an under-appreciated player both in the media in China and in Ghana. He is not one to seek the limelight and has enjoyed a relatively uneventful life off the pitch since his arrival in the Far East. As a consequence, though, his achievements are perhaps not as recognised as they should be.
When pushed on the matter, he reveals that he still lives in hope that Ghana's recent defensive issues could see the Black Stars management turn in his direction in the future.
“I'm always hopeful I will get a chance to prove myself to Kwesi Appiah and that he will be aware of what I am doing here,” he adds. “I hope he will divert his eyes to the league over here and maybe he will see what I have to offer to the national team.”
Addo has now returned to Ghana during the mid-season break and will get to enjoy at least part of the World Cup from the comfort of home. Despite the Black Stars' tough draw, he is confident that they can enjoy success in Brazil over the weeks ahead.
“Ghana will go far at the tournament,” he added. “The squad has some very experienced players, but also some younger guys who are playing at a good level. I think they will be a surprise package.
“The strongest part of the Ghanaian national team is the friendship of the players. It can help them go far and we all know what can happen in football.”
On July 19, East Asia's season will resume and Addo will once more take his place at the heart of the Shanghai side's defence for a clash against Tianjin. The World Cup will be over and normal service must resume.
Understated he may be, but he is consistently delivering for his side in what can be challenging circumstances. Keep it up and there is no reason why Appiah should not at least give him the chance to prove himself in the shirt of the Black Stars, however distant a possibility that may seem right now.
Christopher Atkins is a British football journalist based in China who writes for ESPN, Bleacher Report and BeIN Sports among others.