Ghanaian players on the move: Will Mubarak Wakaso finally gets it right?
Most of you probably would remember when Mubarak Wakaso made his debut for the Black Stars in 2012. He was the prodigy who was meant to light up the national team and become Sulley Muntari or Michael Essien’s successor.
Who those watch that match against Malawi had no doubt that Wakaso, then 22 years old, was destined for the very top. In his second game, a pre-tournament warm-up friendly against Cape Verde ahead of the 2013 African Cup of Nations, he did not only score the winning goal, but also won a place in the final squad for that year’s AFCON. It was breath-taking and highlighted all of the qualities he possessed as a player: creativity, flair, technical ability, vision overflowing self-confidence and ability to hit the ball with precision.
His tenacity, combativeness and zeal quickly made him the fans favourite, and as usual of the Ghanaian media, the hype was intensive. A nation so blessed with talent but starved of footballing glory was very expectant of a young man born in Tamale in 1990.
In the actual tournament, the cultured left-footed midfielder, who can play in all midfield positions did no harm to his name. For someone who was playing in his first international tournament, Wakaso showed great maturity by been the set-piece taker for the team.
In a group stage game against Mali, he scored the winning goal from the penalty spot, then scoring Ghana’s two goals in a quarter-finals win over Cape Verde. His performance and talent at the tournament did not go unnoticed, as a dozen of European clubs came looking for his signature. And it was at this point that it all went wrong.
Before the tournament, Wakaso was having his breakthrough season with RCD Espanyol in the Spanish La Liga, where he quickly became regular and earning many positive reviews across the football world. In the 2012 -2013 season, he started 23 league games in his first and only season for Espanyol.
Perhaps it all happened too fast. So many teams came calling but Wakaso opted for Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. But what was supposed to be a blessing turned up to be bad move. Between 2013 and 2016, he managed only 16 appearances for Kazan as he fell behind in the perking order.
During his spell in Russian, Wakaso was loaned out twice, first to Scottish club Celtic in the 2014-2015 season, where he made just five appearances, and secondly to Las Palmas in Spain where he was able to bagged 20 games in the 2015-2016 season---the highest number of appearances in a calendar year since his breakthrough season at Espanyol.
In football, a good decision is all it takes to make a player and the reserve is true. That is why players are managed by agents who help make decisions regarding their careers. The business side of game is what is obviously keeping football as the most popular sport on earth, but the same thing also poses the biggest threat to it.
In modern times, the offers put in front of players are just too inviting to resist, and for young players like Wakaso then at Espanyol, the Kazan deal was too good to reject as his weekly salary in Spain was nothing to write home about. But this point is mostly the make or break stage in a young footballer’s career.
In Africa and some parts of South America where poverty is rife, most players often go for the money first ahead of football, which makes perfect sense especially, to family members who cannot simply see beyond the pay cheque. The cold Russian weather did not favour him, so the Kazan move was a disaster and it was time make amends last year.
About the same period last summer, Wakaso left Russia for Panathinaikos in Greece on a permanent transfer. This was supposed to be a career revival move, as the style of play in the Greece Super League suited his aggressive and long ball game.
But just as his move to Russia, this one too did not work out and Wakaso was relegated to cameo appearances from the bench and, even then, he was coming on to play on the wings where he is less effective.
A loan move away seemed inevitable, but surprisingly it came as a step down. In January this year, he moved on loan to Granada in the Spanish top flight, a team that was already destined for relegation, and despite a couple of good displays, he could not save Granada as the team finished bottom and subsequently relegated at end of last season.
At the national level, Wakaso’s influence in the Black Stars has also being weaning, most notable his goal return per game. When he first popped up onto the scene, he hardly went beyond three games without finding the back of the net. Maybe it might be due to a change in role, but it is an undeniable fact that his turbulent spells in Russia and Greece in the last four years have somewhat prevented him from reaching his potential.
Move to Alaves
It is in Spain that Wakaso has had the best successes of his club career, so a move back to the La Liga with Alaves as confirmed over the weekend makes football sense and could be the best decision yet.
There are two things that make the Alaves deal a good one, one been the fact that Wakaso has vast experience playing in Spain. The second is that Alaves is relatively a small club which means that there would not too much pressure on his shoulders. He will also be given enough room to operate as one the key members of the squad owing to his experience.
They could utilise him properly by allowing him to play either as the defensive midfielder where his aggressive game will be key to breaking up opponents attack and using his long passing ability to start quick counter-attacks, or as the man who plays in the middle just behind the playmaker, where he could flourish with defence splitting passes and an equally good eye for goal.
No matter which angle one looks at the three-year deal with the Spanish outfit, it could be that one move that helps Wakaso with a last chance to revive his career.