Feature: Mubarak Wakaso in search of fresh paradise at Scottish giants Celtic
As if Celtic’s season hasn’t contained enough in ?the way of drama and controversy already, ?enter Mubarak Wakaso.
The Ghanaian winger, the subject ?of negotiations over a season-long loan from Rubin Kazan with a view to a permanent transfer, is, without doubt, an interesting proposition with a decent pedigree, but he will bring the ghosts of a past shaped by tantrums and tragedies with him ?to Glasgow.
There’s the awkward business in Spain the season before last, which involved him branding all referees as racists. He got himself into further trouble at his then club, Espanyol, when being fined for turning up late from a stint at the Africa Cup of Nations and made to train on his own.
Mind you, that was nowhere as bad as the campaign at Elche that started with him resurfacing 34 days late after his summer holidays citing visa problems.
Eighteen months later, Elche sacked him amid claims from the president, Jose Sepulcre, that his relationship with his manager and team-mates had “deteriorated”. Accusations emerged that he was failing to turn up for training on time. He certainly couldn’t stop himself from being sent off.
He collected 12 yellow cards ?in half-a-season prior to being dismissed by Elche in January 2011. Over the course of his two years there, he was ordered-off on five separate occasions.
In his one and only campaign with Espanyol, he racked up 18 bookings and two red cards in all competitions before Rubin decided to pay £5m for his services.
Providing Celtic manage to iron out paperwork issues and secure a work permit, he will sign off from the Russian club having left his team-mate Vladimir Sobolev requiring cruciate ligament surgery following an accidental collision in training this week. It is perhaps understandable that the 24-year-old, who can play anywhere across midfield, feels it is time for a new beginning elsewhere, though.
Wakaso, as he is commonly referred to, has not been a regular starter at the Russian club. He has had one or two injury-related problems. Those issues are meaningless, however, when put into context by the death of his four-month-old son, Mubarak Jr, during the winter break in January when the family were on holiday in Africa.
“My family and I came to Ghana from Spain, but then my baby fell ill,” explained Mubarak in a radio interview at the time. “His body was warm and he was vomiting, so we took him to the hospital. After a check-up, we were told there was nothing wrong.
“Later, there was a light improvement in his condition and I was playing with him, but, then, he deteriorated. I contacted my mother to help me take the baby to hospital.
“On our way, I realised the baby was no longer alive.”
Wakaso, a practising Muslim ?who wore an “Allah Is Great” T-shirt under his strip at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, dedicated his goal in a 4-0 Russian Premier League win at Krylya Sovetov in May to his son and went on to play for Ghana in two of their matches at the World Cup.
Events such as the passing of a child must change a man and it is likely Wakaso, providing a deal is completed, will arrive in Glasgow a more reflective soul than the 18-year-old brought from his home city of Tamale to the Spanish Second Division by Elche in 2008.
He made a positive early impression there, but trouble soon emerged at the start of the 2009-10 campaign. He reappeared at training almost five weeks late and was docked 34 days’ worth of wages.
Wakaso became a hero among fans thanks to his midfield displays, but disciplinary issues were evident and a row over money spelled the end of his time there.
“I do not understand how the president can say I’m a bad person and I have problems in the locker room,” he said.
“My problem was with my pay and it was not regular.” The Elche left-back, Edu Albacar, disagreed. “For the good of everyone, he had to leave,” he said. ?“He has not been focused on the job.”
Wakaso was sacked by Elche on the final day of the January transfer window. Villarreal’s B squad signed him that very afternoon on a two-and-a-half year deal and would fast-track him into their first-team squad after a matter of weeks thanks to an injury crisis.
The Ghanaian would make the very most of the opportunity and was regarded as one of their best players despite suffering relegation from the Primera Division in 2012.
Espanyol offered £400,000 for him in the summer of 2012 and his short stay at the club, a clear success despite his dreadful crime count, was certainly eventful.
Following a 2-1 loss in Valencia in November, in which his side had a last-minute penalty given against them in addition to two men sent-off, he stated that officials in Spain were biased against black players.
“Sometimes, they just give the card, and I hate to say this, because of the colour of the person,” he said.
Mauricio Pochettino, then the head coach, claimed Wakaso “spoke with his heart and not his head”. The Argentine would leave the club days later and it wasn’t long before his replacement, Javier Aguirre, was dealing with a fresh issue.
Wakaso returned to training two days late after being away with Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. He claimed he had been suffering from fever, but Aguirre had been calling him for days to no avail in an attempt to find out where he was. Wakaso was fined and ordered to train alone until Aguirre brought him back into the fold in March.
However, the Mexican was forced to warn Wakaso about his temperament after he ended the season being sent off at the end of ?a 2-0 derby loss against Barcelona, picking up two quickfire yellow cards for abusing the referee and being restrained by his team-mates.
Within weeks, Aguirre felt compelled to comment on Rubin Kazan circumventing the normal rules over transfer negotiations and dealing with the player directly. Even after the Catalan club had accepted a multi-million pound offer, Wakaso appeared on their in-house television station to apologise for pushing the move to Russia through.
Whether Celtic can give him ?what he now needs and manage his personality in addition to his talent remains to be seen.