COMMENT By Ed Dove Follow on Twitter
It's been quite a week for Thomas Partey .
On Thursday, the 22-year-old midfielder was named in Avram Grant's Ghana squad for the upcoming Cup of Nations qualifier against Mauritius and is firmly in contention to make his debut at the beginning of June.
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His exploits last season and, particularly, this make him a natural fit for the Black Stars, and he ought to immediately become an immediate contender for a starting spot in the Israeli coach's first XI.
Central midfield has long been an area of strength for the West African giants, and while the likes of Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah drifts into the past, Partey can lead the next generation of Black Stars dynamos in the heart of the park.
Players such as Godfred Donsah and Alfred Duncan will likely take increasingly prominent roles within Grant's plans, while the prospect of Partey alongside a fit-again Kwadwo Asamoah is tantalising...should the latter ever return to action.
"He's in the process of becoming a top player," club coach Diego Simeone said of his charge in December. "I hope I can help him with what he needs to grow."
While a first-ever international call-up is enough to make any player's week, the event is—astonishingly—not even Partey's biggest of the weekend, with the prospect of a Champions League final appearance against Real Madrid looming large.
The youngster—who demonstrated his class and his battling qualities on loan at Almeria last season—started the season on the peripheries of Diego Simeone's squad, but has become more influential as the campaign has worn on.
He ended the year with 13 La Liga appearances—of which three were starts—scoring twice—including the winner against Levante—and contributing an assist.
All but four of Partey's league outings have come since the New Year, while his quartet of Champions League outings—all from the bench—have also come in the latter stages.
Partey---nicknamed 'Senegal'—offers excellent upper-body strength, knows how to use the ball intelligently, and has the awareness to read the game and break up opposition attacks.
However, he also has a creative, offensive edge as well, and has identified Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure and Xabi Alonso as inspirations.
While he came on to bag the winner against Levante, his contribution in Europe has been primarily defensive; to add another body into the midfield, to supplement flagging legs or to win back possession.
He helped Atleti see out positive results against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, while he was introduced for damage limitation during the 2-1 quarter-final first leg defeat at the Nou Camp.
It's likely he'll play a similar role in the final if circumstances dictate, so those neutral observers hoping for a Partey appearance may well be hoping that Atleti storm into an unlikely lead against their city rivals in Milan!
"Partey continues to grow," added Simeone. "He is still a young lad, but has strength, movement and can play between the lines."
While Atletico will be outsiders to see off Zinedine Zidane's side on Saturday, Partey will surely have imagined the prospect of adding his name to the list of Ghanaian players to have won Europe's premier club competition.
Abedi Pele became the first Ghanaian to win the title, with Marseille in 1993, Ibrahim Tanko featured for Borussia Dortmund in the run up to their final victory over Juventus four years later and Sammy Kuffour overcame heartbreak to life the cup in 2001.
Nine years later, Sulley Muntari was part of Jose Mourinho's triumphant Inter Milan side, while Michael Essien was an unused substitute as Chelsea beat Bayern two years later.
He will soon be a fully fledged Black Star, but in the meantime, could Partey add his name to this illustrious list?
That, surely, would make for a perfect week!