Friday, 28 September 2012

Kwadwo Asamoah: In pursuit of simultaneous consistency


Kwadwo Asamoah is one of the most admired and respected players in the Italy these days.  Not only is his cool personality admirable, his performances on the pitch has had fans singing his name from the stands.

''I think that Kwadwo Asamoah has proved that he is one of the best midfielders in Serie A,'' Stephen Appiah said of him.

Just 7 years after his humble beginnings at Kaaseman in Ghana, he now plays for arguably the best club in Italy now, as one of it's star players. ''Its a dream to play for Juventus'' he said on his arrival. '' I am only the second Ghanaian after [Stephen] Appiah''

Before his move to the old lady in Turin, he played at Udinese. The 4 years he spent with the Zebrette  at the Stadio Friuli were the most defining years of his career so far. It was there that he got his first National call-up.

Four years ago, he was called up by Claude Le Roy ahead of the 2008 Nations Cup, and given the highly significant number 10 shirt, amidst high expectations. Even though Asamoah hardly played a part in the tournament, it proved a huge bout of experience for him. Not to have been thrown in that early. The fact that he was with the squad, getting used to the team environment, dynamics and finally settling in, made hitting the ground running an easy thing for him to do subsequently.

Le Roy left unceremoniously after that Afcon, his departure ushering in the arrival of new gaffer Milovan Rajevac.

Milovan Rajevac, noted for being highly defensive, was expected to ease Asamoah into the squad via the defensive midfield role that he had become so used to at Udinese. In an interesting twist, he saw more potential in Asamoah's attacking abilities rather than his can do's on the other side of the half way line.

He took on a new play making role for the team during the qualification to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup, whilst maintaining his defensive midfield role back in Italy. The sort of performances he put in at Udinese - from a deep midfield role - was quietly effective. It was the kind of role which did not have a spectacular impact easily seen and appreciated. It was the role of an unsung hero. But his new role for his nation was in sharp contrast; it unleashed a devastating side of him, a side that is made of explosiveness, dribbling flair and shooting precision.

By the time Ghana was hitting top gear during the latter stages of the 2010 World Cup qualification, Kwadwo Asamoah was also rising, putting in assured displays in the play maker's role and feeding the hope of Ghanaians that another ''Abedi ele'' was upon us. There was that match in Bamako, when Ghana defeated Mali by two goals to nil - a match that defined Kwadwo Asamoah's rise to prominence at the National level. He capped off a virtuoso individual performance with his debut goal.

Since then, Kwadwo Asamoah's roles in the National Team and at club level have been parallel, much to his disdavantage, albeit being incredibly versatile. When Ghana made it to the Cup of Nations in Angola, Kwadwo Asamoah was already playing a trequartista behind Asamoah Gyan in attack, a similar role that legendary skipper Stephen Appiah once rocked with his brilliance. The role seemed to come naturally to him, judging by the ease with which he sprayed accurate passes around and bombed past opposition defenders. He famously got two assists in the quarter final and semi final, both with Asamoah Gyan on the end of it, that got Ghana into the final.

Ghana subsequently lost that final narrowly to Hassan Shehata's vintage Egypt. But amidst the pain of narrowly missing out on the trophy, Ghanaians, in moving on, decided to draw inspiration for a bright future from the displays of young stars Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah himself. After that tournament, he returned to Italy on a high, probably with hopes of going back to reinvent himself in his new found role. But coach Francesco Guidolin thought he was still very much effective in the midfield engine role. Back home though, coach Rajevac was having none of that. Kwadwo Asamoah was going to carry on being his playmaker. He was convinced.


Thus began a quiet conflict of roles that slowly threatened to slow down his progress at the national level. It is no secret that an attacking play maker is the focal point of most teams. The propensity for teams to thrive on the performances of such players is very high. The pressure to perform is consuming for any player in this role. Fans expect spectacular performances match after match. The constant hype that great performances bring also raises standards to levels that are seemingly impossible to sustain.. For a young player like Kwadwo Asamoah, this was obviously going to be a tall order. At Udinese, he was used to being the quiet orchestrator, a steady dictator(of play). And this fit his personality perfectly. He is known to be humble, quiet, unassuming, hardworking and always eager to learn. He also prefers to stay away from the intensive scrutiny of the media spot light. That role was perfect for him to grow in, until he was ready to come out of his shell.

But with Ghana, he was more or less fast tracked into that pressure saturated play makers role. He handled it well through to the 2010 World Cup, where he was regarded by the International media as Ghana's ''player to watch''. All of a sudden, he became Ghana's focal point. Only the simultaneous rise of Dede Ayew and the sudden re-emergence of Asamoah Gyan's goal scoring form took some pressure off him at the Mundial. He sailed through the tournament, with performances not as spectacular as was expected, but signficantly above average. It was almost as if the pressure was finally catching up with him, after eluding it with his scintillating displays. After the tournament, Kwadwo Asamoah knew that the pressure would intensify, given that Ghana was at a point of squad transition. He knew he was going to be the leader of the new generation.

The period after the tournament saw Asamoah experiencing the early developments of what has now become the ''He plays better for his club than the national team'' debate. At National level, the burden of having to become another Abedi Pele so soon after becoming part of the set up was weighing heavily on his young shoulders. Indeed, becoming a 'senior player' that quickly made the pressure to deliver unbearable.

At Udinese, he was an indispensable component, but not the one who who was constantly under the watchful eyes of the media. And so he thrived in the Serie A, gradually becoming a high profile pure midfielder. At the same time, he was desperately trying to evade the raging pressure in Ghana - by publicly turning down the number 10 shirt prior to Afcon 2012. The fact that his role in Italy was relatively quiet, allowed him the time to develop and get comfortable. His role with the Black Stars did not offer that.

At afcon 2012, he was not his usual self. There were reports of him feeling tense prior to eventually giving up the number 10 shirt. The man who received the shirt, Andre Ayew, outshone Asamoah in the tournament. Coach Goran Stevanovic, who had replaced Rajevac, also held Asamoah in high regard. He continued in the same role under Stevanovic. His form however, dimmed slightly.

Now, at Juve, he plays as a utility winger in a very unorthodox but innovative system. He simultaneously combines the role of an attacking winger and defensive left back. But in Ghana, he still is considered by many a play maker, recently playing more in free roles. Again, the roles are in stark contrast. Due to all this, he is constantly rising at club level, and increasingly becoming less effective on the national level. At 23, he is at a point where he has to have a defined role which he can perfect in the years now prior to his anticipated peak, around ages 26, 27 and 28. If he keeps switching roles, his development might become compromised, and he might probably fizzle out completely at National level, especially.

The men who have the power currently to shape of his career at this decisive point are Ghana Coach Akwasi Appiah and Juve manager Antonio Conte (via Massimo Carrera). Kwadwo Asamoah desperately needs a merger of his national and club roles in order to gather consistency and momentum. His potential is immense. All that needs to be done is to find him a role common to both fronts, and allow him the time to freely develop in that capacity. The constant process of switching roles might serve as an impediment between himself and the summit of his aspirations.

And so, one front has to give in, or worse, both fronts, in the pursuit of what is best for him.

Kwadwo Asamoah is unbelievably versatile, and so finding a permanent position for him should not be that hard a task. The thing about him is his willingness to learn and be a team player - a rare quality for such an individually gifted player. ''I play according to the instructions of the coach in a manner that best suits the team,” he once said. Among his comfortable positions are defensive midfield, attacking midfield, on the attacking wings, as a second striker, and left wing back .

"Im excited about playing for the same team as Andrea Pirlo, who has always been my idol. He is still the best for me, because he always plays well'' Asamoah said of Andrea Pirlo, his team mate. Pirlo has been the finest regista(deep lying/defensive play maker) in Italy for the last decade or so. Perhaps Asamoah fancies exercising his talents in that role and making it his own when Pirlo, 33, retires. And given his exceptional technical qualities and intelligence, he will, without doubt, excel in that role. That is an option.

Or maybe, it's finally time for him to take the immense risk by assuming the attacking play maker role, and accompanying responsibilities. After all, that role in it's purely technical sense has proved to be his metier thus far.





No comments:

Post a Comment