Ghana’s national side, in the last few years, has had a twin problem.
The full/wing-back positions have, time and again, collectively represented the team’s Achilles’ heel, with the current options far too often delivering sub-par performances that have worn our patience thin.
In left-back Baba Rahman, we have a player who has never been the same since suffering a series of serious injuries many moons ago; Gideon Mensah, the usual alternative, is every bit as zealous as his Biblical namesake, just not as effective. Andy Yiadom, on the right, is Reading’s best player yet generally reckoned among Ghana’s worse; then there is Denis Odoi, new enough to get us excited but too old to keep us expectant.
We’ve not had a great right-back since John Paintsil/Harrison Afful/Samuel Inkoom (take your pick), come to think of it, while recent examples of distinguished left-backs are unarguably rarer (never quite managed to replace Hans Adu Sarpei, have we?).
Upgrades are, frankly, overdue — well, sigh no more.
A cure for the right-sided pain has been found, in Brighton & Hove Albion’s Tariq Lamptey, with the youngster’s nationality switch and availability to the Black Stars confirmed in the past week; you can read all about why England-born Lamptey is such a perfect, timely, and potentially long-lasting fit right here.
Oh, the other flank?
Much as we like to pretend that the present tools are actually sufficient – on most days, they probably are – there remains a lot of room for improvement. The man best-equipped to raise that bar is much closer to home than Baba or Mensah; and unlike Lamptey, he doesn’t require any convincing to play for Ghana.
Enter Ibrahim Imoro, the nation’s finest left-back at the moment.
If you watched Asante Kotoko romp to Ghana Premier League glory in the just-ended season, you would have noticed that lad with peroxide all over his hair who played just as you’d expect of a modern full-back.
Cameroonian striker Franck Etouga was the undisputed star of the Porcupine Warriors’ title-winning run, with his 21 goals, but Imoro shone, too, chipping in with impressive contributions all over the pitch and best-in-the-league creative returns.
His lung-busting runs down the left made for captivating viewing, while Imoro also led the league in assists, his end-of-term tally of nine putting many a playmaker to shame. The boy from Wechiau doesn’t get his name on the scoresheet very often – not particularly concerning, for a defender – but when he does, he tends to underline it with a stroke of the sublime.
The two goals he scored during the campaign – top-of-the-range freekicks, each one worth reliving – are arguably his best yet. He delivered another of those last Saturday, when Ghana’s Black Galaxies, the home-based national team, engaged in a preparatory friendly with a little-known local side ahead of an upcoming international competition.
The game itself may have been low in profile, but Imoro’s goal – Ghana’s third in a 3-0 victory – was certainly of the highest quality, as was his overall performance. Accra Five Star, against whom Imoro dazzled on this occasion, may not have presented the most formidable opposition, but – mind you – he’s been doing this versus much better teams for sometime now.
Hence, the inevitable question: why is Imoro not playing for the senior national team, the Black Stars?
He did, actually, for all of one game – some 20 minutes, to be specific – against Sao Tome and Principe in March 2021, a dead rubber. Over a year later, having unlocked new levels of excellence and consistency, Imoro definitely deserves much more.
You know it. I know it. He does, too.
“With my performance,” Imoro said in a post-season interview, “I think I am capable of playing for the national team.”
And who’s to say he isn’t?
The stats – even those that could be dismissed as minutiae – prove Imoro, if given the chance, has what it takes to walk the talk: six pre-assists, 80% pass accuracy, 21 key passes, 135 passes into opponents’ box, 72% tackle success.
His output, by those metrics and more, would likely have seen him included in the Black Stars squad were Imoro playing his club football overseas, with few doubts — if any at all — raised about his competence.
But, hey, being based in Ghana isn’t really why Imoro has been so criminally overlooked, is it? No, surely not when another domestic left-back who had a far less successful season, Accra Hearts of Oak’s Dennis Nkrumah Korsah, has been drafted ahead of him for recent assignments.
Whatever the reason is for this complete lack of regard for Imoro’s indisputable ability, at a time when the country has no-one better at what the 22-year-old does, one thing is clear: it’s more Ghana’s loss than his.