Tuesday brought a rather unusual turn of events for Ghana forward Daniel Afriyie Barnieh.
He began the day without a football club; by the time it was over, he had signed for two in rapid succession, pulling off what would go down as one of the more remarkable — if not rather curious — transfer manoeuvres in Ghana’s football history.
Barnieh had played for Accra Hearts of Oak, the premier club in the Ghanaian capital, since January 2020, arriving unheralded as a relative unknown. Following a difficult start, however, he blossomed, especially after the appointment of Samuel Boadu as Hearts boss, into one of the best players in the Ghana Premier League.
Though not the most prolific forward, Barnieh had an eye for goal — on the biggest occasion, especially — yet it was his footwork, vision, and ability to beat a man that made him a particularly valuable member of the Hearts side that would go on to win a league title, two FA Cups, and a Super Cup in Boadu’s year-and-a-half in charge.
For Ghana, too, Barnieh became a prized asset, featuring for the Black Satellites, Black Galaxies, and also as part the Black Stars squad that represented the country at the 2022 Fifa World Cup. With all those colorful feathers in his cap, it was inevitable, really, that Barnieh — like nearly every standout player in the Ghanaian top-flight’s recent history — would soon be on his way to some foreign destination.
Not making an actual appearance at the World Cup didn’t diminish the likelihood of that happening. The one chance Barnieh had, in the build-up to the tournament, the only game he’s started for the Black Stars thus far, saw him shine, in Ghana’s final preparatory friendly against Switzerland.
Keep that Swiss connection in mind, would you? We’d get back to it soon.
Hearts believed, quite rightly, that they were entitled to a transfer fee, which is why the club had pressed, long before any concrete offers even arrived on the table, that Barnieh extend his contract. The player, though, dragged his feet, and that extension never materialised by the time his original deal expired — to Hearts’ chagrin, needless to say.
It wasn’t just the Phobians who were left scratching their heads over that development; the Ghana Football Association (GFA) were, too.
The Galaxies are due to play later this month at the upcoming CHAN tournament, a competition for which only players plying their trade in their homeland are eligible for, and Barnieh had a big hand in the country’s successful qualification. He is, at the finals itself, expected to be just as essential for the team.
Not being on the books of any Ghanaian club (i.e., Hearts), though, meant Barnieh risked playing no part at all, despite being in head coach Annor Walker’s plans all along, unless a swift turn of turn of events occurred — and that’s just what happened on Tuesday.
First, it was announced by Hearts that Barnieh had signed a new deal (not, technically, an extension), which was good news for both the club and the GFA. Even by then, however, news was already filtering through that Barnieh’s departure was imminent, a rumour confirmed only hours later, when Swiss club FC Zurich announced the acquisition of his services on social media.
And so everyone is happy now: Ghana has its talisman locked in for the CHAN showpiece in Algeria, hoping to make an impact at a tournament they’ve failed to qualify for since 2014; Hearts, of course, ‘secure the bag’ (although the exact fee remains undisclosed); and Barnieh gets his well-earned big move to a club that, though bottom of the Swiss Super League table at the halfway stage of the 2022/23 season, are still the reigning champions.
All’s well that ends well, they say, and for Barnieh the truly perfect climax to his spell in domestic football would be inspiring Ghana to CHAN glory. He was, remember, an instrumental figure the last time a Ghanaian national side won a continental title, at the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations two years ago. That triumph marked the beginning of his rise to his current stature, and Barnieh would love to close that chapter by delivering one more piece of major silverware for his country.
In this mood, and in this form, you wouldn’t put that beyond the 21-year-old.