The Ghana Football Association (GFA) and its president, Kurt Okraku, seem pretty excited by the fact that a raft of newly-minted internationals – Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey, Stephan Ambrosius, Patric Pfeiffer, and Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer – is now available to the country after the successful completion of nationality switches.
The Ghanaian populace hasn’t been as enthusiastic in its collective reaction to the latest development, split between those inclined to regard these ‘returnees’ as little more than opportunists – an edition of the FIFA World Cup is just around the corner, isn’t it? – and those who believe a wider pool of options for the national team could only be good news.
But even among those who’d rather sit on the fence, not siding with one school of thought or the other, the overwhelming feeling is one of – er, what’s the word? – apathy.
Many would shrug in ignorance if quizzed about just what they believe lesser-known quantities like Ambrosius and Pfeiffer might add to the Ghana backline, or how attacker Königsdörffer would upgrade the attack (which is where the many meet-the-new-guy YouTube videos suddenly surfacing could come in handy).
And even Williams, who Ghanaian fans would be more familiar with, is unlikely to deliver what the majority may be expecting from him: goals, of which the forward hasn’t exactly scored a ton since establishing himself as a household name at hometown club Athletic Bilbao. About him, as about most of the others, the jury is still out.
If there is any among the newcomers who doesn’t have to stand trial, though, it’s Lamptey.
In the 21-year-old, before he even kicks a ball in a Ghana shirt, we know exactly what we’re getting: one of the most promising, modern full/wing-backs in the game, quite young and raring to fulfil his enormous potential. Even better, there are no doubts about which specific need he meets: Lamptey has a gaping hole, a vacant role, waiting for him to fill.
Ghana has had a right-back problem ever since the likes of Samuel Inkoom and Harrison Afful ceased being options, with no player plugged-in thus far doing enough to nail down the position. Reading’s Andy Yiadom has been the most impressive of the lot, but, despite his relative excellence at club level, he hasn’t fared as well for the national team.
Yiadom hasn’t convinced, despite having numerous chances to do so, and it always felt like he was only keeping the seat warm until a genuine upgrade, a more capable fit, arrived to occupy it. That long-awaited occupant may well have been Belgium-born Denis Odoi, who made his Ghana debut in March this year after changing his international allegiance.
But Odoi – Professor, they call him – was already 33 by the time he achieved that milestone, lining up against Nigeria in a 2022 FIFA World Cup playoff game, and we’re obviously not going to see too much of him.
His long-term successor had to be found — and, in Lamptey, he has.
The Brighton & Hove Albion star is about 13 years younger than Odoi, ensuring Ghana would enjoy his services for a long time to come. It helps, too, that Lamptey is accustomed to playing where the lights are brightest, having started out at capital outfit Chelsea before moving to England’s southern coast.
Lamptey has already racked up half-a-century of appearances in the Premier League, and, but for a serious hamstring injury suffered in December 2020 that knocked his hitherto rapid progress back several months, that number would surely have been greater.
But he has recovered well from that setback, returning to action last season, and is steadily working his way back to his pre-injury trajectory; the expectation is that, next term, Brighton boss Graham Potter will hand him a more regular, more consistent run.
While Lamptey waits to see how the next phase of his comeback plays out, he has taken control of what he can – his international future.
At some point, he was likely to represent England at the highest level – he’d already been through the country’s junior ranks – such is his undisputed quality; how long it would have taken to realise that ambition, and how long the experience itself would have lasted, weren’t as certain.
The Three Lions are currently enjoying an overflow of right-back brilliance.
Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, the senior citizens based in the north of England, are likeliest to command the starting berths now, but Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James of Chelsea just can’t wait to take the spots off those two. Not far from Brighton, in Southampton, Kyle Walker-Peters is another ripening prospect.
Lamptey would have fancied his ability to contend with such intense competition, but the alternative – playing for one of Africa’s best sides, Ghana, where the need is greater and the opportunities more plentiful – is no less exciting.
And that is the challenge Lamptey is now ready to embrace, wholeheartedly.