Arriving at a big club with a hefty price tag instantly puts a player under the microscope. Every pass is analysed, every shot discussed and every action dissected. It was going to be no different for Justice Blay.
The midfielder made the switch to Kumasi Asante Kotoko from Medeama SC. Without a moment’s hesitation the combative Blay has been Asante Kotoko’s best signing so far. With the other reinforcements signed by Kjetil Zachariassen not in the squad for the second leg match against Kano Pillars on Sunday, all eyes were on the former Medeama man and he didn’t disappoint!
He was head and shoulders above every other player on the Baba Yara Sports Stadium pitch as Kjetil Zachariassen’s men bested the Nigerian outfit to advance to the final round of the CAF Champions League preliminary stage.
He’s been enormous since his arrival with his fighting spirit, energy and ferocity in midfield embodying his manager’s philosophy brilliantly. As ever, the combative midfielder was always seen setting the tone beautifully for his side, flying into tackles, pressing relentlessly and tracking back doggedly, as his physicality unsettled the opponents.
Contrary to popular belief and perception, he is actually a very intelligent footballer, which he demonstrated emphatically with his astute positioning and covering of his teammates. Moreover, in Kotoko’s attacks, Blay used his superb vision and concentration to pick up darting movements of Richard Arthur, Naby Keita, Emmanuel Gyamfi and Matthew Kelvin Andoh whenever they ventured into his designated area of operation. He never allowed his opponents an easy passage to meander into the space surrounding him, and wreak havoc.
However, when they did obtained possession in close proximity to him, he pounces like a hungry lion to bring the pressure. Kotoko’s lateral defenders must also be thankful to Blay, for he regularly shuttled over to cover for them when they motor forward ensuring they wouldn’t be caught off-guard. He efficiently mixed his unquenchable appetite to work for his teammates with his ability to find space around the opponent’s attackers.
Using his spatial awareness, he craftily buzzes laterally on the pitch, always looking to present his centre-halves with an option in their attempts to pass out from the back. He is not interested in scoring goals, but the player who will pass to the scorer. His job is to anticipate, intercept, pass, and anticipate.
Once in possession, ‘The Blade’ as he is affectionately known among the fans of the club used his under-appreciated passing ability to kick-start many of his team’s attacking forays, and assist in keeping hold of the ball.
He is rarely flustered under pressure. He has a languid unhurried style and is always willing and able to wait for extra seconds to find the right pass. He may not be the Porcupine Warriors’ most glamorous player, but his dedication and willingness to fight for his side have meant he has become an invaluable asset of Kjetil Zachariassen’s new look Kotoko side.
In an attack focused modern game, elite defensive midfielders are becoming increasingly hard to find. Kotoko should be thankful they have one of the good ones and arguably one of the best domestically.
If Justice Blay can seamlessly and consistently churn out such exhilarating displays then Kotoko might have a better player than originally thought.