The Danlad Situation: Africa’s Best U-20 Goalkeeper Can’t Be Wasting Away On Any Bench — Not Even Kotoko’s
Ibrahim Danlad may only be 18 years old, but his demeanour, confidence and command as a goalkeeper belie that age.
He already has the experience of playing in two continental finals, winning one. Danlad has also been to one junior FIFA World Cup — four years ago, with Ghana’s U-17 team — and only the COVID-19 pandemic will stop him from featuring at another this year, following the triumph of Ghana’s Black Satellites at the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations last Saturday.
Back in Ghana, after the whole celebratory buzz quietens, the focus would return to Danlad’s future — a subject that remains truly baffling. The Sunyani native has never been a starter for Asante Kotoko, his employers, and the only period when he has racked up any significant tally of minutes since turning professional was during his time on loan at Berekum Chelsea.
That was in the 2019/20 campaign, when, together with Zakaria Fuseini, Ahmed Adams and Richard Kissi Boateng, Danlad formed part of a solid backline that dealt with practically everything thrown at it. Impressively, he recorded five consecutive clean sheets in as many league games for a flying start to the season.
And that run was made even more spectacular by the fact that it included wins away to some of the league’s best teams — Hearts of Oak, Asante Kotoko and Ashanti Gold — but there were also victories over Dreams FC and Liberty Professionals — decent sides, too, on most days — where Danlad, again, let no balls past him.
For a goalkeeper playing his first season in the top-flight, that was a truly remarkable feat. It came as no surprise, then, when Chelsea came knocking once more on the doors of Danlad’s parent club for his services ahead of the current campaign. Sadly, the feedback wasn’t positive this time; Danlad was to stay in Kumasi and wait his turn.
Thus far into the season, that opportunity hasn’t come yet, with Danlad rooted to the bottom of a pecking order that features three other goalkeepers who have played for the country at a higher level. There is, currently at the top, Razak Abalora who has established himself as the safest pair of hands in the squad, and, indeed, in the league.
Captain Felix Annan is also keen on reclaiming the starting berth, while Kwame Baah — who had himself replaced and superseded Annan for the best part of the past year — is also in contention, leaving Danlad on the periphery.
That is hardly where such a fine, young goalkeeper — who can easily walk into the first XI of more than half of the teams in the league — belongs. And yet, even with no appearance in the 17-week-old league season to his name, Danlad excelled enough at the just-ended, aforementioned U-20 Afcon to be adjudged its best goalkeeper.
There, in Mauritania, a series of assured performances from the teenager only accentuated his undoubted potential. Danlad, clearly, has the world at his feet and needs to be playing regularly. It would do a lot for his confidence, certainly, and for his sharpness, too, but that’s a prospect Kotoko don’t seem able/willing to offer him — not anytime soon, and definitely not now.
It would be in the interests of all involved — even in the national interest, perhaps, given how much of an asset he now is — that Danlad be allowed to move and kick on with his career, either permanently or on another loan arrangement.