Looking at the Black Stars roster released a few days ago, Asante Kotoko midfielder Richard Senanu would have no doubts that he has the quality required to be in there.
He isn’t, though, for one small reason: Senanu hasn’t kicked a ball competitively in over two years.
The last time he did was in February 2019, a 2-1 defeat of Zambian side ZESCO United in the middle of Kotoko’s encouraging 2018/19 CAF Confederation Cup run. Senanu, who had joined Kotoko not long prior, proved a revelation in that campaign and excelled in midfield.
The 26-year-old speaks with a stutter, but he plays without one. Senanu’s smoothness on the ball, and sheer diligence off it, marked him out as the prism through which the beauty of Kotoko’s play was filtered.
On Senanu’s day — and, oh, he had lots of such days at the beginning of his Kotoko career — there are few players on the domestic scene more adept at keeping things ticking along effectively, if not spectacularly, in the middle of the park.
His is a brilliance that might dissolve without a trace in the heat of a game, yet it bubbles up post-match with an effervescence that analysts would rave about for days.
But all those colourful displays — an even greater delight when paired with the elegance of midfield partner Kwame Bonsu — were wiped off Kotoko’s palette, when Senanu picked up a devastating knee injury in the aforementioned game.
He has been out ever since, traveling a long, tortuous road that appeared to lead to a full recovery late last year — only to be extended a little longer by another setback.
Now, though, he’s back, and the forgotten man seeks the relevance he lost.
The Kotoko he returns to, however, is a very different side from the one Senanu last played in. Charles Akonnor, the head coach under whom he featured at the time, now trains the national team. Following his exit, Kotoko have been through a few more tacticians, each moulding the playing body a little uniquely.
Of the 18 players Akonnor presented for that fateful ZESCO game, only seven — Senanu being one — remain in Kotoko’s current squad. But if there is a position which, despite the many ins and outs, Kotoko have struggled to find a perfect fit for, it’s that vital slot at the heart of midfield.
Quite a few candidates — the likes of Emmanuel Sarkodie, Kwame Adom Frimpong and Emmanuel Keyekeh — have auditioned for the role this season, but none has successfully locked it down.
Medeama’s Justice Blay, on loan at Kotoko last season, looked like he could, but the Porcupine Warriors failed to secure a permanent deal ahead of the current campaign; a follow-up attempt, in the just-ended window, was just as successful.
But that, in the long run, may not feel like such a great loss at all. Senanu is just as good as — slightly better, maybe, but certainly younger than — the elusive Blay, and if he delivers at the level he did before being sidelined, it would take Kotoko up a notch at no extra cost.
Kotoko made quite a splash in the mid-term market — even bringing in another Brazilian, a striker — but the player who could have the greatest transformative effect on the second half of their season is one that they really didn’t have to search far and wide for.
He has been there all along: wincing, waiting, and — hopefully — not wasted.