Before first kicking a ball for Asante Kotoko, a little over 80 minutes into December’s away draw with Medeama, Brazilian Fabio Gama must have had a fair idea of what the Ghana Premier League (GPL) is like.
“The pitches here might give me problems,” he observed.
“But for me it’s normal. If I have to have a good career here, then I have to adapt. I will adapt.”
Thus far, he hasn’t had much of a challenge on that front. The turfs he has played on — in Accra, Sogakope, and Cape Coast — are among the better surfaces in the league. We would see how he handles Berekum and Dormaa-Ahenkro but, already, one suspects bad pitches wouldn’t be Gama’s biggest headache here.
In the context of the Ghanaian top-flight, Gama — the only non-African player on these streets right now — is of a rare breed. On any field, he sticks out like a sore thumb, as much for his curly mop as for his profile. He may not have been the first Brazilian to make an appearance in the GPL, but it’s hard to remember any that arrived amid greater fanfare.
The long wait that preceded his first displays, while Gama’s work permit and fitness issues were being sorted out, only heightened the expectation. And when he finally got to play for the Porcupine Warriors, he quickly drew the eyes of fans and the tackles of opponents — the former bringing on pressure Gama looks like he could handle, the latter pain that has interim Kotoko head coach Johnson Smith worried.
“Opponents have been fouling Fabio Gama. He has suffered too many times and I will plead with referees to protect him,” Smith told Kumasi-based Oyerepa FM.
“He is yet to get used to the Ghanaian style of football. He’s not strong enough.”
The former Karela United trainer knows Gama can’t escape the close, harsh attentions of markers who’d love to leave their mark — literally, if need be — on the new boy. Gama, on his back, bears his name, number (10), and a big target; everyone wants a piece of him, and his build makes the 28-year-old even easier to pick on.
It’s why, against fierce rivals Aduana Stars last Sunday, Gama was hooked by the coach after 71 minutes, even though he was quite obviously Kotoko’s chief creative spark. Earlier, in the first half, Gama had picked up a yellow card, in an attempt to show he could give as much as he got.
“The boy is being bullied so much,” Smith said post-match, in explaining the seemingly counterintuitive substitution.
Clearly, then, the referees haven’t yet received Smith’s petition; until they do — if ever they do — he would have to devise a means of providing that protection himself. And whatever that plan involves, it must maximize Gama’s gifts, rather than trade those for safety.
There are, after all, not many players in this Kotoko squad capable of conjuring those moments of brilliance to open up opportunities for the men upfront — top-scorer Kwame Opoku, mainly — and the club has also just been hit with a transfer ban that prevents them from reinforcing in the soon-to-be-opened window.
To deliver according to the hype that heralded his arrival — which this writer never bought into, anyway — Gama needs to be helped. How to do that is, more than anyone else’s, the coach’s job to figure out.
Enn Y. Frimpong — Ink & Kicks