From the wastelands of deep Ghana, Thomas Partey has risen to the cream of European football. The colchonero has climbed the ladder one by one, proven, gently, without burning the steps. Today, he is a key man of his coach Diego Simeone. Story of a trajectory based on work and will.
Even the less insightful of us do not have to frown to notice that we are not all staying in Odumase Krobo, in eastern Ghana. The contrast - a colour problem, therefore - between different situations is no longer to be described in Africa. The whole world knows, without power or wanting to really change the game. This is fatality. Here, intermingle extreme distress and insolent comfort. At the foot of a welcoming hotel, children play football, barefoot. That's what they always do.
But that day, a man, white, shod, he leaves the institution and approaches. He must have seen them from his window. "Who is this player who is said to be good? He asks, knowing full well that everyone knows each other here. The indexes point to the best of the city, an attacker, infallible in front of the cage. The man approaches it, tells him about Europe. There are some who would kill to be in the scorer's place at that moment. But he refuses categorically. He wants to play for another team in Ghana. The man, an agent specializing in African talent, is surprised but accepts. Then goes to the second best player Odumase Krobo.
Here it is called "Senegal". "It was because a friend of my father's name was Ama Senegal and it was said that I looked like him. " His real name? Thomas Teye Partey, player of Tema Youth, qualified club to climb in first division. When the agent asks him what he wants, the boy answers: "Triumph in football to help my family". Much less surprised, he goes to meet his father, a former professional footballer, and ask him permission to take the one who is also called "Party" in Spain, for a test, without specifying for which team.
Dad accepts. "I went with the agent who made all my papers but I had absolutely nothing, I was just training, eating and sleeping all day. Until the day I had to leave, "says Thomas Partey. "I got in a car, they took me to the capital, they gave me the passport and said:" Today, you will travel ". My father was not at home, no one in my family knew anything, not even that I was leaving that day, because if I told someone, there would be a lot of problems. So I travelled and arrived in Spain six or seven months before someone discovered that I was out of Ghana. "
10% FOR LEGA
Upon arrival: the cold. A sensation he had never known at such intensity. The first training sessions are a nightmare. To fight, the Ghanaian finds refuge in the work. Like always. The best way to warm up, after all. "My mother was worried because I did not know anyone, so she was afraid something would happen to me. It was a very, very, very big change: I had to get used to the language, to play as fast as the others, to know how to think as well as they ... It was not easy ", confides- he today. But, as much as the human body is able to get used to temperatures alone, Spanish is not learned without effort, especially for an English speaker. For this, Thomas's agent (now called "Tomasse") pays him a teacher for several weeks. The first step towards his teammates.
But then, in which team did he land on his arrival in Don Quixote's country? Atlético, immediately? Last January, in the columns of the daily AS, Felipe Moreno, majority shareholder and vice-chairman of Leganes, clarifies this point until then remained obscure. He assures that the African promise began with Leganés in 2012 and, "after a few days of training with the lower sections of the club," went to Atlético Madrid. Lega has kept 50% of his property. "They (the club rojiblanco) had 24 months to acquire 40% of their rights for six million euros and executed it on July 15, 2017, the last day they had left to do so. 10% of Thomas still belong to Leganés.
THE SACRIFICES OF THE FATHER
That's how Thomas Partey landed in the "club of (his) life", as he himself named it. "For me and all the children who go through the training centre, it would be a dream to get to play Calderon. Later, he learns from his agent that this dream would be impossible without his father. He sold some of his property to pay for his papers and football boots. "My father never wanted to tell me, because he knew that if he told me, I would not accept it. He has always helped me since I was little, because, without these shoes, I could not play. But he owes more to his parent. He owes his talent, his taste of football: "My father was a footballer, but like many people in Africa, he had no help. When I was born, I saw him play and I always went to his games or his training and he gave me balloons. From there, I started to train with him until I joined a local team, the Krobo Youth, where I played until I was ten years old. "
In his desire to join the temple colchonero could then be added the pressure, the obligation to succeed, for him, his family, his relatives, those who helped him and believed in him ... So for his father, the one without whom he would still be barefoot, on an earthen ground in the depths of Ghana. Or worse ... In these countries, young people drift quickly towards vices that do not offer a second chance. But all that slips on Thomas. "I only feel the pressure when I have to be in front of a television camera," he admits. So here he is armed, ready to fight. "Since small, I was never afraid of anything because I saw everything," he asks, determined. "I grew up in a neighbourhood where there were always fights, robberies, dead on the street, bandits, obscure business ... It was not easy, you had to suffer to get something. All young people played football in the streets, but to survive from day to day, you had to do something dirty. So after all that I had seen, little could happen to me. All of this makes you stronger. "
TWO LOANS TO BE FINISHED
And the boy would be well inspired to make good use of his mind wrought by sweat and tears. The Vicente-Calderon is not for now. We will have to prove, wait. His first season in Europe is with the reserve team: 33 games, holder each time. Its leaders believe in him but want to continue to build it. Direction Mallorca, on loan, in Segunda - arrived at the same time as a certain Gerard Moreno to join a certain Marco Asensio - where he plays his first minutes as a professional (37 games), then to Almeria, where he must « work twice as much for playing time "(31 games) and discover the first division.
On his return to the Spanish capital in 2015, the boy is of course still perfectible on many points, including tactically, but perfectly matches what Diego Simeone is looking for. This is the kind of player that all coaches dream of having: a soldier. José Luis Oltra, who has been delighted to head him to Mallorca, will not say otherwise. At the time, in 2013, Thomas explains very simply this maturity despite his young age (20 years): "It is logical because in my country, I always played with people older than me. That's why the Mister always asks me for sacrifices and efforts during matches. "
A PROHIBITION THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING
But if his hard side to the evil and his impressive playing volume might suggest a gruff player, only useful recovery, its projection ability, technique, kick and vision of the game rebalance the balance very clearly. "I like my team to have the ball, go to the surface and be in a hurry to get more. I like shooting from far and up when possible. The best are the ones who score goals, that's why I try, "he explains when he arrived in Almeria. A style of play that is reminiscent of another African midfielder, with whom the tempting comparison is far from silly. "Steven Gerrard was my idol, but now I think I look more like Yaya Toure. He is very good, strong, runs a lot and I want to be very much like him. "
However, the Argentine technician can count on him, a sprained knee is due to its start of the season. Once back, Simeone sometimes leaves him out of his lists, just like Lucas Hernandez. Even when Koke is absent and a place is free in the middle, like against Getafe, Partey is not entitled to his luck. Classic Cholo: when he wants to consolidate a player, he puts it to the test. "From the beginning, I know it will not be easy, but I know that with hard work and effort, my moment will come," says the Ghanaian in conference, as if to say to his coach: "I will not let go". That season, he played 13 games, three in the shoes of a holder. The next is 16, including six in the starting XI. To his taste, it's too little. In the summer of 2017, Thomas plans to fetch time elsewhere, on loan. But as Atletico is banned from recruiting, for violating the regulations on the transfer of minors, it is impossible to let him go. "I spoke with the Mister, I told him that I wanted to play more games. He told me that this season, I would play them and that I only have to continue to do my job as I did, "he reveals.
THE BIG PAIR OF CHOLO
Promised thing, thing due. That's also typical of Cholo. The 2017-2018 season is the revelation for Partey. Beyond his patience - essential virtue for any man under the command of Simeone - it is especially his versatility that allows him to enjoy as much playing time. In addition to knowing how to play all positions midfield, to troubleshoot in central defense and to have ensured some matches as second striker behind Griezmann, the Ghanaian is even sometimes left lateral.
And in addition to being able to play just about every position on the field, it has a real advantage, especially in modern football: know how to score. Admittedly, it is not on this quality that it is expected, but its ball shot and its quality of projection to the front sometimes relieved Atlético. So far, he has never played so much in one pro season: 2379 minutes. The following season, he has 300 less. Nevertheless, its complementarity with Rodri, arrived from Villarreal during the summer, promises a bright future to the interplay rojiblanco. Some even dare to believe that Gabi's estate is secure.
Initially, Diego Simeone puts them in competition. Then quickly realize that unis, double pivot, their tandem become the point of balance of the team. Between them, they bring recovery, power, coverage of the field, but also vision of the game, goals and technicality. One compensates for the movements of the other and they are decisive in both camps. An essential duo to manage the transitions, so dear to their coach. The Cholo then put a lot on them, even taking them apart at the end of the training to refine the tactical settings, so that they are not exactly on the same line in the defensive phase, that is to say that Thomas is placed a little lower than Rodri to avoid being pierced too easily.
I LOVE YOU, NOT ME
But now, who says players of high standing, says lusts of high standing. And it is difficult to answer "no" to Pep Guardiola. Simeone wanted at all costs to keep his Rodri-Partey pair, but "at all costs" does not exist in modern football and Rodri went to Manchester City. According to some, this departure leaves room for Thomas Partey. For others, it's the opposite, since it has never been as convincing as Spanish. One thing is sure for the Cholo: if one is gone, out of the question to let the second too. Thomas is intransferable. At least, as long as no one pays his release clause, fixed at 50 M € - which we have not forgotten that 10% would return to the club Leganés. A not so high amount that allows any big Premier League club to have fun.
Among the contenders, include the names of Arsenal (Emery came to see him against Levante ... not his best match), Manchester United, City, Roma, Inter and PSG. "Of course I would like to play in the Premier League one day," he assures KweséESPN story not to put an end to rumours in the middle of the most hectic mercato rojiblanco since the arrival of Cholo controllers. A statement that contrasts with the "This boy will not leave this club", of Javier Baños, in 2011, then coach of the reserve team of Atlético.
Anyway, Thomas, under contract until 2023, has always alternated between hot and cold with his club, able to report to Gol TV, after a match against Espanyol that, "sometimes I feel unhappy at Atleti. To be happy, you have to play important games and feel stronger, with more confidence. Then to clarify on Instagram:« Atlético is the club where I want to be and where I would like to continue to grow as a player, for the club and for the fans. It is true that I feel that I could still be more important and for that I work hard every day. In the end, he only dreams of shining in the institution that made him the player and the man he is today.
AND IF IT WAS PARTINHO?
Yet he keeps this bitter taste in his mouth as if he were not considered worthy. As if his mistakes cost him more than other players in the same job. Example: against Levante, he misses a pass in the first half which leads to a goal of the opponent. He will look at the second act sitting on the bench. For Enigye FM, his father expresses the same feeling: "Personally, I told him to leave if they do not want it today because it could be valued elsewhere. Maybe the "black star" suffers from the under-rated African player syndrome, which would have a higher rating if it were called Partinho ...
Impossible to say with certainty. For its part, Simeone has confidence in Thomas. At the start of the season, against Eibar, the scoreboard shows 2-2 in the 84th minute. Atlético can not make the difference at home against an opponent yet largely within reach. The Argentinean out Joao Felix, the new star of the team, to the 83rd to replace post for his favourite Swiss knife. Misunderstanding in the stands and in the press zone: why replace the man who was most likely to make a difference? Partey has little time to convince, in attack, alongside Diego Costa, a position he knows well since this is where he evolves with his selection. In added time, it is he who gives the victory to his. Winning coaching. Thomas now expects more playtime. In sum, a win-win coaching.