As Gladson Awako walked off the pitch, after his team had beaten Asante Kotoko 1-0 in their outstanding Ghana Premier League game last Thursday, he was embraced by the few fans gathered at the Accra Sports Stadium with a rapturous ovation.
Remarkably, it wasn’t just the fans that stood and applauded him; media personnel present took to their feet as well, saluting. For someone of Awako’s stature, it shouldn’t have been surprising. Given the licence to attack the Kotoko defence, the Accra Great Olympics skipper peppered Kwame Baah’s goal throughout the first half, before his cross – the product of a clever, daring run — was headed into the net by team-mate Michael Yeboah after the interval.
Yeboah may have scored Olympics’ only goal – the winner, no less — but Awako won the game. He isn’t the first player to have dominated a fixture in the ongoing league so imperiously, of course, and he is hardly the only player whose name is synonymous with the aesthetics of football. Still, very few in the division marry excellence with elegance as brilliantly as Awako does.
An attacking midfielder – assured in possession, with an eye for line-breaking passes, and a touch of fantasy — Awako is a delight to watch when in full swing. Throughout his career, he has continuously managed to brew and serve up an overflowing elixir of brilliance, always striving to perform at his best and rarely falling short of the mark.
Awako was born in Teshie and broke into Wa All Stars’ first team as a teenager in the mid-noughties. It was there that he would forge the mental aptitude and the technical ingenuity to blossom into the player he later became. Recognition and admiration followed, resulting in a move to Heart of Lions.
Whenever — and wherever — Awako played, he made sure people who watched him wouldn’t forget in a hurry. His talent and ability earned him a place in Sellas Tetteh’s Black Satellites team that won the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup — the first African country to do so.
That global exposure offered Awako a platform to explore the world and export his talents; first, though, a stop at Ghanaian club Berekum Chelsea, where Awako won the league and lit up an impressive maiden Caf Champions League campaign. By the end of the season, TP Mazembe, one of Chelsea’s continental opponents that term, came in hot pursuit.
There, in Lubumbashi, DR Congo, Awako hauled in trophies — of domestic and continental varieties — and was a joy to watch when in possession and when dribbling past players. It was not rare to see him beat two or three of them in just one spell of play. With his right foot, which he wielded like a magician’s wand, Awako could fake his next pass, next shot, or even a direction of movement, before bursting away and leaving his markers chasing shadows.
Awako possesses the unpredictability shared by so many famed play-makers of yore and can score from range. He’s capable of using both feet, which makes him difficult to pin down. His team-mates and fans find the combined effect of all those skills exciting; his opponents, unsurprisingly, don’t.
Now, though, after a few more travels, Awako is back home. He joined Olympics late last year, ahead of the 2019/20 league season, and some had already written him off as a spent force, wearied and wrung dry of his gifts by his wanderings.
At age 30 — a year older on New Year’s Eve, in fact — Awako has breathed life into this new-look Olympics side in the current campaign. While he deserves immense credit for his own work rate and performances, it is Awako’s overall approach that has been the real feat. Positive, calm and insightful, he has brought stability to Annor Walker’s team, and nobody has benefited more from that than the young players recruited by Olympics this season.
But, even for himself, Awako hasn’t done too badly: two goals and two assists in five league appearances, winning man-of-the-match honours thrice in the process, and repaying the confidence reposed in him by the management and technical team.
Awako may be an elder statesman, but he is still heavily endowed with talent, wits and poise — all of which raises a big question for Olympics opponents: how do you stop a player like that?