As World Cup fairytales go, Rickie Lambert’s beetroot factory to Brazil story is pretty hard to beat. But Middlesbrough winger Albert Adomah may run him close.
Four years ago, when only Luis Suárez’s hand prevented Ghana from becoming the first African side ever to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa, Adomah spent the summer painting his mother’s house in west London.
Having completed an NVQ in Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting at the College of North West London – the same place Stuart Pearce took his City & Guilds Electrical Installation course when it was simply known as Willesden College – it didn’t take him too long.
“I still remembered how to do it all from my apprenticeship,” Adomah recalls, “so I used to go and play football with my friends in the park in the afternoon and then come back to watch the matches at home with my family. It was devastating to see Ghana come so close to making history. Everyone was in tears after the penalty shootout.”
By that stage, he had progressed from playing for amateur club Old Meadonians to being sponsored by BBC commentator John Motson at Barnet, via a spell at non-league Harrow Borough while he completed his apprenticeship.
A tribunal valued his move to Bristol City in the summer at £150,000 and after one season at Ashton Gate, Adomah – who was born in London but lived in Ghana with his grandmother until the age of nine – made his Black Stars debut against Brazil at Craven Cottage and “couldn’t stop grinning” to himself.
Chased by Brendan Rodgers when he was at Swansea City, Middlesbrough eventually prised him from Bristol City last summer for £1m and Adomah finished as top scorer with 12 goals in what was a largely disappointing season for the club. But having missed out on selection for the Africa Cup of Nations at the last minute, confirmation he had been selected for Ghana’s final 23-man squad last week was never taken for granted.
“I was over the moon but I just tried to keep my cool and stay calm,” he says. “When I rang my Dad, he said: ‘Well you don’t have to worry about a Father’s Day present then.’ Hopefully my parents can come and watch us out there because I know they will be very emotional about it all considering everything that’s happened.
“When I was playing for Harrow, I would have to get up at 6am to start work, stand in the cold waiting to get the bus and then rush to training in the evening,” Adomah adds.
“It wasn’t much money but I had to make it last. It’s made me appreciate what I’m doing now a lot more. To be able to do something that I love every day is just amazing.
“Some players start in an academy and think they have made it already as soon as they get in the Under 21s. I think that’s where they go wrong. When I was at Barnet, I’d see players coming in from higher leagues that were already on their way down, even though they were younger than me. I learned how to fight in non-league and playing for Barnet but so many young players just end up dropping out of the league once they leave the academies.”
Still just 26, Adomah’s reward for all that hard work has been to become part of a Ghana squad determined to banish the memories of the defeat to Uruguay under homegrown coach Kwesi Appiah. And a daunting group that includes USA, Germany and Portugal will certainly not faze the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
“We have a lot of talented young players like Chelsea’s Christian Atsu and striker Majeed Waris so there is no reason why we can’t qualify for the next round,” he says.
“A lot of the players have been in this position before and hopefully that experience will really help us. We’ve got some difficult games to get through so it’s important that we start well against the USA.
“Obviously they are going out for revenge having played us at the last two World Cups [Ghana beat USA in both 2006 and 2010] and we will have to be ready for that if we can. I think most people will expect Germany and Portugal to get through the group but we are confident in our own ability at this level after what happened in South Africa.”
With Atsu, Boateng and André Ayew all competing for the wide positions, his own prospects of starting the opening game in Natal on 16 June appear slim, although you can never rule anything out with Adomah.
“The coach likes to be flexible in his attacking options so if I work hard then who knows? But even if I made it onto the pitch for 30 seconds that would be enough for me. So many great players never get the chance to play at a World Cup so I feel privileged just to be here.”