Most teams appoint a central midfielder to be their chief distributor of possession and to dictate the pace. It is a pivotal role, and as such generally goes to an experienced player.
Thanks to their know-how and character, these midfield generals embed themselves at the heart of the play and understand implicitly when to up the tempo or take the heat out of a game. But the Ghana U-20 national team favour a very different solution, as orchestrator-in-chief Moses Odjer is the youngest member of the Black Satellites’ squad.
Odjer is only 16, but he is already an accomplished midfield strategist and was the west Africans’ main attacking inspiration against France in the first half of the opening match in Group A at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013. “It's the position I love," Odjer told FIFA.com. The youngster’s agility and outstanding technique, combined with an impressive work rate, meant he was almost always in the right position to build play from the back and link defence with attack. On top of that, the Africans’ new jewel patently enjoyed himself.
“Moses was magnificent in the first half. Let's not forget it's his first World Cup," coach Sellas Tetteh said, “and he's something very special for Ghana, a new, fresh face for our football." The 56-year-old coach, who led the Black Satellites to the trophy at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009 in Egypt, is determined though to protect his emerging starlet from burnout: “He had a couple of problems in the second half and began to get tired. That's the nature of things, so it was better if I took him off."
For Odjer himself, his pride on the evening will have been tinged with disappointment. On the one hand he made his debut on the global stage, but on the other he and his team-mates fell 3-1 to the French. “We have to stay motivated and prove we're up for the fight. When we play Spain, we have to try and concentrate not just for 45 minutes but for the full 90," the young midfielder reasoned.
I hope I succeed here with my team. My personal goal is to be playing in Europe as soon as possible.
On the field and when the matter at hand is football, Odjer already comes across as remarkably composed. Otherwise the Tema Youth FC playmaker, one of the outstanding performers in the Ghanaian top flight last season, is still a shy individual. “Being the youngest in the team feels good," he said with a bashful smile, “as the older guys are looking out for me a bit. But basically, I'm treated just like any other member of the squad. We do everything together and my team-mates consider me an equal."
That approach should help Odjer continue to supply his brand of youthful flair and unencumbered passion in Turkey. And if the west Africans make it to the knockout stages, one of the 16-year-old’s wishes would come true. “I hope I succeed here with my team," he said, before turning to his own future: “My personal goal is to be playing in Europe as soon as possible."
However, the Black Satellites’ midfielder was also concerned with the past, and a formative influence on his fledgling career. “I had a wonderful coach as a kid who taught me a great deal. I have to thank him for so much and I often think of him," Odjer explained. “Unfortunately, he's no longer alive, but in my thoughts I still want to make him proud."
The likeable No19 is one of many reasons why the Ghanaians can still entertain hopes of emerging from Group A and reaching the Round of 16. The start was not perfect, but coach Tetteh is working hard on keeping morale high. “In the dressing room, I told the lads they should pick themselves up again straight away," he revealed. Despite, or perhaps because of the fact the Africans’ next game on Monday in Istanbul is against tournament favourites Spain, he concluded with a well-used expression: “As we all know, nothing’s impossible in football."
This piece of footballing wisdom could yet prove an inspiration to young Odjer as he continues his education in the game.