AFCON Ghana look to Partey after gloomy start

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Taimour Lay
Posted on Tuesday, 18 January 2022 16:48, updated on Wednesday, 19 January 2022 16:05

Arsenal's Thomas Partey heads the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates stadium in London, Friday, Apr 23, 2021. (
Arsenal's Thomas Partey heads the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates stadium in London, Friday, Apr 23, 2021. (Justin Setterfield/Pool via AP)

The national outcry at Ghana’s poor start, amplified by the 1-1 draw with Gabon on Friday night, has become entangled with a sense that the Black Stars' most expensive player, Thomas Partey, is once again failing to make the expected impact.

But the £45 million Arsenal midfielder, who had finally found form in the Premier League over the last six months before he departed for Cameroon, and was twice Ghanaian player of the year in his Atletico Madrid days, is not only falling victim to the dysfunction around him in Milovan Rajevac’s defensively suspect side but is too often expected to transform himself into a rampaging reiteration of Michael Essien when his game is now built on more basic foundations.

The criticism perhaps reflects the fact that Ghana and Partey were also underwhelmed at Afcon 2017 and he was part of the team that went out to Tunisia on penalties in the last 16 in Egypt. The 40-year Afcon drought is breeding neurosis.

It has been overlooked that Ghana’s best moment of this tournament so far began with Partey punching a penetrative ball up to Andre Ayew before the captain unleashed the left-foot strike that looked set to earn a vital Group C win. That combination-play, along with the pace of Kamaldeen Sulemana and the experience of Jordan Ayew, provides cause for hope.

The late Gabonese equaliser has occasioned doom and gloom and yet Ghana remains well placed to proceed to the last 16 as long as they beat Afcon debutants Comoros tomorrow (Tuesday), either by grabbing second behind Morocco or as one of the best third-place teams.

Rajevac was particularly quick to defend the 28-year-old after the Morocco defeat on 10 January. “Perhaps Partey wasn’t at his best level,” the Serbian said. “But he’s a great player and will prove it to everyone in the coming matches. He will play fantastically, contribute to the team, and prove that he can be the best player in the tournament.”

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That may be an exaggeration but there is still time for Partey to play a defining role in the latter stages. After a childhood spent running the steep gradients around his home town of Odumase Krobo, eastern Ghana, under the guidance of his father, Partey may well relish yet another uphill task.

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