What a week it’s been for Thomas Partey!
The Ghana midfielder may have missed out on the Goal 50, but he was named among five nominees for the BBC African Footballer of the Year award, as the corporation’s panel of experts deemed fit to name him among the continent’s top stars.
The powerhouse is certainly an outsider for the award, not least because of his World Cup absence and the presence of Mohamed Salah in the field, but it’s testament to his fine form over last season that he’s being considered among the continent’s best.
Similarly, he was also part of the Ghana side that got their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign back on track with a 2-0 Jordan Ayew-inspired victory over Ethiopia at the weekend.
The Crystal Palace striker stole the headlines after that much-needed victory, but Partey was again a key presence in the midfield, at one point playing Emmanuel Boateng through with a fine pass.
His game was curtailed early when he picked up a knock and was replaced by Afriyie Acquah, but he has been passed fit to face Barcelona on Saturday.
While the returning Ayew brothers will be credited for being the key protagonists behind Ghana’s return to form, Partey deserves acknowledgement for not dropping his level of performance during some of the trickier times under Kwesi Appiah.
His powerful movement in the middle of the park was evident in the second half of the shock defeat by the Harambee Stars, where he was a dominant presence, even while those around him wilted.
Ghana’s victory and the BBC nomination represent renewed validation for Partey, after some concerns that he may have struggled to build on last season’s form.
Certainly, before November, his contributions appeared to have dipped for Atletico, admittedly amidst the club’s own struggles.
Having won the Europa League last season, and having established himself as a key man in Diego Simeone’s side, Goal celebrated his achievements as Africa’s most improved player of the season.
Certainly, he demonstrated further aspects of his game; netting a hat-trick for the Black Stars against Congo-Brazzaville, while also weighing in with decisive goals for Atleti against Qarabag and Deportivo La Coruna.
In another match against Depor, later in the season, Partey delivered a complete midfield performance, further suggesting that he could be the heir to Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and other great African midfield masters.
However, this season, at least before November, his consistency appeared to have dropped, and Partey lost his prominence in the Atleti first team.
Thomas Partey stats vs. Deportivo:
Three chances created (1st)
Pass-accuracy: 94.7% (1st excluding subs)
Touches: 88 (3rd)
Dribbles completed: Seven (1st)
[via @OptaJoe @WhoScored] pic.twitter.com/nqdAd8WP6A — Ed Dove (@EddyDove) April 5, 2018
He has started only four La Liga games all season, while a goal against SC Huesca was his only decisive contribution before early October.
The Black Star made the decisive assist in the home victory over Real Betis, but sub-par showings against Villarreal and Borussia Dortmund suggested that the midfielder was a rung or two below the form that had come to be expected from him.
However, in November, even before the BBC nomination and the Ethiopia triumph, Partey showed that he was finding top gear.
He contributed another assist—to cap off an excellent display—as Atletico defeated Dortmund 2-0 at home, and then weighed in with his best performance of the season so far in a 3-2 victory over Athletic Bilbao.
It was a monstrous display, where Partey scored the Rojiblancos’ opener with a thunderous 25-yard effort, before setting up Rodrigo’s 80th-minute equaliser.
Only Rodrigo bettered Partey’s pass-success rate of 85.1% among Atleti’s starters, while the Ghanaian also made three tackles, four interceptions and created two goalscoring chances for his teammates.
Among African midfielders in the world today, it was a peerless display, and—coupled with his improving recent form—suggested that Partey is finally returning to top form.
The BBC award may be beyond him this season, but if he continues in his current vein, then Partey may well find himself as a genuine contender for the award in 2019.
At 25, the best years are still to come.