With the departure of
Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o to Russia and the news of Germany-born
Kevin-Prince Boateng's retirement from Ghana, African
footballers in Serie A are becoming conspicuous by their
Ghanaian midfielder Afriyie Acquah is hoping to reverse the
trend in Italy after breaking into Palermo's first team, but he
himself is eyeing a move to England if he gets the chance to
play for his country and can win a British work permit.
While the 19-year-old was part of Ghana's Under-20 side who
lost to Italy 3-0 on Wednesday, he is still awaiting his first
cap for the senior team.
"Right now I can't play in England because I'm not playing
70 percent of the games for my national team," Acquah told
Reuters in an interview.
"I hope I will get a chance to play for the national team. I
got a call to say the coach is watching me and I should be ready
as he could call any time. I think I'm ready now."
Acquah is among an exciting group of young players at the
Sicilian side, whose reputation for investing in the best talent
has been enhanced by the big-money sales of Uruguayan Edinson
Cavani to Napoli and Argentine Javier Pastore to Paris Saint-Germain in the past two seasons.
"I want to play at Palermo for two or three years more
before I play for a big club," he said.
"But if I get an offer I think I have to go because I want
to play in the Champions League. My agent told me four or five
clubs wanted me this season, including Napoli and [Glasgow]
Rangers, but at the moment I'm staying put."
The teenager, who in April signed a five-year deal to stay
with the club until 2016 having joined Palermo last year,
produced a series of stirring displays in the heart of the
midfield as Palermo ended last season by falling valiantly to
Inter Milan in the final of the Coppa Italia.
Acquah, described by eccentric Palermo president Maurizio
Zamparini as "Essien Rosa" after his more high-profile
compatriot Michael and the club's pink colours, has regained his
place in the first team this term with Saturday's 3-1 win over
Bologna sending them up to fifth in Serie A.
"I was overjoyed to come to Europe but last season was more
difficult for me because I wasn't speaking Italian and players
like [Giulio] Migliaccio had to help me to understand the
coach," said the player who, in Devis Mangia, is working under
his fourth coach since joining.
"It [the changes of coach] affects you as a player. Delio
Rossi liked me and gave me a chance to play. Now with a new
coach I have to try very hard in training again to show him I
Acquah's rise in one of the top leagues in world football
has been fairly smooth in comparison to some African players,
who have been prey to unscrupulous agents and middle men.
"When I was 15, I got a chance to trial for a small club
called [Northern Ireland's] Glentoran. They said they would call
me when I was old enough but they didn't call me back. When I
was 17, my club [DC United] toured Italy and I was invited for a
trial with Palermo," he said.
"I was registered and got the chance to play in the second
team for a few months. My agent, manager and my parents were all
involved in the talks."
The first Ghanaian to play for the Rosanero, Acquah's
combination of speed and physical presence has quickly been
applauded by the Palermo public at the Renzo Barbera stadium,
where one man has taken to running around the Curva Nord with a
giant Ghana flag.
"I heard about that and it makes me feel very proud," he
said, grinning. "Of course people recognise me in the streets
but I mostly stay home. In Ghana, some people have my jersey.
The pink, they say, is a nice colour."
But the black African has not escaped racist taunts from
away stands, something that Eto'o and Mario Balotelli
experienced in Italy before moving on.
Although Acquah said he "didn't hear anything" during the
match against Lazio in September, the abuse was criticised by
Palermo's Italy defender Federico Balzaretti.
"I'm really sorry about the whistles and racist boos. It's
something that's been going on for years," Balzaretti said.
Acquah, along with Udinese's Kwadwo Asamoah, Inter Milan's
Joel Obi and Sulley Muntari, is among the few sub-Saharan
Africans playing in Serie A as the Italian league struggles to
attract top talent in the face of the riches of the English
Premier League and top Spanish sides.
It is a far cry from the heyday of Serie A in the 1990s when
Liberia's George Weah for AC Milan, Nigerians Taribo West and
Nwankwo Kanu for Inter and Ghanaian Abedi Pele for Torino were
wowing the league.
Those exploits may never be repeated but Acquah is hoping to
leave his own mark on a very different era in Italian football.
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