Abdul Fatawu Issahaku: Ghana wonderkid being linked with Liverpool
While Ghana’s decision to send a second-string squad to play Uzbekistan in a away friendly match in March may have raised some eyebrows given the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the match proved worthwhile in launching the senior international career of one of the best young talents on the continent of Africa.
Abdul Fatawu Issahaku certainly marked the occasion of his first Black Stars appearance—albeit for Ghana’s ‘B’ team—in a fashion that perfectly demonstrated the confidence, swagger and panache with which his emergence has been typified.
Issahaku had previously drawn parallels with fellow Tamale native and Ghana great Abedi Pele before his assured debut and had already bewitched the hosts’ defenders with his movement and dribbling skills before – in the 71st minute – taking responsibility for a free-kick, 35 yards from goal, as Ghana sought an equaliser.
It would have been a perfect position for a right-footed in-swinger, but the precocious Issahaku had other ideas.
After a deep breath, he began his run-up and duly slammed home a remarkable effort with the outside of his left foot.
The Uzbek keeper ought to have done better, but a combination of Issahaku’s audacity and the thunderous power of the shot proved too much for the hapless shot-stopper.
This, if you believe the local buzz, is a sign of things to come from the prodigy, who also clinched the Player of the Tournament award as a 16-year-old as Ghana claimed the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania earlier this year, announcing himself to a continental audience.
Previous winners of the award include Benni McCarthy and new Leicester City signing Patson Daka, so while Issahaku must avoid the many pitfalls and obstacles that can befall the game’s brightest wonderkids, it is certainly an encouraging start to his career.
Neither McCarthy nor Daka, however, demonstrated the exceptional dribbling ability at the tournament that Issahaku showcased, with the youngster averaging over 10 completed dribbles per match, evidence of one of the many ways in which he can hurt opponents.
As highlighted in the Uzbekistan game, he also excels with shots from range, and having scored sensational efforts from just inside the opposition half during his club career; he repeated the feat at the U20 Afcon by netting from near the halfway line against Tanzania.
These were not simply strikes from range, they were audacious attempts by a player who is harnessing his explosive abilities at a startlingly young age.
“His performances are magical,” Mohammed Gargo, head coach of Issahaku’s current club Steadfast FC, tells Goal. “It’s been a long while since I have seen a youngster with this talent.
“I believe he is gifted, and he’s been fantastic throughout all the matches he’s played with us and the national teams.
“The goal [against Uzbekistan] was exceptional, and we were expecting that someone like him should do even better.”
Issahaku has been with Steadfast since 2019, when he was spotted by the club playing in an U13s tournament while at the Tamale Utrecht academy in the Northern Region.
Even then, the fleet-footed forward was head and shoulders above his peers, top-scoring in the competition with 13 goals.
Now 17, it remains to be seen whether Issahaku has found his best position yet. He has played as a No.10 and as a No.8, but his best performances have come on the right flank, where he can take on and beat his man, then cut inside and rifle towards goal with his left foot.
While forward-looking and ambitious in possession, he does not shirk his defensive duties, although with the outrageous goals from distance also comes significant profligacy – he failed to hit the target with over 50 per cent of his attempts on goal at the U20 Afcon, and it is an element of his game that will need to be refined in the professional game.
“He’s still a young lad and he needs to be a little bit simple at times,” Gargo notes. “From my technical point of view, he over-elaborates things sometimes, but now that he’s growing, things will change.
“We’re still trying to make him understand that sometimes you need to respect your opponents as well. So in order to avoid causing yourself a lot of injuries, you need to release the ball when you need to.
“With that, he’ll become a great star.”
Following his arrival at Steadfast, Issahaku wasted little time in hitting his stride, and was the top scorer in Zone One of the Ghanaian Division One in 2020 before Covid-19 brought the season to a premature close.
The suspension of action did not slow his progress, though, with the youngster having a hand in 17 goals – six assists and 11 goals – in his first 11 games of the current campaign.
The confidence, then, that permitted that audacious free-kick against Uzbekistan has also been evident in his domestic performances.
“Even though he is one of the youngest players we have in the team, all the senior players respect him on the field and they look for him,” Steadfast media manager, Musah Abdul-Rahim, told First Time Finish. “Because of his input in games, he has been able to command respect from the senior players.”
Since the U20 Nations Cup, Issahaku’s name has made increasing appearances in transfer rumour mills and gossip columns, with Liverpool regularly being tipped as the youngster’s next destination.
Other suitors such as Ajax, FC Basel and Red Bull Salzburg have been mooted, while Bayer Leverkusen – at one point – appeared to be close to getting a transfer over the line.
Reports now suggest that Portuguese champions Sporting C.P. are set to win the race to sign Issahaku, as he prepares to embark on a European adventure.
“I expect him to really excel,” Gargo concludes. “If you look at him and what he does, the sky is the limit.
“He’s been always outstanding, always ready and he gives more than 100 per cent of himself in all that he does on the pitch.