|Abdul Majeed Waris
If you ever needed any measure of the importance of Abdul Majeed Warris to Ghana’s world cup campaign in Brazil, then it came during the first day of training by the Black Stars at the Accra Sports Stadium.
The forward went down under a challenge from goalkeeper Fatau Dauda and within seconds the lively atmosphere inside the grounds had turned numb and quiet. Is he injured? “Hope it its not serious” were some of the key concerns. The Black Stars medical staff was quickly on the scene and all eyes, previously fixated on the training involving fourteen Black Stars players turned to the spot where they were attending to him.
Waris is not in danger of missing the tournament but the fact that he went down to such general anxiety speaks volumes of how he has developed into one of the most important players for Ghana after he had been snubbed by coach Kwesi Appiah for the 2013 Nations Cup.
Waris himself says it is down to biding his time and taking his chance well when it came against Sudan after the Nations Cup.
“When Kwesi Appiah first came he told me to keep on working hard, that my time will come because I have a future with the national team. I think I took my first game against Sudan really well and it was a turning point for me and changed everything for me. It was really important that I grabbed that chance really well,” he said.
Since then there have been goals of huge significance. He helped down Sudan, he scored against Zambia in the crunch home game and got in on the act against Egypt. At a time when everyone was bemoaning the excessive reliance on Asamoah Gyan, this Right to Dream graduate with supreme confidence emerged on the big stage and said ‘I can carry part of the burden.’
Gyan, he says has played a huge part in his coming of age with the Black Stars. He is “really comfortable” in the team and the experienced ones have helped greatly according to him but he reserves a special mention for Gyan who he used to adore from a distance when the Ghana captain was leading the line for Sunderland
“Asamoah Gyan is a great personality and most of the senior players are great guys. They are people you can look up to with great career experiences. They have travelled the path we seek to travel. When we are in camp there are no splits. We joke together, we bond well and it helps the team,” Warris says
“Gyan is always a great person. When I was in college in UK I watched him at Sunderland and he was fantastic. He has seen a lot of things, he is a great goal scorer, he tells me the right things, corrects me and encourages me a great deal. Our understanding is great.”
Kwesi Appiah will be chuffed by that level of understanding. Gyan is the undisputed Ghanaian master of the big stage despite blowing huge opportunities for history. He has scored four world cup goals. That is more than Lionel Messi has managed and more than any other African player except Roger Milla including the legendary Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o. Waris meanwhile is the new kid on the block. A kid whose confidence is at a reasonably good level after thumping in nine goals in 16 games on loan for Valenciennes in France.
Many players go to the world cup aware it could provide their break on the big stage but Waris refuses to make that part of the grand agenda. Instead he speaks of putting the team first and insist Ghana has nothing to fear.
“I am ready. I am healthy and I am hoping to do my best”, he says. “We want to prove again how good Ghana is.”
And unlike those dreading the presence of Portugal, Germany and USA in Ghana’s group, Waris relishes it.
“It’s good we are in this group. Everyone is talking about it which means there is a lot to prove so that suits us. We showed against Egypt that when the stakes are high and the game is tough, we can come up with a massive approach. Everyone will see our true quality against some of the best teams in the world,” Waris claims
“I don’t think about Germany, Portugal and others. I believe when we are ready and prepared I don’t think any team can beat us. We have a fantastic squad. We have a great understanding and everyone is on a good day.
“Germany will be a good game to play. They beat us in the last game and that is one of the hardest games we will play. Apart from that all the games are equal. There is nothing special about Portugal and USA. That is why I hope everyone is fit and the day is our day. At the last world cup everyone was talking about us. Our opponents will fear us too.”
Many Ghanaians think Waris will inspire a measure of that confidence too. They hope his pace will strike terror into Metersaecker or Pepe if Kwesi Appiah plays him. They believe he can turn games around if he is called up as an impact sub. Anyway you look at it the Locomotive Moscow forward will have a big part to play in Ghana’s campaign. He admits that ups the pressure on him.
He says: “Sometimes it puts a bit of pressure because the expectation is a bit more now than it was previously. Football is huge in Ghana and if people talk about you it demands that you are at your best every time. I don’t really allow it to get to me. I just do my work as a player, train hard and believe every day.”