Boys to Men: How Ghana’s U20s have begun their post-Turkey 2013 careers elsewhere

In the aftermath of the Black Satellites' successes at African and World U20 level, Goal assesses how some of the side's brightest prospects have sought opportunities abroad
By Benjamin Agyei-Boateng  

Footballers who feature for Ghana's junior national teams often find themselves on the radar of foreign clubs immediately after major tournaments. Like the irreversible schemes of Mother Nature, it has become a trend that wouldn't come to an end anytime soon.
| Anaba and Boakye-Yiadom at the tournament in Turkey

Depending on one's viewpoint regarding this development, it could be a blessing or a curse to our domestic game.

For club administrators, selling their players to clubs abroad would rake in cash which would, in turn, aid them in managing the day-to-day affairs of their teams. Also, players in the reserve sides of these clubs get the chance to be promoted into the regular team with the departure of their seniors. For the overly critical, though, the local league is bereft of talents when such mass exodus is encouraged.

Ghana arrived at the Turkey Under-20 World Cup in June this year with a squad of 21 players culled from the local league and some foreign clubs. For youngsters Richmond Boakye-Yiadom and Frank Acheampong, life in European football had already began, with the former loaned to newly-promoted Italian Serie A side Sassuolo and the latter plying his trade with Anderlecht in Belgium.

On the other hand, quite a few of their local peers were present to play their hearts out in the hope of securing foreign contracts for themselves after the tournament ended.

They seem not to have failed in this noble pursuit as a dozen of these players already have achieved their objectives, with some others hoping to do same very soon. Striker Francis Narh, formerly of Tema Youth, has secured a four-year deal with Tunisian outfit Club Africain despite playing relatively fewer minutes as compared to the extent of action he enjoyed in Algeria during the Africa Youth Championship earlier in the year.

Narh's team-mate at Tema Youth, midfielder Derek Mensah who played at the heart of the Satellites' midfield at Algeria 2013 but failed to make the World Cup squad, would join the forward at the same north African club on similar terms. After initial contractual complications, the players seem to have settled with their new employers.

As if Club Africain had had their lenses firmly trained on Ghana's finest young footballers all this while, they have purchased midfielder Seidu Salifu from Wa All Stars, also on a contract that runs till 2017.

The escapades do not end there, though. Nineteen-year-old defender Richmond Nketia has had a year-long loan deal with Africain's domestic rivals CS Sfaxien sanctioned by Medeama SC, the Ghanaian club that owns him.
 FLYING TO NORWAY | Ashia is now with SK Brann

Meanwhile, the 2013-14 Ghana Premier League season is set to commence without Ebenezer Assifuah and Kennedy Ashia, Liberty Professionals' free-scoring duo who have also found favour with Sion FC and SK Brann respectively. The Turkey 2013 Golden Boot winner is tied to the Swiss side on a permanent four-year deal, while his colleague, Ashia, has been loaned for six months to the Norwegians. Reigning GPL champions Asante Kotoko, eager not to miss out on the financial gains being raked in by other clubs from these sales, have hastened to negotiate an exit for talented midfielder Michael Anaba at a fee believed to be around €200,000. If all goes well, the youngster will be featuring for fresh Spanish La Liga participants Elche.

Nimble-footed Clifford Aboagye has also followed in the footsteps of Asamoah Gyan, Kwadwo Asamoah, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Stephen Appiah to become the seventh Ghanaian to sign for Italy's Udinese from GPL entrants Inter Allies in a deal worth $800,000. The teen has since been whisked to Spain's Granada to earn his wings before returning to the Stadio Friuli.

Aboagye was voted the third best player at the Fifa U20 World Cup behind Paul Pogba of France and Nicolas Lopez of Uruguay, and Ghanaians would carefully monitor his progress, especially after drawing huge applause with his flawless display of midfield ingenuity as Sellas Tetteh's charges worked their way to a third-place finish at the competition.

Left-back Ebenezer Ofori - who started in Ghana's opener at the World Cup against France but subsequently had his place taken by Greuther Furth’s Baba Rahman - has earned a three-and-half year deal with Swedish side AIK. The former New Edubiase United player has already had the honour of playing against English league champions Manchester United in a pre-season friendly and would strive to get more playtime under his belt.

Although connoisseurs have lamented the mass exodus, optimists have been quick to remind us all of the abundant talent that would inevitably fill the void seemingly created by the departures

AIK Sporting Director Bjorn Wesstrom has praised the Ghanaian defender saying: “He is well-trained defensively with good passing skills. Having Ofori in the squad brings depth and width and we are better balanced and he will increase the overall strength of the team."

The likes of Acheampong, Rahman and Boakye-Yiadom, as already indicated, were employed by European football clubs prior to the World Cup. Boakye-Yiadom has, however, been moved on temporarily by Juventus, the club he officially belongs to, to continue his development in Spain with Elche where he teams up with Anaba.

Joseph Alfred Duncan, who many have tipped for greatness, has had an equally decent story to share at Milanese side, Inter, winning the prestigious NextGen Series in 2012 with the Nerazurri's youth team, scoring six goals en route to the triumph.

Duncan, who was largely restricted to appearances as a substitute at the World Cup, has been loaned to Livorno to polish his undoubted potential some more. Duncan spent six months at the same side last season in Serie B, as the club staged an ultimately successful battle to gain promotion into the elite division.

The Black Satellites team at this stage seems a perfect breeding ground for player marketing, considering the sheer numbers that have found themselves at foreign clubs after their successful stints at that level of international football this year.

Although connoisseurs have lamented the mass exodus, optimists have been quick to remind us all of the abundant talent that would inevitably fill the void seemingly created by the departures.

What has been evident after previous competitions is that players are hurriedly whisked away in similar manner, yet for the majority, these adventures have not been too pleasant. Some have had to return to Ghana to re-launch their careers while others have languished in unfancied leagues elsewhere.

The 2009 gold-winning U20 side had a fair number of the players being drafted into Ghana's 2010 World Cup squad, and the current batch ought to strive for similar heights. With the invitation of Acheampong into the Black Stars team preparing for the final World Cup group stage qualifier against Zambia, one can only hope the tenacity the boys displayed in Turkey would be swiftly translated at club football level so they could be rewarded with many more call-ups for the senior national team.

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