Spend a few minutes watching Solomon Obilitey Commey strut his stuff on a football pitch, as I have quite a few times, and you’d come to the same conclusion as I did: you’ve seen him before.
Okay, maybe you haven’t seen ‘him’, but you’ve seen a player like him in some European side, surely, making things happen for his teammates and his team. I’ll leave it to you to decide which team that is — or, better still, let’s leave it to him.
“It has always been my dream to play for, and captain, my favourite European team, Manchester United,” he tells Ink & Kicks.
The English giants are worlds apart from Bofoakwa Tano, the Ghanaian second-tier club Obilitey currently turns out for. He signed for the Hunters mid-way through the last Division One League season from top-flight outfit Berekum Chelsea, a side on whose books he spent four bitter-sweet years.
“I was on the verge of joining Bechem United instead, back in 2016, after excelling at a youth football tournament organised by the club for scouting purposes, until the chairman of DC United, the lower-tier side I played for at the time, intervened,” he tells Ink & Kicks.
That ‘chairman’ was Ralph Gyambrah, the current head of the Brong Ahafo Regional Football Association (BARFA). The recommendation, based on Gyambrah’s expert opinion, was that Obilitey join another of the region’s Premier League sides, Chelsea.
Berekum, where Chelsea are based, isn’t very far — just about half an hour’s drive — from Sunyani, the town in which Amasaman-born Obilitey was bred.
Obilitey’s own father had played football in his youth — brilliantly, too, according to his contemporaries — but could only earn a livelihood through his work as a mason, supported by what income his wife made from her petty trading.
Little wonder, then, that Commey Sr. sought a future for his son that was guaranteed to elevate the family above such a modest background; that future, Obilitey’s dad insisted, lay in the field of medicine.
It was hard to fault him, you know. The boy was sharp in mind, per his academic performances. But Obilitey himself believed that mental acuity, combined with his ability in both feet (especially the right foot), would serve him better on the football pitch.
His old man, however, wouldn’t be easily dribbled into that belief.
“It was difficult to convince my father that football would be a worthwhile career for me,” Obilitey says, “even after I had helped my basic school to win honours in football at inter-school level.”
And so Obilitey continued his formal education, but only as far as the second-cycle level. His mind was made-up by then, and so was his father’s: the latter was finally sold on the idea that Obilitey could make it in football after all, after he heard of his son’s exploits with Feyenoord, a local ‘colts’ club.
“After Senior High School (SHS), I persuaded my dad to permit me to pursue my preferred line of work, freeing him to commit any available funds to furthering the education of my three younger siblings,” he says.
With his path thus cleared, Obilitey commenced what would eventually lead to a professional career, starting with a year’s loan that took him from Feyenoord to African Angels, a Division 3 side in Tema. When that stint was over, Obilitey returned to Sunyani — and that’s where the sequence of events that culminated in his 2017 move to Chelsea took place.
His maiden campaign, the delayed — and prematurely terminated — 2018 Premier League season, began with a series of no-shows and brief cameos, before a memorable first start away to regional rivals and then reigning champions Aduana Stars.
At one of the league’s most daunting grounds, and in a game telecast live, Obilitey impressed on his top-flight debut, as Chelsea battled their way to a 1-1 draw.
“I really enjoyed my first season at Chelsea,” Obilitey says, “so much that I even earned an invitation to the national U-20 team, and I looked forward to even more. My prospects appeared very bright.”
Before long, however, they turned bleak. He did enjoy a good run in 2019’s Normalisation Committee Special Competition, but a sharp decline in fortunes followed.
Chelsea had a great start to the 2019/20 season when normal league football returned, beating the division’s heavyweights at their own backyard, but Obilitey was having very little of all that joy.
Minutes were harder to come by, and things eventually got so bad that Obilitey decided against renewing his deal when it expired following the abrupt end of that term.
“I was pretty certain about not extending my stay with Chelsea, making that decision clear to my representatives and family,” Obilitey relates, “despite the club’s best efforts to attempt retaining my services.”
Those efforts, in the form of promises, eventually got irresistible. Obilitey was promised newer and better terms, including improved accommodation and, most importantly, increased game-time.
“The latter sounded like music to my ears and soon had me on my way back to Berekum to sign a fresh deal ahead of the 2020/21 campaign,” he says, “against the best advice of my agent.”
I sense regret in the tone with which those words are delivered, and Obilitey confirms my suspicions.
“Pre-season was good but, once things got serious, I was left disappointed again. The team was crying out for a playmaker, someone capable of holding on to the ball and stamping some authority on games, yet the best at that job in the squad — me — barely had a look-in.
“That forced me to walk away once more — a clean break, this time.”
The thing about football, though, is that once you learn how to get it rolling, there’s that natural compulsion to keep at it. It’s why retired players occasionally return to active football; and it’s certainly why a 20-year-old who has committed his life to the ball just couldn’t live apart from it for too long.
And Obilitey certainly didn’t lack suitors, with his reputation preceding him.
“Young Apostles, one of the Sunyani-based Division One clubs, came offering a loan deal which I promptly rejected, in the hope of something more permanent.”
And, soon enough, that which he anticipated came, from one of the region’s grand old clubs, Bofoakwa Tano. A three-year deal, tabled by a side that had sought his services in the not-too-distant past and was rather conveniently located, wasn’t easy to turn down.
Just as hard, however, was adapting to the demands of a team that was already halfway through their campaign; harder still, Obilitey explains, was just what those demands were.
“Bofoakwa’s play was heavily reliant on pressing, relentless and tiring, a requirement I hadn’t had to deal with thus far in my career.”
It took a while, but Obilitey eventually adjusted and settled, aided partly by the fact that he was already familiar with some of his new teammates, and partly by head coach Ibrahim ‘Polo’ Mohammed, of whom he speaks highly.
“Coach Polo was a very kind man, as well as a great teacher. He knew I had spent the last few months largely inactive, and would thus take some time to, first, reach my own optimum levels, before becoming the player he needed me to be.”
When Obilitey was finally ready, nothing — not even being played out of position for five games straight — could block his shine, bagging a Man of the Match honours on his debut, against Berekum Arsenal (more on them later).
It didn’t take long for Polo to realise he had a gem on his hands, and also that Obilitey would be more effective in his natural role on the pitch. In handing the lad that deserved position in the middle of the park, Polo revealed another positive trait of his that endeared him to his players — certainly Obilitey.
“He was very principled in his ways, in a world where knowing what is right isn’t quite the same as doing what is right. Coach Polo, though not much of a talker, was a staunch believer in meritocracy, rewarding good performance in training with minutes on matchday.”
You might have noticed that references made to Polo in the last few paragraphs have been in the past tense. That is because he passed away at the end of October, tragically, the consequence of an accident he was involved in with the Baffour Soccer Academy, a side he joined after leaving Bofoakwa only months prior.
Before his death, though, and even before parting ways with Bofoakwa, Polo inspired Obilitey and his colleagues to the brink of a return to the Premier League after many years. They went all the way, setting up a showdown with another fallen giant, Real Tamale United (RTU) — a fight Bofoakwa, in fact, may well have won in the end.
A win on the final matchday, away to Arsenal (mentioned earlier), would have secured long-awaited promotion, and confidence was sky-high in camp that it could be achieved.
“As the bus made that short trip to Berekum, optimism wasn’t exactly in short supply,” Obilitey reminisces.
“I was particularly confident, you know. I had already registered four goals, three assists, and two man-of-the-match awards. Besides, the game would be on a turf I knew very well — from my time in Berekum, obviously — and against players I was fairly acquainted with. What could go wrong, really?”
A lot, it turned out.
Arsenal, who had absolutely nothing to lose, played like their very lives depended on it, holding Bofoakwa to a draw that left the latter just short of their objective. RTU, who had done their job with a minimum of fuss in the other game, nicked the ticket instead by fine margins.
Obilitey is sure, though, that Bofoakwa’s failure wasn’t due to a lack of effort on their part when it mattered most.
“It was true that we felt a lot of pressure, given the sort of history that beckoned, but there were other factors that militated against us,” he explains.
“We were subjected to acts of intimidation that dampened our spirits somewhat even before we entered the arena. Our bus was held up at the gates for a good while, amid threats from the home fans, and we were later hemmed in for what seemed like an eternity in the dressing room. It felt like a siege.”
Obilitey himself had a bad game, singled out for the close attentions of the opposition. Shackled thus, he couldn’t get much going, and the team suffered subsequently. Back on the bus during the return trip, Obilitey tells us, the mood couldn’t have been different.
“It was quite sombre, all quiet. The only sounds, perhaps, came from those of us sniffling because of a fit of crying, of which I did my fair share.”
Bofoakwa had come too far, expended too much effort, for things to end this way. Unity and camaraderie had bonded this squad under the watchful oversight of Polo. And as they homed in on their target, Bofoakwa enjoyed strong backing from not just their own leadership and supporters, but even those of their archrivals, BA United.
“I believe we will come back stronger, that we can cross the finish line successfully this season,” Obilitey, his positivity not washed away by the tears of yesterday, insists.
That quest has yielded mixed results thus far. Bofoakwa have won, drawn, and lost a game each in the 2021/22 Division One League campaign, but they’ve at least secured progress to the next round of FA Cup fixtures, beating BA United in the derby two weeks ago.
Obilitey — who models his play on Spain legend Andres Iniesta — has had limited involvement thus far, but hopes to be able to contribute more to the team’s cause and upgrade his own skill-set further.
“I’m happy to function creatively on the pitch,” Obilitey says, “but I also desire to now improve on my hold-up play, ball control, pressing, and add goals to my game.”
And he says all that with a hunger that seems to course through his veins, the sort which all the greats of the game have about them.