The Ghanaian midfielder’s ascent could record its first real high this weekend
By: Sammie Frimpong
Saturday would see the 61st coronation of an European champion and, for the first time since Michael Essien in 2012, a Ghanaian may have a say in the most important, most widely-watched club fixture in all football.
This fellow, unlike the five previous Ghanaian winners of the competition, isn’t a very popular face in his own homeland. It could be said with some accuracy, infact, that more is known of Thomas Partey in Spain, where he plays for 2015/16 Uefa Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid, than in Ghana.
That notwithstanding, he’s here now — in with a genuine chance to feature, regardless of how much, in the biggest game of his career, a platform graced in the past by Abedi Ayew, Ibrahim Tanko, Samuel Osei Kufuor, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien.
It’s indeed easy to assume Partey has taken the shortcut to these heights, considering how little impact he has made on the consciousness of his countrymen thus far. But it’s been a story far longer and more eventful.
Arriving in Spain from his native Odumase Krobo’s Odometah FC in 2011, Partey grew in Atletico’s youth ranks and impressed, before being farmed out temporarily to taste life at then freshly relegated Mallorca. The islanders struggled to hold their own even in the Segunda Division, but Partey, with five league goals and some strong displays in 37 appearances, acquitted himself excellently. It wasn’t enough to help him break into his parent club’s first team on his return in summer of 2014, however, but it did open the door for his first season in Spain’s top-flight, in the colours of Almeria. Life in Andalusia was little better than what Partey experienced during his previous loan spell; his club was involved in another relegation battle, this time lost, but Partey would hardly be counted among the players who let Almeria down. The rough edges showed, yes, but so did the earliest rays of his rising to maturity — and it’s the latter that Simeone and his bench chose to focus on.
So it was that Partey was recalled for the 2015/16 campaign, and he hasn’t looked back. Thirteen league games — albeit only three of them starts — were rewarded with two goals and an assist which propelled Atletico in no small measure while their push for last term’s La Liga title lasted. In the Copa del Rey, Partey was just as efficient with the opportunities — five games — he received.
But while Partey has had relatively good returns on the domestic front, his output in the Champions League has been more muted. He didn’t make his bow until the quarter-final first leg against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, following it up with a spell in the return duel. Two more cameos in the penultimate round, versus Bayern Munich, added up to a total of 43 minutes in Europe’s elite club competition.
It’s unlikely, of course, that Simeone — though a firm believer in the 22-year-old’s potential — would make him start a Champions League final on the basis of those brief showings. Heck, given how high the stakes are against Atleti’s greatest rivals, Real Madrid, in a replay of the 2014 showpiece, rookie Partey may not even play at all. Still, he’s made his mark. That first Ghana call-up may not be too far-off, but an arguably more priceless honour — one he could only have dreamt of years ago when still learning the ropes of the game — is just a game away.
Should Los Colchoneros pull it off, Partey’s part in the party would matter little.