On deadline day, the English top-flight gained another superstar from Ghana, with Thomas Partey stealing the headlines, moving from Atletico Madrid to Arsenal for a reported £45m.
In doing so, Partey joined the likes of Sulley Muntari, Tony Yeboah and Michael Essien as a Ghanaian ‘marquee’ signing with the potential to grab headlines.
Yet, as a defensive midfielder, relentless comparisons to Essien – a hard tackler and meticulous ball winner in his prime – are inevitable. With that in mind, can he hope to emulate the former two-time Premier League winner and reignite Ghana’s interest in the English top flight?
Can Partey match Essien’s legacy?
Even the most ardent Arsenal fan will know that this is an extremely long shot, especially as Essien joined a Chelsea team already on a high after a first league title in 50 years. Meanwhile, Partey’s situation is entirely different, with Arsenal’s last top-flight triumph coming in 2004, and the Gunners getting nowhere near recapturing it since.
Additionally, the gap between Arsenal and the expected top two has widened by the year – as evidenced by futures betting markets for major sporting events such as the Premier League. Another consideration is that Partey is joining a club in transition, with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta still integrating a number of youth talents into the first-team setup.
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In terms of cold, hard silverware, it seems unlikely that Partey will emulate Essien, though that is more a reflection of the team he is joining, rather than any lack of skill.
Essien won two Premier League trophies with a Chelsea team that looked impenetrable, joining the Blues immediately after they won a maiden Premier League title. On the way to that watershed moment, Chelsea registered a then-record 95 points, and conceded just 15 league goals throughout 2004/05.
Being backed by such a solid defence gave Essien a much easier introduction to Premier League life. Yet he was still integral to Chelsea successfully defending their crown in 2005/06, with the Blues winning nine straight games up to October, prompting talk of the title race being won as early as Christmas.
By the end of 2006, Essien was a FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or nominee, having added some extra bite to the Chelsea midfield, and played his part in taking Ghana through the group stages of the World Cup. Four years later, he would win his second Premier League title, again proving his worth in a starting XI of great quality.
Could Partey reignite Ghana’s influence in the PL?
While dislodging Essien as the Premier League’s greatest Ghanaian seems near-impossible, Partey can still restore Ghana’s former levels of Premier League representation. On transfer deadline day, Partey became only the fourth active Ghanaian on the league’s books, alongside Jeffrey Schlupp, Daniel Amartey and Jordan Ayew. This is in spite of Partey himself saying that Ghana’s national squad has a lot of quality players.
Ten years ago, when the end of the 2010 summer transfer window arrived, there were six Ghanaians on the Premier League’s books. While that is not a huge difference between then and now, it still indicates that the nation’s presence in the Premier League is in need of revitalisation, especially with the range of nations represented expanding significantly over the past decade.
As Partey is the most expensive Ghanaian to play in the Premier League, anything he does will act as a beacon for his countrymen. That much was evidenced months ago, by this analysis of Partey in an Arsenal shirt, which described him as an “elite ball winner” and a man who could contribute as much to attack as defence. His performance against Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16 is singled out for being a textbook display of the workrate required to break down the opposition and play to the conditions of a knockout tie.
That itself is just one element that could boost Arsenal’s chances of silverware beyond the FA Cup, especially with the UEFA Europa League once again there for the taking.