Mohammed Salisu: With the 23-year-old expected to begin his international career soon, we examines what his presence will imply for the Black Stars Of Ghana.
Following a meeting with Ghana’s football association president Kurt Okraku last week, Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu is expected to join the national squad for their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Madagascar and the Central African Republic next month.
After the Black Stars defeated Nigeria to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they will compete alongside Portugal, South Korea, and Uruguay, speculation over his future international career grew.
So, how does the 23-year-old contribute to Otto Addo’s setup? FUTBALLNEWS examines his prospective connection with the four-time African champions despite public outcry.
Daniel Amartey (1.86cm, according to Transfermarkt) of Leicester City and Alexander Djiku (1.82cm) of Strasbourg is not exactly the tallest men in football terms for the centre-backs that they are.
Salisu’s 1.91cm frame appears to be highly advantageous for the Black Stars, at least from an aerial standpoint. This season, the former Real Valladolid man is ranked 29th in the Premier League’s list of the tallest center defenders, far ahead of 73rd-ranked Amartey, Ghana’s current first-choice combination.
With Caglar Soyuncu (62nd) and Amartey starting the most games at center-back for Leicester this season, it’s no surprise that the team’s biggest defensive flaw has been their aerial issues with crosses.
Mohammed Salisu possesses not only solid areal skill but also physical presence (West Ham striker Michail Antonio is well aware of this), the kind that will prevent him from being bullied like Amartey (and Djiku) were by Victor Osimhen during the World Cup play-off match against Nigeria.
Strong ball moving forward for attack setup
The current technical leadership in Ghana has shown a preference for ball advancement from deep in building assaults. The Black Stars have had to rely on defensive midfielder Iddrisu Baba to drop deep and take up the role at the start of attacks because neither Amartey nor Djiku have this talent among their strongest attributes.
The downside is that the midfield structure becomes more congested as the No.8 and No.10 drop slightly deeper to cover and avoid creating gaping spaces for the opposition in the center of the pitch. As a result, the offensive ability is limited.
With his back to the game, Baba could be pressed into discomfort in risky locations when receiving the ball, as was the case during the game against Nigeria, where the circumstance resulted in a penalty that was later canceled by VAR.
Salisu, on the other hand, will not force Ghana to drop Baba into deeper areas than is generally required, since the Southampton midfielder is recognized for his prowess on the ball and willingness to step into midfield with the ball to find a player or drive a long pass.
Flexibility in defense
When launching assaults, Baba’s movement towards midfield areas gives Ghana a back-three look. When things got rough against Nigeria in the second leg of the play-offs, Otto Addo shifted from a two-center-back system to a three-center-back system, shifting Gideon Mensah from left-back to left-center-back.
Ghana has an excellent set of men in Salisu, Amartey, and Djiku for defensive versatility whenever they choose to transition to a back three, which many believe will be the case when Salisu joins the Stars.
Command and control
Despite being the youngest of Southampton’s key central defensive options, Salisu has established himself as the defensive backline’s captain and commander, marshaling his troops.
He’s become more vocal in action in recent months, something development manager Ralph Hasenhuttl emphasized when the defender initially arrived from Valladolid.
Salisu’s presence will be important if Ghana’s center defensive line can hold their own against the likes of Gabon and Comoros at the World Cup.
Former captain John Mensah of Sunderland in the Premier League was Ghana’s closest to a high-level performer away from international football since Samuel Osei Kuffour’s days at Bayern Munich.
Ghana has a talent in Salisu who has the potential to join a prominent Champions League club in the near future. But why is this significant for the Black Stars?
A top performer at the club level, such as Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, usually brings a lot of confidence, calmness, and authority to the national team. And, as they say, a strong backline, or, to put it another way, the best method to achieve success in football is to keep goals away.
Now and in the future
Salisu, who turned 23 last month, might be available for another three World Cup cycles, ensuring not just quality but also stability for Ghana’s defense, given that Celta’s Joseph Aidoo (26), Amartey (27), and Djiku (27) could all be ready for at least the next World Cup cycle.
That is excellent news for Ghana, both now and in the future.