Giant defender John Mensah has been Ghana’s regular captain over the last two years and the rugged backbone of the team, but he has been battling a potentially career-limiting injury to keep up hopes of playing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Mensah’s own back problems have left him short of match practise over the last two years although since January he has seen a lot more playing time at his English premier league club Sunderland and is offering evidence he will be able to resume his leading role for the Black Stars at the tournament in South Africa. The 27-year-old missed out on the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament because of injuries caused by his persistent back woes, opening up the door for potential contenders to bid for his place. His chance now of an automatic berth is much tougher than two years ago when he was one of the key figures of the Ghanaian side. Many credit his suspension from the semi-final of the 2008 Nations Cup against Cameroon in Accra as the cause of the host country’s inability to reach the final of their own event.
Mensah is a product of the enormously proficient scouting system in Ghana that spots young talent long before they enter any formal structures and exports them to potential fame and fortune in Europe. Mensah’s attractiveness at the time was heightened by the fact he was also adept at left back where his country often used him during the early stages of his international career. Mensah went to Italy as a bright-eyed teenager, bought by Bologna at first but then farmed around over seven years before finally finding his expected form on loan at French club Stade Rennes.
Bologna ‘parked’ Mensah at Bellinzona in the Swiss league, a team that has profited over the years from the policy of Italian clubs placing speculative African buys on loan so that in their formative years they can gain both playing experience and adjust to the alien culture in Europe. It was while at Bellinzona that Mensah was called up for Ghana’s U-20 side and played at the 2001 FIFA World Youth Cup in Argentina, where the Black Satellites finished as runners-up to the host nation in a thrilling tournament. The next season in Serie B, Mensah played as a regular at Genoa before being purchased by Chievo Verona in the summer of 2002.
By then he had already played for the national team, too, making a debut on the eve of the 2002 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali, a tournament at which his aerial ability fast became evident. Mensah played at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Athens in 2004 and in all four of Ghana’s games at the last FIFA World Cup in Germany. At the same time his club career took a major turn in France’s Ligue 1 where he quickly became recognised among the best defenders, culminating in 2008 with a €8.4m transfer from the Breton outfit to champions Lyon. He was but a season into his five-year deal before being loaned to Sunderland, where they are still hoping to get the maximum out of Mensah, injuries allowing.