At just 19 years of age, Ghanaian teenage sensation Abdul Fatawu Issahaku already has a blossoming reputation in the world of football. Dubbed one of the greatest African prospects of his generation, it is no surprise how rapidly his stocks have risen in the last couple of years.
Fatawu began honing his skills at his hometown football club, Steadfast FC which served as a career stepping stone for the teenager. His talent was very evident as he shone amongst a bevy of youngsters, he emerged like a gift to a footballing generation and it was due to this natural talent that former Ghana international, Mohammed Gargo who was Fatawu’s coach at Steadfast FC once referred to the player as a ‘replica’ of Ghanaian footballing legend, Abedi Pele Ayew in an interview with Ghanaian television channel TV3.
The 2021 Under-20 African Cup of Nations was what shot Fatawu to prominence as his performances propelled Ghana to a fourth title win in history, and an invitation to the Ghana Black Stars team followed then after for the teenager alongside being a subject of interest for several top clubs around Europe. A big move to Sporting Club de Portugal happened in April 2022 as Fatawu signed for the Portuguese giants on a five-year deal and just a little more than a year later, the 19-year-old joined English Championship side and 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City on a season-long loan.
Abdul Fatawu Issahaku has been one of the standout players in the championship this season, playing a key role in Leicester City’s high-flying campaign that has seen them go three points clear at the top of the league and 13 points clear of the playoff places after 22 games, and Fatawu being a mainstay on the right side of Leicester’s attack has scored twice and provided five assists in 19 appearances across all competitions this season.
Blessed with blistering pace and trickery, Fatawu is certainly not the kind of winger any full-back would want to face. In just his first full season of active football in Europe and at the age of 19, Fatawu is already giving championship full-backs assignments to look forward to before matchdays. His wand of a left foot has been a very major source of creativity for Enzo Maresca’s side with a pass accuracy of 80.15% and a long pass accuracy of 72.09.
Fatawu is also one of the best crossers of the ball in the current Leicester City squad as he’s either coming inside on his left foot to find runners at the back-post or going outside on his weaker right foot for a more direct cross. The winger is always looking to make something happen in the final third as he’s always getting involved in shot-creating actions, and it is this attribute of his that has turned Leicester coach, Enzo Maresca into a big fan.
“Abdul is a real winger. This is the kind of winger I like. Every time he receives the ball, you as a journalist, the fans, and me as a manager, you always have a feeling something will happen. This feeling is good. He’s this kind of a winger,” – Maresca told journalists on Fatawu in September.
Overall statistically, Abdul Fatawu ranks in the 91st percentile for goal involvements per 90 and in the 78th percentile for non-penalty expected goals per 90. The fact that Fatawu has taken 19 shots in 18 championship matches this season also reflects the player’s eagerness to make things happen with a conversion rate in the 54th percentile. As highlighted earlier, creativity is currently one of the strongest sides of Fatawu’s game as he ranks above 95% of championship players with an expected assists output of 0.29 per 90.
Also, a cross-completion rate of 33.33% and a passing completion rate of 80.97% put the winger in the 86th and 56th percentile respectively. His 2.01 key passes per 90 which puts him in the 92nd percentile in the championship is also quite remarkable for a player of his age and experience. Another of Abdul Fatawu’s major and most evident strengths is his dribbling as he completes 3.41 dribbles per 90 putting him in the 99th percentile.
Tactically, Fatawu also plays a very key role in Enzo Maresca’s tactical set-up. Holding the width on the right flank in Maresca’s 3-2-5 in-possession set-up, Fatawu’s pace, ball retention, and ability to take on his marker are always very much in handy when an isolation is created against opposition full-backs.
The Ghanaian is one of Leicester’s most dangerous attacking weapons as he could cause havoc by coming inside on his favoured left foot or combine to very good effect with Wilfred Ndidi who is always ready to make intelligent runs behind any defender isolated in a 1v1 with Fatawu.
The teenager has also shown that he has got one key requirement or trait needed to succeed as a modern-day winger. Watching Fatawu, one can attest to the fact that he’s the kind of player managers love as he is not just an attacking weapon but an asset in the defensive phase as well, always willing to track back to his own half to support his right-back defensively while being available to initiate counter-attacks.
It is also very important not to forget that Fatawu is just 19 and in his first full season of active senior football in Europe without any top-flight experience yet and there are still areas of his game in need of fine-tuning and polishing. His decision-making both in general play and in the final third amongst other things could still improve a lot more. With how well he has played this season, there are still grey areas.
A shot conversion rate of 10.53% clearly shows that his ball striking is either not good enough, that is at an elite level or he is making so many rushed decisions in the final third, and it could even be a combination of both. That being said, it is pretty scary how dangerous an improved version of Fatawu will be.
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Already a naturally gifted dribbler, he could develop into a player who could hurt teams in many ways. Accurately clipped balls to find runners at the back-post, insane ball-striking reminiscent of Arjen Robben’s days at Bayern, and a much better use of his weaker right foot will translate the player into a proper cheat code and a world-class winger.
We are just a few days away from the 2024 African Cup of Nations, but despite already accumulating 15 appearances for the Black Stars, Fatawu will not be taking part. Instead, he will be knuckling down in the Championship and looking to convince Leicester City to make his transfer permanent. Whilst Ghana were preparing for their AFCON opener against Cape Verde, Fatawu was starting in Leicester’s match at Coventry.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall gave the Foxes the lead from the penalty spot before the break, only for Fatawu to receive his marching orders immediately after following a reckless tackle on Jake Bidwell. Coventry City would equalize in the 79th minute via Callum O’Hare before taking the lead via Milan van Ewijk, with O’Hare sealing the deal in extra time in a 3-1 victory. As a result of his direct red card, Fatawu will miss their next two league matches and their FA Cup clash. He will be suspended until February 10 — just one day before the AFCON Final.
Despite his costly error in the M69 Derby, Fatawu has enjoyed a strong debut campaign in English football and is approaching the benchmark of appearances that would automatically trigger the option in the region of £15 million and see him join the Foxes on a permanent basis. At 19 years old, he still has plenty of time to make his AFCON debut for Ghana, and now, he may just have a long-term home at the King Power Stadium.
By: Moses Onyilo Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Stephen White – CameraSport