10 "Ghanaians" Seek UEFA Champions League Glory
As the group stage of the most prestigious continental club competition on earth -the UEFA Champions Leagues- gets underway this evening, it is not departing from its recent history of having many Ghanaian players.
But out of the ten Ghanaian players named by their various teams for the 2005/2006 edition of the competition, only three have played a part in the Black Stars brink of its first appearance in the World Cup finals and they (the three) are expected to be regular starters for their clubs.
Black Stars captain Stephen Appiah is expected to make his European club competition debut for the Turkish champions Fenerbache tonight as they travel to face the Italian side AC Milan in Group E.
The 24 year old who knows the Italian club well was upbeat about the chances of his side. The former Juventus midfielder told UEFA.com that: "Anything is possible. We shouldn't come here and think a draw is enough for us.”
His compatriot Michael Essien will surely be on the spotlight as critics continue to get in line to shoot down the £ 24.4 million spent on him by the English champions Chelsea from the French side Lyon this summer. Chelsea take on the Belgian side Anderlecht in group G tonight.
But the 22-year-old has been answering his detractors with outstanding performance on the field since he joined the English premiership, especially in their match against Sunderland last Sunday when he assumed the role of midfield anchor in place of the injured Claude Makelele.
Chelsea's players did look unusually weary with the honourable exception of Michael Essien, who showed no ill-effects from his long return trip to Ghana. “The 22-year-old took this opportunity to be his club's inspiration, hustling, harrying and driving the home side forward,” the Times newspaper observed. Only as the leaves fall from the trees can the tortuous summer saga of Essien's move from Lyon be seen in its proper context. Chelsea may have appeared to be held to ransom by Jean-Michel Aulas, the rent-a-quote Lyon president, but the club-record £24.4 million they paid for his services is looking more and more like a bargain. With Roy Keane in decline and Patrick Vieira in Turin, Essien has the potential to be the Premiership's dominant midfield player for years to come and his coach Jose Mourinho knows it. “Essien is a great player,” he said. “He can play every position in midfield. Where he is perfect is in choices. In football, the most difficult thing is to choose well, and in every situation he chooses well. He presses, stays in position, passes long, passes short, first touch or two touches. He controls the pace of the game, fast or slow.”
Against Sunderland, Essien executed his unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of the injured Claude Makelele with aplomb. With Mick McCarthy's team understandably seeking damage-limitation, Chelsea's back four had little need of protecting, so Essien was able to showcase his full range of skills, controlling play with the authority of a veteran and doing much of the work for a lacklustre Lampard. The England midfield player may be suffering from fatigue but, at the end of a week dominated by Europe's World Cup qualifiers, all of Chelsea's leading contributors have recently returned from farther afield.
But many Ghanaian players are queuing up to emulate Michael Essien who used his performance in last year's Champions League as the leverage to a big move. One of such players is Sulley Muntari who will unquestionably be using the group stages of the Champions League to ignite interest from big European teams after his team Udinese denied interest from English giants Manchester United last month. His modest Italian side welcome the Greek team Panathinaikos tomorrow in Group C.
The 21-year-old midfielder has seen good form under new coach Serse Cosmi as he has scored two goals in as many matches since the Serie A started this season. Even though Eric Addo has not played competitively for the Black Stars since the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso, the 27-year-old has been a member of the recent success story of the Dutch team PSV Eindhoven, who made it to the semi finals of this competition last year.
Addo is not expected to start for PSV as they take on the German side Schalke 04 in Group E and so is his team-mate Bernard Quainoo who was promoted from the junior side of the Dutch team.
The 18-year-old Quainoo who has Ghanaian parentage but holds Dutch and American passport is expected to observe proceedings from the bench.
Also gaining promotion the first team is the Kumasi-born striker Basty Owusu Kyeremateng who has been registered for this competition by the Italian giants Inter Milan. It is unlikely the 18-year-old will be named in the first team of the Italian side tonight as the travel to face the Slovakian team FC Artmedia. However, his naming by the Italian side will surely raise the eye brows of the future-star seekers. Such is the situation with the Alexander Banor Tettey of the Norwegian side Rosenborg who take on the Geek outfit Olympiakos tonight.
Very little is known of this 19-year-old in Ghana as he is yet to establish himself with Rosenborg. But he is very quick with good technique, highly-regarded as a midfield player, and also adept at deputising at centre-back.
Frustrated by lack of first team opportunities, the Accra-born was loaned out to second division side Skeid in August last year but returned to Rosenborg in time for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Tettey gained his Norwegian citizenship last year and was quickly drafted into the Norway Under-19 side, playing twice at the UEFA U19 Championships in Northern Ireland in July.
Defender Emmanuel Boakye who was born in Ghana but holds a Dutch passport is in the Ajax Amsterdam squad for the UEFA Champions league this season. The 20-year-old was promoted from the famous Ajax academy along with Stanley Aborah Jnr., the 18 year whose father played for the Black Stars in the 1990s. Aborah played for the junior side of Belgium.
Both are not expected to start as Ajax are away to Sparta Prague in Group B tomorrow.
With striker Henry Thierry out injured the chances of the Quincy Owusu Abeyie playing for the English side Arsenal in tomorrow's group B encounter against the Swiss FC Thun is greater.
The Amsterdam-born who has mainly been limited to playing in FA cup matches but with Henry out, the 19-year-old is set to start from the bench.
Even though Owusu-Abeyie has said that he wants to play for the senior side of Holland, like all the other Ghanaian players who have European passports, they can still play for Ghana before the age of 22 especially when Black Stars is wielding the 2006 World Cup ticket.