Messy Art(su) – the Curios case of Christian Atsu

One word which towers above all else in describing Christian Atsu’s situation at AFC Bournemouth is: Strange! All who care for – even those with the remotest connection to – Ghana football are always left with the unpleasant task of doing mental gymnastics: writhes, hops, spins and vaults; to wrap their heads around the current goings-on at the newly promoted premier league side.

When the team news was announced for their third week game against West Ham, the AFCON MVP’s name was conspicuously missing from coach Eddie Howe’s list and a quite a number of Ghanaian football fanatics (myself included rather unblushingly) jumped to Christian’s defense – giving excuses germane enough to buy him some time and somewhat attempt offering reasonable explanations for the apparent snub; from a nonexistent injury, to needing time to settle in his new club; and being part of a bigger, brighter picture at the vitality stadium… some of us heaved enough sighs and made enough faces to leave others with the slightest dissent in no doubt that we were doing so against our better judgements and perhaps, we were blinded by some vague promise of utopia and love stemming from affinity.

Atsu is yet to make the AFC Bournemouth bench this season
Atsu is yet to make the AFC Bournemouth bench this season

Game day ten has come and gone, and it appears the feud between the Chelsea loanee and the AFC Bournemouth team sheet lingers and a resolution to the beef would have to take some time and a bit of getting used to. Now in his third loan spell since signing for the English Premiership champions in the summer of 2013, this turn of events at the south coast club is one that has left Christian and his fans alike twitching a little, squirming a little and grumbling a lot. Chances of him donning that revered Blue Chelsea FC jersey is slowly and painfully slipping through his fingers and Christian is the first to acknowledge that fact.

He told BBC Sport: “It’s my dream to play for Chelsea. But right now I have to focus on Bournemouth.

“If I don’t play here there is no way I will get a chance at Chelsea.

“Of course I’m not happy I’m not playing in the Premier League because I came here to play.

“Going out on loan is very difficult, you have to keep moving and taking your family with you and that is not easy. But that is the life, and you have to accept it.”

First impressions, they say, count… and if that is anything to go by, Christian Atsu’s was near impeccable when he debuted for the Black Stars in a World Cup qualifying game against Lesotho in Kumasi. His impressive goal and an assist in the 7-0 romping excited some reaction from the Ghanaian populace. That, coupled with the fact that he had directly contributed to 10 goals (6 goals, 4 assists) in his 31 appearances for Rio Ave in Portugal earned him a call back to FC Porto that summer.

Ghana's midfielder Christian Atsu Twasam (R) and Portugal's forward and captain Cristiano Ronaldo vie for the ball during the Group G football match between Portugal and Ghana at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 26, 2014. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON
Ghana’s midfielder Christian Atsu Twasam (R) and Portugal’s forward and captain Cristiano Ronaldo vie for the ball during the Group G football match between Portugal and Ghana at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 26, 2014. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON

Fancy trickery and step-overs are not in truth his style. Nor is breaching through defenses with utter brute force his thing but one thing he does in good health: drive forward at pace or use his close control to leave defenders for dead. He was explosive and in games, coaches often bet on him to be the docking station for his teammates when they were under immense pressure by providing width and an outlet for the rest of the team with his pace. He was indeed a counter attacking maven.

Nobody was going to stick a pin in the balloon; certainly not Sulley Ali Muntari who insisted [sic] “Christian was the Ghanaian Messi” after the maverick midfielder trained with his new international teammate before a world cup qualifier in Kumasi. Paying such glowing tributes about teammates isn’t really something Muntari often does so his comments came as a bit of a surprise and it was in itself testimony to its far-reaching implications. The 20 year old had earned all of his praises and many hoped in the not-too-distant future, his name could be mentioned together with the likes of Abedi Pele, Mohammed Polo, Abdul Karim Zito etc… in the same football sentence without a recourse to further explanations or render an unqualified apology to anyone

So far, the narrative isn’t going as many had hoped; far off the carrier trajectory plotted for him. He was an exciting prospect but now a damp squib (I’m not this harsh usually, a friend suggested the word)

Atsu is struggling to make his time count in England
Atsu is struggling to make his time count in England         GETTY IMAGES /  MITCHELLE LEFF

There are two deeper questions out of this. The first is how it got to this, to a player who now looks so laboured and limp; not made a single appearance for a newly promoted side in the Barclays Premier league – not even a place on the bench, 10 games into the season.  How, whilst many grudgingly forgave him for making just one start the entire season at Everton, can’t even push for a substitute appearance for AFC Bournemouth; reduced to plugging in the holes in competitions the regular first team players are deemed way too quality and experienced to have their hands soiled with?

Secondly, why does he keep getting shoehorned into the Black Stars team when he’s played a grand-total of 15 games for his club in two seasons – including cup competitions and late substitute appearances? Could it be the curious case that he’s simply not putting his shoulder to the plough at his club in the knowledge that, whatever happens, a spot in the National team was well within his means?

Christian Atsu|not new to European football.
Christian Atsu|  not new to European football.

Strange though it may seem but talent appear the least of Christian’s problems. He became the cynosure of all eyes when he completed a transfer from FC Porto to Chelsea for a fee of about £3.5m in the summer of 2013. He was immediately shipped to Vitesse Arnheim in the Eredivise where his brilliant displays earned him the Fans’ player of the Season award (that was more like it Christian) and a move back to England imminent. It appears Atsu picked his own pocket with a move to Everton and not even superb performances for the Black Stars over the stretch have been able to insulate him from the sharp criticisms which keep pouring in. A move to a team with far less ‘pressure’ and expectation was the only move which wouldn’t appear to betray the functionality of his gray matter up there. So when AFC Bournemouth came calling, a collective halleluia was heard in many Ghanaian homes.

Happier times for Atsu At Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivise, Holland 2013/2014 league season.
Happier times for Atsu At Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivise, Holland 2013/2014 league season.    GETTY IMAGES 

He seems to be one of Coach Avram Grant’s preferred Cavalry but what is yet to be seen is how long Ghanaians will continue to put up with his schlock period in England. However else we may venture into today’s tomorrows, it is not – I can assure you – on the plastic wings of cameos and a place in the stands. Good, assured displays week-in, week-out is the way to go. C’mon Christian Soldier!… strap up and fight…after all, #GodIsTheReason.

we are watching!

Let’s hear it for Adam Kwarasey

When referee Mike Dean blew the final whistle at the Craven Cottage to call time on the game which had nearly 25,000 fans of Brazilian and Ghanaian descent chant, gyrate and revel for well over 90 minutes, Adam Larsen Kwarasey punched the air in mild celebration, roared at the teeming fans, went over for a few handshakes and headed down the tunnel with infectious pertness. It had been a largely successful evening for him.

Seemingly determined to upstage the Brazilians in what was only his 2nd appearance for Ghana, Kwarasey had among other things in his awesome repertoire of saves on the night, telegraphed a well taken Ronaldinho free-kick all the way before tipping the ball around the post for a corner shortly after he had pushed Alexander Pato’s powerful eight-yard header over the bar superbly with one hand.

Kwarasey acquitted himself very well in the game Ghana narrowly lost to Brazil in September, 2011at the Craven's cottage
Kwarasey acquitted himself very well in the game Ghana narrowly lost to Brazil in September 5, 2011 at the Craven cottage in Fulham, London.

He had put up a show and had won many hearts over. The rave reviews which poured out on the streets, in barbering shops, through radio discussions and phone-ins, and through newspaper splurges hinted at one thing: Ghana had just gotten a new favorite to man its post and that after all, it was not going to be orphaned when Richard Kingson finally made the bow on the international stage.

The Blackstars’ goalkeeping position was one Richard Kingson had locked down since displacing Sammy Adjei in the build-up to the 2006 world-cup in Germany. He kept the posts with enviable equanimity and was fast ensuring Sammy Adjei’s previous gallant displays were almost getting sepia-tinted in the minds of many Ghanaian football fans. But the optimism soon got doused in a few errors during the mundial in South Africa. Unpardonable howlers in subsequent games meant the tide public opinion were gradually turning against him and many began calling his sharpness and agility to question. The need for an able back-up became even more pressing. Several goalies were brought in to audition for that role: Daniel Adjei made a big statement after the 2009 U20 world-cup triumph but his form hit an inexorable slide after his move to South Africa, William Amamoo’s woeful outing for the Black Stars in 2008 shattered his confidence and he later slinked away into obscurity; while Goran Stevanovic’s attempt to rope-in Fatau Dauda into that position yielded predictably poor results. Kwarasey’s heroics on that cold windy night in London lit up a flame in the hearts of many and that laid the bed for a very interesting relationship with Ghana.

Born on the 12th of December, 1987, Adam Kwarasey earned the right to represent Ghana –he was born in Oslo– through his father. Indeed, he’d always fancied playing for Black Stars and that provided fodder for the GFA to feed on in processing his nationality switch with FIFA in June 2011. On that night in Fulham, he put to bed, any lingering unease in the minds of doubters and turned even the staunchest of them into believers three days after he made his full international debut against Swaziland in a world-cup qualifier. He redefined the terms of the trust Black Stars fans were willing to repose in him and they in turn, were not ready to entertain any outings shy of the lofty standards he’d already set for himself. It was almost perfect a scenario; the old and weak was making way for the young and fresh and not many scripts come better than this.

With the endorsement and confidence of Ghanaians, Kwarasey made his big tournament debut at the 2012 AFCON hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. While it could be argued that he had a decent outing, his performance didn’t quite measure up to the high benchmark he’d set, but then again, the Black Stars who ended up 4th in the tournament weren’t entirely impressive either but many lost sleep over a childlike mistake which resulted in an Abdul Camara equalizer in the match against Guinea. His performances in that period couldn’t withstand scrutiny. In fact, he oozed nervousness and bore the tag of a goalie in dire need of a psychological fillip throughout the tournament.
Then, Goran Stevanovic – the manager who gave Adam his role – was fired and that probably was the beginning of the end for Norwegian born shot-stopper. Not only was his ‘father figure’ gone but the trust of the next manager as well. Coach Kwesi Appiah simply fancied Fatau Dauda and that meant from thence on end, Kwarasey became virtually part of the furniture. It was barely two years into the marriage and the ‘fairytale’ relationship with the Black Stars seemed to be hitting the rocks. This was heightened at the last world-cup in Brazil, when he felt he was given a raw deal after he’d kept the opener against the USA and for some ‘inexplicable’ reasons lost his place for the two subsequent group games. That didn’t sit well with the Portland Timbers man and he run the gamut of emotions from rage to despair at perceived injustices and particularly blamed the national team goalkeepers’ trainer Nassam Yakubu for his woes.He later asked to be excused.

Kwarasey felt he was given a bit of a raw deal after the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.
Kwarasey felt he was given a bit of a raw deal after the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.
Adam Larsen Kwarasey decided to call time on his international duties in the wake of the treatment meted out to him at the FIFA World cup in Brazil. 2014.
Adam Larsen Kwarasey decided to call time on his international duties in the wake of the treatment meted out to him at the FIFA World cup in Brazil. 2014.

More than a few attempts were made to get the former Stromgodset captain to rescind decision but it appeared he was determined to stay the course until the ‘right’ thing was done. The Right thing was to get rid of his troubles – Mr. Nassam.

It’s been 16 months and he finally looks to have called a truce.

Whereas it was easy to understand Kwarasey’s pain, it was also imperative for him not to have lost sight of the fact that public sympathy had a limit and he stood the risk of running out of reserves. In that sense, he couldn’t have chosen a better time to announce his decision end his hiatus. He is in fine form, there’s been a managerial change and the Black Stars shot stopper’s role is till up for the taking. Conditions are perfect (well, nearly) and the wisdom in such a move is self-evident.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge. There’s been a balm to his wounded ego it appears. But what remains to be seen is how Adam Kwarasey will take to Nassam Yakubu – the main antagonist in this long and drawn-out clash of egos – who incidentally remains at post.

This promises to be the type of script which requires one to get a bottle of soda, get a cone of popcorn and watch as events unfold.

‘Cechmate’ Jose

The odds of Mr. Jose Mourinho getting sacked is rising. Yes! It is October 2015 – a few months after his side stream-rolled to the 2014/2015 English premier league season title. Now with a golden logo aptly slapped on their sleeves, Jose’s charges have done precious little to suggest that this assertion isn’t that of a fella, who in the midst of a few friends at a bar, having already ingested a generous amount of liquid refreshment, starts regurgitating the unprintable four-letter-word more than a few times, laced with the snarling of various gynecological epithets; making an impaired judgement about the fate of the manager a friend’s club and later goes home to snore the night away.

8 points in 8 games is not stellar. It is not something we have come to associate with the Special one and definitely not distinctively the numbers of the man for whom a dirge has been sang in and around the Stamford Bridge before. Two consecutive defeats in a week is not the type of record that endeared him to Chelsea fanatics and left West London totally enamored, with the announcement of his imminent return and had they been given the chance, would have rewritten the scriptures to the effect: “unto us a Savior has been born; unto us a Manager has been given. And the government of our team will be on his shoulders. He will be called wonderful, the Special One, and on and on and on…”

The numbers are so desperately and humiliatingly stacked up against Chelsea and they will be hoping to stem the tide and turn the corner soon. Four Premier league defeats in their opening eight matches of the campaign and they strangely look nothing like last season’s vintage league winners. The personnel are the same [at least many of them are] but the results are symptomatic of a team battling the prospect of a drop rather than a team being worried about being caught-up at the top by their fiercest rivals.

A master of mind-games but he now cuts the image of a man who’s lost all swagger and confidence. The Mourinho of old would not be tilting at windmills in self-defense, groping in the dark about refereeing (in)decisions  but rather would have been seen taking subtle jabs about rival managers, praising his players and fans, basking in his awesomeness and leaving the stage as he records yet another win over yet another premier league opponent.

Mourinho cuts the image of a man who's lost his swagger at the Stamford bridge
Mourinho cuts the image of a man who’s lost his swagger at the Stamford bridge

Last Saturday’s post game presser was special. In the wake of his side’s 1-3 defeat at home to Southampton, the Blues Boss took a very unfamiliar path and went on a staggering seven minute speech like we have never seen of him before. Jose Mourinho is a lot of things but unquestionably not naïve. Like a man opting to take a drink from a fire hydrant, it was apparent Chelsea’s recent slump had taken a punt on him, cornered and compelled to defend himself and his Chelsea legacy even though the question he was asked was not remotely connected to the subject.

Sky Sport’s Greg Whelan asked what appeared to be an innocuous: “Jose, What do you make of your team’s performance today?” shortly after their 2nd home defeat of the season.

The special one’s reply was one that had everyone talking [and will be for some time]. “Look, I think you know me and I think I don’t run away for responsibilities. First of all I want to say that because we are in such a bad moment, you shouldn’t be afraid to be honest.

“When we are at the top I understand that there is quite a big pleasure in putting us down but when you are down already I think you need to be a bit honest and to make clear that the referees are afraid to give decisions for Chelsea. The result [was] 1-1, there is a huge penalty and, once more, we don’t get.  Penalty is crucial in a game with the result 1-1.”

Jose during his post match presser after succumbing to Southamton at home
Jose during his post match presser after succumbing to Southampton at home

Never mind Southampton’s Sadio Mane was fouled twice in the penalty box and on both occasions, the referee simply waved play-on.

“Even more important, I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club. Do you know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club had and secondly, the message is again the message that bad results, the manager is guilty.

“This is the message that not just the players but the ones before, that they got during a decade. I think this is a moment for everybody to assume responsibilities. I think the players should assume their responsibilities, I assume my responsibilities, the other people at the club should also assume their responsibilities and stick together. This is what I want” the Portuguese tactician continued, betraying some vulnerability through those words as they kept pouring out.

The appetite for change at the Stamford Bridge seem low. The manager himself is keen on staying on but looks like, on his own free will, keep cobbling together the leather needed for his own boot. His presser has left the board of directors at Chelsea with a decision to make. Patience is not one of Roman Abramovic’s strongest virtues and he would not be smiling at being given such a public ultimatum.

Mr. Roman Abramovic has been calm in all of this
Mr. Roman Abramovic has been calm in all of this

The jury is still out on the Special one. Though it’s not likely Jose will be making his 2nd Chelsea exit now, what could be said with a fair degree of certainty is that; Mourinho is walking a tight rope and would have to steer the club and its fortunes back unto the road of prosperity. He is still the captain of the ship and he still has the trust of his employers. But while he’s still at it, he must be very fast about it.