Joseph Paintsil: Genk’s Ghanaian Winger
Since the award’s inception in 1992, the Ebony Shoe has been handed out to the best African player or best player of African origin in Belgium. The likes of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Onuachu have won it and today, Joseph Paintsil has emerged as a contender for the award with 12 goals and 12 assists in 27 appearances for league leaders Genk, and he could become the first Ghanaian player to win the award since Eric Addo in 1998.
Born in Accra, Ghana, Paintsil racked up attention from an early age with an eye for goal and a seemingly inherent ability to find a space. The speedy winger made his debut for Tema Youth on February 12, 2017 after the club was promoted to Ghana’s top-flight, scoring 10 goals in 22 matches and departing for Europe in August during the league’s season-long break, ending his time in Ghana as his club’s top scorer.
He joined Hungarian giants Ferencváros on loan with an option to buy on deadline day, making his debut on September 9, 2017 and scoring the opener in a 5-2 win against Vasas. Paintsil scored four goals in his first five appearances and quickly became a regular under Thomas Doll. On December 2, he showcased his pace and ball control by scoring a counter-attacking goal against Videoton, one that would be voted as the Best Goal of 2017 by Hungarian football fans.
Like a bar of soap that falls out of one’s grasp and finds its way into the shower floor, he is annoyingly elusive for opposition defenders. Once he gets going, it is nearly impossible to stop him in full-flight. Paintsil had racked up 10 goal contributions by the midway point of the campaign and would go on to rack up 10 goals and 7 assists in 25 appearances. He led them to a second-place finish, and his performances would see him named as the league’s best player by the Hungarian sports daily Nemzeti Sport.
Paintsil left the club after just one year and joined Genk, struggling with injuries at first before opening his account with a brace against Gent on October 7 and following it up with goals against Malmö and Sarpsborg in the Europa League. He failed to replicate his goal-scoring feats in Hungary, racking up 5 goals and 3 assists in 37 appearances, whilst the following season would see him struggle with injury again and register 1 goal and 1 assist in 23 matches.
Unable to capitalize on Leandro Trossard’s departure and cement his status in the team, Paintsil was loaned out to MKE Ankaragücü for the 2020/21 season, where he would bounce back with 11 goals in 33 matches. After impressing in Turkey’s top-flight, Paintsil returned to the side and mustered 7 goals and 5 assists in 36 appearances as Genk regressed to an eighth-placed finish.
This season, however, Paintsil has taken Belgium by storm, leading Genk to the top of the table and playing a vital role in attack alongside Bilal El Khannouss, Mike Trésor Ndayishimiye and Mbwana Samatta. The right-footed attacker is blessed with plenty of vision and creativity. His technical ability on the ball is simply unrivaled, capable of turning any number of defenders inside out when he has the ball at his feet. He scores for fun, ruining defenses on his own, and his skill is mesmerizing.
Paintsil’s 12 goals are second only to Onuachu (16) in the Genk squad, the Nigerian forward departing for Southampton in the January transfer window. Apart from Onuachu, only Mario González (13), Gianni Bruno (15), Vincent Janssen (15), Ayase Ueda (15) and Hugo Cuypers (18) have found the back of the net on more occasions in Belgium’s top-flight this season.
Prior to this season, Paintsil was a peripheral figure at Genk, occasionally ornamenting proceedings with a moment of inspiration but never grabbing the course of a game and bending it to his will. The joyful, exuberant mix of skill, athleticism and trickery has finally come to the fore under manager Wouter Vrancken, with the Ghanaian enjoying plenty of success from either flank, hugging the touchline at times as well as cutting inside to allow his fullback to push forward.
Paintsil has modeled his game after his idol Andrés Iniesta, and it’s easy to see the similarities to the Spanish magician when you watch him peel away from fullbacks and wriggle past opponents to create havoc on the counter. His dribbling and chance creation make him one of the deadliest wide forwards in Belgium, and these impressive performances have finally been recognized by his national team.
He made his Ghana debut last year and played in all three matches during Ghana’s African Cup of Nations, following that up with an appearance against Central African Republic in the AFCON 2024 qualifiers. After missing out on a call-up to the 2022 World Cup, a serious oversight in the eyes of many Ghanaian fans, he was called up by new manager Chris Hughton and came off the bench during their 1-0 win against Angola in the AFCON 2024 qualifiers. The following match, he assisted Osman Bukari’s equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Angola within 10 minutes of coming off the bench.
It has been nothing short of a dream campaign for the 25-year-old, who has scored 12 goals in 27 league appearances. His non-penalty xG of 8.41 ranks him in the top 97% of players in the Belgian top-flight, and of his 35 shots, 26 have been on target, making for an accuracy rate of 74.29%. He scores a goal for every 2.92 shots he takes and takes 1.57 shots per 90 minutes on the pitch.
Despite the mid-season departure of Onuachu to Southampton, Genk are well-positioned to win their first league title in four years thanks in large part to Paintsil’s stellar form. If he keeps this up, he could just become the next Genk player to earn a big move after Joakim Maehle, Wilfred Ndidi, Sander Berge, Sergej Milinković-Savić and many more.
By: Gidoen Amoah / @Laka993
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Isosport / MB Media / Getty Images