Goalkeeper has lost his place in the national squad after warming the bench at South African club side Orlando Pirates
Abdul Fatau Dauda had to wait patiently for years until he was noticed.
Called up as part of Ghana’s squad for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, few people ever even acknowledged the goalkeeper’s presence in the team.
Four years later, he made an uninspiring debut, conceding twice as Ghana lost 2-0 away to Liberia in one of Kwesi Appiah’s early games in charge.
Another appearance came later in the year, in Ghana’s 1-0 friendly win over Cape Verde in Lisbon. But he was still not considered good enough to make a step-up soon. Though his own biological clock continued to tick – he had turned 28 five months earlier – he was still considered years away from ever being taken seriously.
But Dauda would choose the right time to strike. Ghana were in the UAE preparing for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Appiah, as most coaches like to do in order to assess all their options before a tournament, decided to have a final look at Dauda. And that is when it happened.
Dauda seized the opportunity; he evaded the expected anxiety and nervousness and put in an impressive performance, letting his maturity – gained from over seven years of consistency for his club Ashanti Gold in Ghana – tell as Ghana comfortably cruised to a 3-0 victory. He fitted in seamlessly, exuding an effortless natural command that seemed to calm Ghana’s backline.
Appiah was convinced; convinced enough to risk making him number one goalkeeper ahead of the younger Adam Kwarasey going into the tournament.
By the time the tournament – which saw Ghana finish fourth – ended, Dauda had become a hero out of nowhere: loved for his excellent displays and immortalised with an overly passionate, scary-face-in-the-camera scream when Ghana scored their second goal against Cape Verde in the quarter-final.
He returned home with a new cult status, but amid all the fame and the satisfaction of being finally appreciated, he kept his eyes on the price. “I am still learning, I haven’t arrived yet,” he noted at a press conference. “I have been advised by some elderly persons in football not to be swollen-headed, and I have taken it in good faith.”
He did a good job at sustaining his form too, keeping Appiah’s trust in him intact going into Ghana’s remaining World Cup qualifiers. He kept two clean sheets and conceded twice in four games, as Ghana finished top of the group to qualify for the play-off, against giants Egypt.
Clubs were always going to take notice of his rise, and in between his displays, he inevitably landed a deal. South African heavyweights Orlando Pirates came knocking, and he couldn’t resist the temptation of finally getting to play outside Ghana. The chance to earn the big bucks his years of dedication deserved.
But Dauda was walking into a team with a goalkeeper – Senzo Meyiwa – who was enjoying a consistent run of form and had the fans behind him. Essentially, Ghanaian stakeholders welcomed the deal with massive scepticism, as the move was seen as a huge risk, a careless gamble – especially given the fact that his primary competition Kwarasey was enjoying regular playing time as captain of his Norway-based club Strømsgodset with the World Cup fast looming.
The fears became a painful reality, with Dauda’s self-confidence thrown to the dogs and his competence questioned as he found a permanent place on the bench. His woes kept compounding, with Pirates former coach Roger de Sa even at a point openly referring to him as his third-choice keeper.
Before Ghana’s first leg of the play-off against Egypt, many rode on his inactivity and potential rustiness and called for him to lose his place. And though coach Appiah surprisingly called back veteran goalie Richard Kingson, Dauda still got the nod between the sticks, for that game as well as the second leg.
But he knew his lucky stars were running out, and soon he’d have none to thank. He came under a lot of criticism for looking shaky during the double-header, and a lot of heated debates followed, which influenced reactions from him too, as he began serious personal training with Ghana’s goalkeeping trainer.
When De Sa was eventually sacked at Pirates, many saw this as a turning point, and he was fortunate to make his debut after Meyiwa got injured in the middle of a league game last month. But his full debut saw him make a howler in a 1-0 defeat and he has since looked set to revert to his warm seat on the bench.
Last week, Ghana coach Appiah announced his squad for a friendly against Montenegro, and Dauda’s name was nowhere to be found. “Many have asked me whether I am worried after I was not named in the squad, I tell them I am not worried at all,” came Dauda’s reaction.
But deep down, some degree of worry lingers. The tale of Dauda’s rise to prominence would be tragic without a World Cup. He has three more months to make sure the decision to play for Pirates doesn’t turn out to be the one that killed his dreams of showcasing his talent at the Mundial.