Sports Features of 2014-04-02

Afriyie Acquah belongs to Ghana's midfield

Africa Football Shop’s Ghana expert Theo Sakyi takes an in-depth look at Afriyie Acquah and demonstrates why the Parma midfielder might be a better bet than some of the Black Stars’ other options.
For a player who has been so consistent in a season preceding a World Cup, it is surprising that Afriyie Acquah hasn’t received much attention…until now.

Although every emerging midfielder from Ghana is compared to Michael Essien, when you take the time to watch Acquah play it becomes a completely reasonable comparison. He’s very comfortable on the ball and although he plays a relatively reserved role for Parma, something that also happened to Essien at clubs he’s played for, he’ll make the occasional burst into the box, shrugging opponents off with ease just like his compatriot.

Another similarity between the two is versatility.

Acquah has been utilised in both a holding and a box-to-box midfield role this season although he has only played in the latter a few times recently, which may explain the lack of goals in his game. He’s also been used in a disciplined right-wing position.

Granted, I’ve only listed three roles but with his stature and strength it’s not hard to envisage him being used as an auxiliary centre-back or full-back like Essien has been used in the past.

Looking at his midfield competition it’s hard to think of a reason as to why he shouldn’t make at least the provisional squad.

Michael Essien has only been playing regular football since January and he’s not exactly a mainstay in a struggling AC Milan side.

He’s lost the explosiveness that earned him the nickname “The Train” by Jose Mourinho, something that Afriyie Acquah currently exhibits. That’s not to say Essien is of no use to the team, he still has an exemplary sense of maturity on the ball that could be used late in games and he could be used in a similar role as Stephen Appiah in 2010. During the last World Cup, Milovan Rajevac recognised the need for a mobile midfield three but still noticed useful qualities in a player like Appiah.

Sulley Muntari of late has been encouraged to spray long passes to the flanks for his side although a passing average of 78% is still pretty low for a midfielder. He, like Essien, is playing for a struggling AC Milan side although his four-goal return means he should still be considered for his set pieces and long-range shooting ability

Udinese man Emmanuel Agyemang Badu is probably the man Acquah will have the best chance of displacing. Badu, also has a decent goal return this season with 3 goals, but unlike the more mature Muntari his passing range is mediocre and as a conservative passer of the ball a pass completion average of 79% is pretty poor. This is made worse by him being deficient in defensive positioning. It’s not a rare sight to see Udinese sitting deep in their own half, trying to keep their defensive shape and then witness Badu attempt to win the ball off an opposition player 20 yards away. As the player has plenty of time and space before Emmanuel gets to him he can simply play the ball square to a teammate who in turn can pass to a player occupying space Badu has left. Although he has far more club and international football experience than Acquah we’ve seen little progression in his game since the 2009 FIFA Youth Tournament, something we’ve already seen in a few short seasons in Acquah’s case.

With a pass completion average of 88%, Acquah is better in his use of the ball and he’s been very good positionally, often having to cover for marauding wingbacks and midfielders. Finishing has been the only thing stopping him from having a few more goals as he has got into some good areas this season but failed to put chances away. Apart from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah, who at the moment are on another level to everyone in the middle third of the park, Acquah is Ghana’s most complete and consistent player.

The fact that Mohammed Rabiu has been injured for a long period means that Acquah should at least be given a look in, although it’s puzzling that he wasn’t featured in the Black Stars’ game against Montenegro.

A lot of players in World Cup squads never see the field of play but even if Acquah is one of them it’ll still be invaluable experience for a player who will certainly be one of Ghana’s key players in the coming years if he maintains his level of performance or even exceeds it.