First, a confession. Before he was named in Ghana’s preliminary twenty-nine man Africa Cup of Nations squad, I had not heard of Samuel Owusu. The twenty-three year old winger was likely a surprising selection for the Black Stars’ preliminary squad in the eyes of many, but the dearth of other wingers selected suggested the Čukarički man had a serious shot at a place on the plane to Egypt. And isn’t he now making the most of it…
When delving into his numbers this season, it becomes abundantly clear why Kwesi Appiah and his technical team were attracted to Owusu. A scorer of seven goals and a creator of a further nine; a willing and dangerous dribbler (7.47 dribbles per 90 at a 75% success rate in the Serbian Super Liga, courtesy of Wyscout) and a frequent crosser of the ball, Owusu had the statistical profile of a winger who could cure Ghana’s creative woes.
Though his contribution as a passer was sub-standard, his other contributions more than justified his inclusion in the squad. Once you seek out clips of him, those numbers are supported by the video evidence.
Here, his incredible acceleration and pace leaves the fullback far behind, before a pinpoint left-foot cross leads to an unmissable chance. His crosses routinely hit dangerous areas.
He can cross with his right foot too. Leaves three defenders in his wake before swinging a dangerous ball in with his weaker foot. Having a viable two-way go adds an extra degree of danger for a winger. Defenders just seem to lack composure when he runs at them.
A wonderful turn and dribble, but on this occasion, the end product is lacking.
Superb movement, threatening to come short and wide before darting in behind. Presence of mind to lift the ball over the leg of his marker to create the goal.
Awareness to press from the midfielder’s blind spot is on show here. Owusu then carries the ball from near halfway to the opposition box, easily creates space with the dribble and shoots accurately into the bottom corner.
Nice movement to approach the defender from his blind spot, first touch takes him away from that defender and then a composed chip to score.
When you compare his numbers to those of Ghana’s other selected wingers, you get to see some equally intriguing outcomes. One must bear in mind the results are somewhat dependent on the quality of opposition a player encounters, however.
Thomas Agyepong and Owusu both have fascinating radars, but where Owusu clearly stands out is his dribble success, frequency of crossing, shooting accuracy and his contribution as both a goal scorer and an assister. Furthermore, he also performs exceptionally well compared to all the other Ghanaian wingers in terms of his offensive duels won and the amount of times he touches the ball in the box. Agyepong, meanwhile, is clearly the superior passer & his dribbles are arguably more purposeful and dangerous.
Compared to Christian Atsu, Owusu once again stands out with regard to his dribble success and contribution as a goal scorer and a creator. Furthermore, his recovery and interception numbers are also superior to the Newcastle player, suggesting a more effective contribution in the defensive phase of the game, in addition to his clearly effective performances in the offensive phase.
Whilst Atsu is performing at a higher level, in English Premier League, Owusu’s numbers are certainly not to be dismissed. Again however, Owusu lags behind in terms of quality of his passing, as well as the intent of his passing on the occasion, with Atsu recording more through passes, passes to the final third and passes to the box per 90.
The reasons for calling up Owusu are clear then. A polished, shifty dribbler; a dangerous crosser with either foot; a willing defender and an accomplished shooter. Owusu has many desirable attributes to help arrest Ghana’s creative slump.
The intrigue surrounding the Čukarički winger only increased when reports coming out of the Black Stars’ camp in Dubai revealed Owusu was making an extremely positive impression on the coaching staff. Those reports were seemingly confirmed when he was named in the twenty-three man squad for the AFCON. The appetite to actually see some Samuel Owusu had not yet been satiated however; all the team’s pre-tournament friendlies occured behind closed doors.
Followers of the Black Stars would need to wait until the start of the tournament proper before they got a look at Owusu in Ghana colours.
The wait has been worth it.
At the conclusion of the group stages, Owusu was ranked 19th in dribbles per 90 (6.53 per 90) out of all players to have played in the AFCON, as well as being fourth in dribble success (71.4%), demonstrating that, reassuringly, he has transferred at least some of his strengths from the club scene onto the international stage. He did, however, have to show some patience before he was properly unleashed on the rest of the continent, coming off the bench in games 1 and 2.
Following Thomas Agyepong’s unfortunate injury vs Benin, we were afforded a tantalising glimpse into the player that had reportedly stolen the hearts of his coaches. Owusu instantly provided an injection of pace, quickness on the ball that had defenders scrambling, unsure of whether he was about to dart left or right, with the ball glued worryingly close (if you were a defender) to his feet.
His movement too was impressive. He pulled his defender around the field, pinning them against the touchline before springing inside, threatening long before dropping to receive the ball to feet. But after just 24 minutes, it was over. John Boye was sent off, and Kwesi Appiah withdrew the dangerous Owusu for the sake of extra defensive help.
Here, Owusu drops nicely off his defender, recognising Dede Ayew’s movement opens up the passing lane. Tries to link the play but the pass is poor. Good intent though.
Drags his man right out to the touchline and comes short to receive, opening up space for Yiadom on the underlap. Plays the return ball before turning on the after burners to himself attack the created space for the return pass.
Against Cameroon, Owusu was once again the beneficiary of an unwelcome early injury, this time to Christian Atsu. After entering the field he showed his pond-skater dribbling, as well as some deft touches to move the ball to other players. Unfortunately, his end product didn’t match what came before. He seemed to be lacking a little composure, but many of the aspects of his game that made him such an attractive option were on show as he occupied Oyongo all game, offering an outlet ball, being a willing runner whilst carrying out his defensive duties effectively.
Mostly keeping things simple, he played a responsible game first and foremost.
That “show short then dart behind” we saw above. Nice footwork to create space vs Oyongo and a wonderful cross towards Dede Ayew.
A lovely touch and flick inside to Jordan Ayew. Just a shame Ayew ignored Owusu’s following run into the vast space he created with his skill.
Finally, against Guinea-Bissau, Owusu got his desired full start. And what a start it was.
He tormented Guinea-Bissau’s captain on the day Mamadu Candé, at one stage leaving him flat on his face before delivering a pin point cross which should have been rewarded with a goal.
He was even more willing to dribble, often drawing three or four Guinea-Bissau players towards him to aid their retreating captain. Guinea-Bissau’s previous policy of doubling up on wingers simply wasn’t enough to contain the live-wire that is Owusu, as he flashed left then right, scampering up and down their vulnerable flank.
Owusu looked more decisive, confident and was swifter to pass. Aside from that, he was again defensively willing and always quick to join the transition.
Shows good strength here and the explosiveness to spring clear of the defenders. Good decision to then shift the ball onto the overloaded side.
Nice dribbling here, drops Mamadu Candé with his change of direction and sends a teasing cross over to the back post. Deserved a goal.
Gets into the box, could have had a key pass or even an assist with a little more composure. Three defenders flood to try and stop him, could have passed to Partey or Dede Ayew (the latter with an extra touch to his left) or even the oncoming Mubarak Wakaso. Ended up shooting through four players. Just a case of playing the percentages.
Whilst nowhere near perfect then, Owusu has shown enough to suggest he can develop into an increasingly influential piece of the Black Stars’ puzzle. His dribbling has already shone, whilst his dangerous crossing ability & willingness to shoot ensure he can certainly start contributing as both a goal scorer and a creator for the Black Stars in due course, especially if he can start getting into the penalty area as much as he does for his club side.
If he can be a little more composed in the final third and work on getting his head up a little more, to pass into the spaces his own dribbling creates, he can really start to thrive as an attacking force for the Black Stars. It’ll be exciting to follow his journey.