As the great success of George Weah, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba attests, African football has a rich tradition of producing some of the game’s finest attacking talents. Of the last 17 winners of the African Player of the Year award fully 15 recipients have been strikers with just two, Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji and Nigeria’s Emmanuel Amuneke representing other positions.
However, this well-established trend of the “best” African players being heavily concentrated in attacking positions to the detriment of the defensive qualities of a number of the continent’s national teams is gradually being bucked by the emergence and rise of several world-class holding midfielders. Over the last four to five years the likes of Yaya Toure, Seydou Keita, Jon Obi Mikel and Didier Zokora have all made a significant impression in European football, proving themselves to be hard-working, versatile, and, above all, tactically astute. And yet arguably the most pivotal and representative figure of this transition has been Ghana and Rosenborg’s Anthony Annan.
A spiky, gritty character – as his disciplinary record bears out – who relishes the defensive side of the game, Annan is a refreshing antithesis to the “vibrant, good going forward, porous at the back” stereotypes that have grown up around African football. His qualities may not be the most obvious, nor his style the easiest on the eye, but Annan is arguably – in the absence of Michael Essien – his country’s most influential player.
As the anchor in what is otherwise a relatively adventurous Ghanaian midfield, it is Annan’s positional awareness and ability to deal with runners from midfield that allows the likes of Kevin Prince-Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah to get forward with a greater freedom. Although at 5 feet and nine inches he is hardly an imposing physical presence, Annan makes up for a lack of stature with an impressive amount of strength that is not always obvious when you first see him play. His muscularity in the tackle in combination with a sheer bloody-minded determination allows the Rosenborg man to hold his own against far larger opponents and give both his club and country a certain snap and bite (sometimes a little too literally) in the midfield.
His ability on the ball, the subtler side of his game which is all too often overlooked, was another major factor behind Ghana’s success this summer as he controlled the tempo of matches from deep, calmly linking all facets of the Ghanaian side. Both his regaining of possession and distribution of the ball were key driving forces behind the cohesion of Milovan Rajevac’s Black Stars in what was a superb tournament for the former Hearts of Oak player.
Despite being overlooked by a number of “big” club since moving to Norway – initially with IK Start before moving to Rosenborg – Annan’s performances in South Africa look to have given him an excellent chance of securing a move to one of Europe’s major leagues this summer. The player has recently expressed his desire to move to the Premier League and, with Chelsea and Manchester United rumoured to be looking at Annan, the Ghanaian talisman could have his wish granted in the very near future.