By Sammie Frimpong
The past year has been quite memorable for several Ghanaian footballers plying their trade professionally both abroad and locally. Ahead of Goal Ghana's Player of the Year announcement next month, we assess how some of the brightest among them have fared.
For a second season running, Ghana skipper and lead target man Asamoah Gyan claimed the UAE Pro League's top goalscoring honours - along with the domestic championship itself - and, with seven strikes to his name already this term, is set to repeat the feat. His six goals in the African Brazil 2014 qualifying series also made him overall joint topscorer and has helped propel him rapidly through the ranks of Ghana's all-time record scorers.
Kwadwo Asamoah also enjoyed a similarly fine year in his first season with Italian giants Juventus. Utilized to great fruition in a wing-back's role by coach Antonio Conte, Asamoah's darting runs, incisive play, accurate passing and occasional goals aided La Vecchia Signora's defence of the Serie A title won from 2011-12, as well as in the course of a considerably impressive run in Europe. To his credit and to the sheer delight of his admirers, Asamoah has carried his good form into the new season and remains a key cog in Juve's well-oiled juggernaut. His contributions to Ghana's ultimately successful quest for a third World Cup berth - the pick of which was a stunner from range against Zambia in Kumasi - have been just as immense.
Unlike Gyan and Asamoah, Andre Ayew has not had any major team and individual laurels to show for his work done in the year under review. That notwithstanding, Ayew has proved a beacon of ever-glowing brilliance in a floundering Olympique Marseille setup. The young man is no doubt the crown jewel of Elie Baup's side, the one player the coastal club is most desperate to hold on to in the face of expected poaching from suitors in future transfer windows. To his country, Dede has been almost as priceless, especially since calling off his self-imposed exile from national duty earlier this year.
Kevin-Prince Boateng, much like Ayew, has experienced recent spells at club level that have not brought much to celebrate. Even so, the Berlin-born has left his mark on the outfits he has featured for in that period, scoring twice to push AC Milan over the line in the side's quest for a spot in the latest installment of the Uefa Champions League. Days after that inspired performance against PSV Eindhoven at the San Siro, Boateng transferred to Schalke 04 where he has catalyzed a revival of sorts after a faltering start to the current Bundesliga season for the Ruhr outfit. Injuries might have taken some gloss from Boateng's displays of late, yet his quality, undoubted as it is, has shone through.
Adam Kwarasey and Gideon Baah, two of the country's best representatives in Scandinavian football, have distinguished themselves no less, claiming the Best Goalkeeper and Best Defender end-of-season prizes in the Norwegian and Finnish leagues respectively. Kwarasey's Stromsgodset claimed the Tippeligaen crown and the 25-year-old was absolutely phenomenal in goal. Baah, a player who was all but written off by most after suffering a career-threatening injury for Asante Kotoko against rivals Hearts of Oak three years ago, has staged a remarkable return from the fringes to cast himself into the limelight once more. Baah's consistent showing for FC Honka domestically and in the Europa League in his debut season hasn't gone unnoticed, with some already touting him as a potential long-term resolution for the Black Stars' issues at left-back ahead of the World Cup. Truly, he does look the part.
Mahatma Otoo was arguably the most celebrated footballer on the domestic stage in the year just gone by. His exploits in front of goal inspired capital club Hearts of Oak to a rousing rise from the depths in the Ghana Premier League's second round and the youngster duly crowned his efforts with the topscorer gong, which he handsomely paid for with some 20 league goals. Those aside, Otoo has been rewarded with a handful of call-ups for the Black Stars and a transfer to Norwegian club Sogndal.
Dreadlocked midfielder Yahaya Mohammed, too, proved instrumental in helping then freshly promoted Amidaus Professionals find their feet in Ghana's elite division, when on loan from league champions Asante Kotoko, while the duo of Kennedy Ashia and Ebenezer Assifuah dazzled in the colours of domestic top flight side Liberty Professionals and of the national U20 team that romped to a third-place finish at the World Cup in Turkey earlier this year, racking up lots of goals and memorable highlights between them. Assifuah, for the records, claimed the Golden Boot at that tournament, becoming only the second Ghanaian to do so.
Another member of that successful Black Satellites squad, Clifford Aboagye, helped local club Inter Allies qualify for the current season of the Ghana Premier League and catalyzed his meteoric rise with displays at the World Cup that eventually saw him rank behind only Paul Pogba of France and Uruguay's Nicolas Lopez as the finest among his peers. The petit playmaker currently features in the junior ranks of Spanish La Liga side Granada.