BRIGHT STAR, BAD START: Yaw Yeboah Shone Too Soon, and Now He Only Flickers
Every now and then, completely out of the blue, some little-known Ghanaian footballer comes up with a goal-scoring feat that the whole world cannot help but fete.
There was Emmanuel Boateng’s famous hat-trick for Levante back in May 2018 that helped shatter Barcelona’s dreams of going unbeaten for the full length of a La Liga season.
Just two years prior, headlines were made by Bright Adjei of Ghana Premier League side Aduana Stars, when he was adjudged winner of CNN’s Goal of the Week not once, but twice, beating off equally impressive strikes from around the world; more recently, Elmina Sharks’ James Bissue enjoyed similar worldwide acclaim for his own jaw-dropping finish.
Another of those rare occurrences emerged this week, this time from the backwaters of European club football. In a 3-1 win that halted a run of three Ekstraklasa games without victory for his Polish club, Wisla Krakow, diminutive attacker Yaw Yeboah scored a goal that might just be a shoo-in for the next Fifa Puskas award, never mind the CNN version.
Every touch that created the masterpiece was sublime, and of such quality that football has come to expect of its more celebrated players, not some 24-year-old strutting his stuff in a league whose biggest claim to fame is that it produced Robert Lewandowski.
With socks rolled down à la Jack Grealish, Yeboah collected a pass on the edge of the box and worked his way inside quite exquisitely, dragging one man here and another there. It felt as though he were operating in his own customised bubble of space and time, floating without confines. Yeboah only bothered to slot the ball past the goalkeeper when, it seemed, he had had enough fun.
By the end of the weekend, the goal was all over the Internet, hailed as the latest sensation that everyone — anyone — needed to see. It was certainly helped on its way to those ’15 minutes of fame’ by the social media accounts of Fifa and ESPN, even though the sheer magnificence of the goal itself would have carried it there eventually.
Many around the globe must have wondered where this young man had come from — a relative of the more renowned Tony Yeboah, maybe? (Answer: little, obviously aside from a surname and an appetite for the spectacular, binds the two) — but, to most football-loving Ghanaians, Yeboah isn’t so unknown a quantity.
One of the best clubs in the world, Manchester City, has an idea, too, of what the lad is capable of. It was in the Mancunian outfit’s world-class youth development system that Yeboah finished off his football training, which had begun at Right to Dream (RtD), one of the best academies in Africa, his home continent.
Indeed, for four years, Yeboah was on the books of the reigning Premier League champions, who have sought to augment their collection of the finest ready-made talent money can buy with an assortment of the most promising prodigies from around the world.
A good number of the latter has been sourced from RtD (a relationship that would eventually land City in some trouble), with Yeboah only one of them. Most fans of City wouldn’t know him from Adam, though, as the young man didn’t make a single senior appearance for the Citizens in his stint at the club.
By the time he left City in 2018, Yeboah had been on loan with three clubs in as many countries — Lille, France; FC Twente, Holland; Oviedo, Spain — and barely left any footprints at Eastlands. Off to Numancia, Spain, Yeboah was permanently shipped, from where he was sold after two seasons — one of which saw him stay temporarily with Celta Vigo — to his current employers in Poland.
It was not the sort of trajectory predicted for Yeboah — a teenage gem for Ghana and captain of the U-23 side as recently as 2019 — when he set out from RtD in 2014, and the freshly served reminder that he’s still got some stardust in those nimble feet suggests his gifts do deserve to be showcased on a grander platform.
Perhaps, though, Yeboah’s path to the top might have been eased by a smoother introduction to the European game, rather than by getting thrown straight into the deep waters of City. A more modest start — certainly a more stable one, without having to change clubs every season at that delicate, formative stage of his career — would have done him a lot more good, even as he steadily worked his way up.
Proof of that is seen in the fortunes of more recent products off the RtD conveyor-belt, the likes of Kudus Mohammed and Kamaldeen Sulemana, who are in a much better place right now courtesy an advantage secured through the 2015 acquisition of Danish top-flight club FC Nordsjaelland (FCN) by the ownership of RtD.
“Right to Dream needed an outlet for youth from the academy to gain playing time in stronger leagues than that of Africa, and knew that it would be imperative for youth from the academy to be set up with the proper means both financially and from an acclimation standpoint in new environments,” reads a section of the Ghana-based academy’s website.
“FCN, a club that already embodied youth within its club model, provided the perfect vehicle to ensure that youngsters would be developed while having the capabilities to realise their full potential both on and off the pitch.”
To anyone who has monitored the remarkable, rapid rise of Kudus and Kamaldeen, it’s abundantly clear that purpose has been achieved. The former moved to Dutch giant Ajax Amsterdam last summer and has established himself reasonably well, having also quickly become a leading figure for the Black Stars, Ghana’s flagship national team; the latter, one of football’s brightest young things, just joined French side Rennes and, barring any unforeseen circumstance, is bound to kick on to great heights at club level and for his country.
Yeboah, meanwhile, plies his trade in a significantly less prominent part of Europe and is still waiting for his competitive senior Ghana debut, a little over two years since his appearance in a pre-Afcon warm-up game that barely registered. Little surprise, then, that few — even among his own countrymen — saw this coming from a man who’s been almost entirely forgotten about.
Had Yeboah’s star shone a little later than it did (that is, in the RtD/FCN era), even such a brilliant exhibition of skill — as we’ve come to expect of Kudus and Kamaldeen — might have been deemed just a little less astounding.