25. Godfred Donsah
“I didn’t have soccer shoes. I didn’t have a ball. If one of the twenty kids in our village didn’t bring one, how did you expect us to play?” Godfred Donsah didn’t live what you would call a privileged childhood, yet somehow still made his way to Northern Italy to ply his trade. Today, Emilia-Romagna is his home, and the right side of Roberto Donadoni’s three-man Bologna midfield is his niche.
Growing up working on his cacao plantation with his mother and three sisters, Godfred Donsah was handed nothing as a child. When the 21-year-old was in senior high school, his father fled to Italy in search for work. Despite the hardships in his early adulthood, the midfielder will be the first to admit that it all helped shape him for the better, both as a person and as a player. Working on the plantation day-in, day-out with his loved ones, Donsah developed a strong work ethic, a quality that defines his on-field play to this day.
When he wasn’t working for his family, Donsah could be found on the football pitch honing his skills. “He was never home, we’d call his name to no avail. Later, we’d find out that he was busy playing football with friends. Even if he didn’t have a ball, he would pretend to be juggling or dribbling an invisible one,” said his mother. Playing on the dirt field behind his school in Accra, where rocks and imperfections littered the pitch, Donsah shone and soon attracted interest from Oliver Arthur, a Ghanaian football agent.
Mr. Oliver, as Donsah and his family dubbed him, noticed the midfielder and offered to bring him to Italy on a trial. Along with his organization, Oliver organizes tournaments twice a year and invites scouts from Italy to watch. In 2011, Donsah represented D.C United and impressed, prompting Oliver and his agency to sponsor the family and the player. After working closely with Oliver, Donsah arrived in Palermo at the tender age of 15. Just a few years later, the Ghanaian would be reunited with his father for the first time in eight years in Verona. However, his stint over there only lasted a year before joining Sardinian outfit Cagliari. After making 21 appearances for them in the 2014-2015 season, Donsah signed for Bologna for €7M.
On the field, Donsah is a force on both ends of the ball. Operating best as his side’s mezz’ala, the outside man in a midfield three, one of the Ghanaian’s best qualities are his late runs into the opposition’s box. Blessed with a keen eye for goal and blistering pace, Donsah is quick to get himself into dangerous positions. That being said, his finishing still leaves a bit to be desired currently. If Donsah would like to hit that next level, he’s going to need to add end product to his game. Defensively, Donsah has proven to be reliable in his own third and is an eager tackler, averaging 1.2 tackles and an interception per game. While it has gotten him in some yellow card trouble over the years, it underscores his tenacity in the middle of the park, a necessary quality in any midfield. Considering this, Donsah would slot into many press-heavy schemes, a tactical system that is currently popular.
Nicknamed Gambo in his village, Donsah’s engine knows no bounds. Since signing with Bologna in 2015, the 21 year-old has established himself as a key member of Roberto Donadoni’s midfield and has continuously improved all facets of his game. When he first arrived in Emilia-Romagna, his vision was lacking. Today, it’s one of his strengths. If you watch Donsah play, it won’t be long before you pick up on his directness. Whether he’s in possession or even out of it, the Bologna man is always looking to make something happen. One aspect of his game that Donsah needs to sharpen, by contrast, is his spatial awareness. At times, Donsah gets caught in possession cheaply because he is unaware of his surroundings, but this is typical for any young midfielder still trying to define his game.
Much like it was the case on the pitch of his elementary school back home all those years ago, Donsah’s play in Serie A has turned heads around the peninsula. Luciano Spalletti’s Inter have reportedly inquired about the player as early as last month and Roma were said to be interested in Donsah last summer. Bologna, however, are unwilling to part ways with the midfielder just yet and have slapped a €15M price-tag on him. Despite the interest, it remains unlikely that the Ghanaian will move before the summer as he still has plenty to prove with Bologna.
Donsah is yet to make his international debut for the senior team, but he has been a key figure for the U-20 side and has recently been called up for his nation’s upcoming clash against Egypt on November 12. After years of turning to the old guard, Ghana’s national team has undergone a crucial, youthful revolution with Donsah spearheading the charge. Given his track record, it won’t be long before he’s a regular for his country as well.
Today, if you visit his village, the pitches Donsah grew up on are still filled with kids playing barefoot, dreaming of making it as a professional footballer one day. For Donsah, when it comes to these kids, it’s not a matter of talent or commitment. “They’re missing the jerseys, the balls, the shoes and the facilities. It’s clear that the natural talent is there,” said Donsah enthusiastically in an interview. “There’s always a chance to cut your foot on a rock, if you fall you die,” Donsah jokes, laughing into the camera. But behind every joke, there is truth. And the reality is that for every Donsah in the world, there’s hundreds and hundreds of kids that go unnoticed in the continent.
Since leaving home for Italy, Donsah’s career trajectory has been trending positively. In just a few years time, he’s gone from being an unproven teenager on a trial in Palermo to a regular in one of the league’s most historic outfits in Bologna. Moving forward, expect Donsah to keep stealing the headlines while taking his game to the next level for club and country. After all, constant progression and improvement have come to define him, both on and off the pitch.
By: Gregory Caltabanis/@GCaltabanis