Turin – Italy, July 2, 2012; 23 year old Kwadwo Asamoah, clad in a slim fit white shirt, made his way out the lobby smiling for the cameras. For a transfer fee of €18 million, he had just signed for one of Italy’s and World’s biggest clubs, Juventus FC.
It was the reason he was in good spirits. In Italian, Kwadwo would capture his mood aptly in three words ”Mi sento bene”. Lost? Not to worry, you will find out what it means in a little while.
Accra – Ghana, 24 hours later: While manoeuvring my way out of mounting traffic in the capital, I listened earnestly to the varied reaction of fans over the radio concerning Kwadwo Asamoah’s big move from Udinese to the ”old lady of Italian football” as Juventus are known.
While majority agreed it was the logical upward career move for Kwadwo, a section also expressed concerns over Kwadwo’s ability to rise to the challenge and overcome the pressure that comes with playing for a club with such pedigree.
But why would anybody doubt Kwadwo’s ability? How big is this challenge and has Kwadwo indeed made a wrong or right career move by joining the old ladies?
Well, if you have an open mind like me, kindly take a seat let’s do an analysis this together.
My earliest memory of Kwadwo Asamoah was way back in 2007. Then a member of Ghana’s National U-23 team, the Black Meteors, I witnessed firsthand Kwadwo’s potential when he put in a superb substitute performance at the El-Wak Stadium as Ghana beat South Africa in the Beijing Olympic games qualifier.
What I saw then was a rare breed of a Ghanaian footballer; great technique combined with pace, power, vision and direct play.
Qualities he honed at local club, Liberty Professionals and which Italian club, Udinese, couldn’t gloss over in 2008. Indeed, Udinese were so bent on signing him that, though the club at that time exhausted the non-EU slot for foreign players, they ‘borrowed’ a slot from Torino by allowing the Turin club to register him and then loan him back to Udinese where he made his debut on January 11th 2009 against Sampdoria.
Kwadwo didn’t look back; he gradually won a first team place and ended that season on the high.
Kwadwo’s form was perfect timing; Ghana, having lost attacking midfielder Stephen Appiah through injury, reposed her faith in Kwadwo.
He repaid that faith by putting in outstanding back to back performances in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers away to Mali and Sudan in June 2009, even scoring in the 2-0 defeat of Mali.
Those victories virtually secured Ghana’s qualification to the World Cup and the Africa Nations Cup in Angola the following year.
Operating as a deep lying playmaker for Ghana, Kwadwo dictated affairs in the middle of the park for the Black Stars in Angola.
Indeed, it was his long range pass from deep that found Asamoah Gyan who scored the winner to knock out the host in the quarter final.
Kwadwo and the Black Stars went on to claim silver losing to Egypt in the final. With such deft performances, a lot was expected from Kwadwo at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
And though, he had a decent outing, many believed, Kwadwo did not perform to his full potential.
That probably sunk into his head, as he has since struggled to repeat his pre 2010 World Cup form for the Black Stars.
When he reportedly rejected the no. 10 shirt, it was the loudest signal that Kwadwo’s confidence and assertiveness while in the Black Star shirt had sunk to an all time low.
That and other underperformances on the international stage, rightly or wrongly, painted Kwadwo as a player who couldn’t handle pressure or high expectations.
Back at Udinese however, Kwadwo did not suffer any confidence crises and aided Udinese to qualify for Champions League play offs in both the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons.
It was those performances that prompted the current Italian champions, Juventus to acquire his signature.
Can He Rise To The Challenge?
For the uninitiated, Juventus, founded 114 years ago have been champions of Italy 28 times, twice Champions League winners and have won several other trophies.
Juventus boast of 14 million fans in Italy and about 170 million worldwide. To perform at such a club, players have to possess a strong mentality and be consistent week in week out.
Adorning the club’s grounds are images of players like Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli, Pavel Nedv?d, Alessandro Del Piero, Zinedine Zidane who have brought honour and medals to the club.
The current set up boast of players like Giorgio Chiellini, Gianlugi Buffon, and Leonardo Bonucci who play in Coach Antonio Conte’s 4-3-3 formation.
For Kwadwo however, he would be concerned with his direct competition in midfield; from Chile comes Arturo Vidal and then the Italian duo of Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo.
Now, that’s how tough it gets for Kwadwo. Anybody who watched the recent European Championship need not be reminded of the guile and intelligence of Pirlo and the industry of Marchisio.
Arturo Vidal, who attacks and defends with gusto, is also a key player in whom Conte has great faith.
The three, especially Pirlo, who was voted Italian Player of the year, were very core to Juventus’ successful claim of the Scudetto last season.
Pirlo would surely keep his place, leaving Kwadwo to battle for the other 2 spots with Vidal and Marchisio and considering that both players also scored goals, 7 and 9 respectively last season, Kwadwo clearly has his work cut out.
Many pundits believe that with Juventus participating in the Champions League as well as domestic league and cup competitions, they needed to have a strong back up to the core 3 midfielders thus the capture of Kwadwo.
That may not be far from the truth, but it is also true that due to the expected large amount of games, especially if Juventus advance in the Champions League, Coach Conte would definitely rotate his team especially for cup games.
It is in those matches that Kwadwo can grab his chance by asserting himself and becoming more of a goal threat; two ingredients missing from his game, which if improved, would surely put him in good stead for a regular starting place rather than rotting on the bench.
He would also need to improve markedly on his mental strength because his new environment is going to be pressure laden and unlike Udinese, a club with moderate ambitions, Juventus fans and management would be expectant on weekly basis.
He is also following in Stephen Appiah’s footsteps. The ex Black Stars captain played for Juventus from 2005 to 2007 and had a decent debut year but was let go with after a shaky 2nd year.
Kwadwo needs to go a step better to have a truly successful Juventus career.
Turin – Italy, Sometime in the future; That is when we can all answer boldly, whether Kwadwo Asamoah’s move to Juventus was indeed the ladder that catapulted him to greatness or the axe that dug his football grave.
It is also at that time that Kwadwo can truly say ‘I feel good’. Yes, that is what ’Mi sento bene’ means. You didn’t think I forgot, did you?
90 Minutes Newspaper