Palermo midfielder Acquah ready for Ghana

With the departure of Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o to Russia and the news of Germany-born Kevin-Prince Boateng's retirement from Ghana, African footballers in Serie A are becoming conspicuous by their absence.

Ghanaian midfielder Afriyie Acquah is hoping to reverse the trend in Italy after breaking into Palermo's first team, but he himself is eyeing a move to England if he gets the chance to play for his country and can win a British work permit.

While the 19-year-old was part of Ghana's Under-20 side who lost to Italy 3-0 on Wednesday, he is still awaiting his first cap for the senior team.

"Right now I can't play in England because I'm not playing 70 percent of the games for my national team," Acquah told Reuters in an interview.

"I hope I will get a chance to play for the national team. I got a call to say the coach is watching me and I should be ready as he could call any time. I think I'm ready now."

Acquah is among an exciting group of young players at the Sicilian side, whose reputation for investing in the best talent has been enhanced by the big-money sales of Uruguayan Edinson Cavani to Napoli and Argentine Javier Pastore to Paris Saint-Germain in the past two seasons.

"I want to play at Palermo for two or three years more before I play for a big club," he said.

"But if I get an offer I think I have to go because I want to play in the Champions League. My agent told me four or five clubs wanted me this season, including Napoli and [Glasgow] Rangers, but at the moment I'm staying put."

The teenager, who in April signed a five-year deal to stay with the club until 2016 having joined Palermo last year, produced a series of stirring displays in the heart of the midfield as Palermo ended last season by falling valiantly to Inter Milan in the final of the Coppa Italia.

"ESSIEN ROSA"

Acquah, described by eccentric Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini as "Essien Rosa" after his more high-profile compatriot Michael and the club's pink colours, has regained his place in the first team this term with Saturday's 3-1 win over Bologna sending them up to fifth in Serie A.

"I was overjoyed to come to Europe but last season was more difficult for me because I wasn't speaking Italian and players like [Giulio] Migliaccio had to help me to understand the coach," said the player who, in Devis Mangia, is working under his fourth coach since joining.

"It [the changes of coach] affects you as a player. Delio Rossi liked me and gave me a chance to play. Now with a new coach I have to try very hard in training again to show him I can play."

Acquah's rise in one of the top leagues in world football has been fairly smooth in comparison to some African players, who have been prey to unscrupulous agents and middle men.

"When I was 15, I got a chance to trial for a small club called [Northern Ireland's] Glentoran. They said they would call me when I was old enough but they didn't call me back. When I was 17, my club [DC United] toured Italy and I was invited for a trial with Palermo," he said.

"I was registered and got the chance to play in the second team for a few months. My agent, manager and my parents were all involved in the talks."

The first Ghanaian to play for the Rosanero, Acquah's combination of speed and physical presence has quickly been applauded by the Palermo public at the Renzo Barbera stadium, where one man has taken to running around the Curva Nord with a giant Ghana flag.

"I heard about that and it makes me feel very proud," he said, grinning. "Of course people recognise me in the streets but I mostly stay home. In Ghana, some people have my jersey. The pink, they say, is a nice colour."

But the black African has not escaped racist taunts from away stands, something that Eto'o and Mario Balotelli experienced in Italy before moving on.

Although Acquah said he "didn't hear anything" during the match against Lazio in September, the abuse was criticised by Palermo's Italy defender Federico Balzaretti.

"I'm really sorry about the whistles and racist boos. It's something that's been going on for years," Balzaretti said.

Acquah, along with Udinese's Kwadwo Asamoah, Inter Milan's Joel Obi and Sulley Muntari, is among the few sub-Saharan Africans playing in Serie A as the Italian league struggles to attract top talent in the face of the riches of the English Premier League and top Spanish sides.

It is a far cry from the heyday of Serie A in the 1990s when Liberia's George Weah for AC Milan, Nigerians Taribo West and Nwankwo Kanu for Inter and Ghanaian Abedi Pele for Torino were wowing the league.

Those exploits may never be repeated but Acquah is hoping to leave his own mark on a very different era in Italian football.


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