Miloš Marković –
Ghana international striker Richmond Boakye is the schoolbook example of a player who turned his career around with a string of less popular – but highly rewarding – choices which saw once a Serie A reject grow into a hotly desired football asset.
At 24 years of age, Richmond Boakye could be described as a classic late bloomer.
Having gone through eight different clubs in not more than seven years of professional career, the Agogo-born centre-forward is slowly establishing himself as one of the emerging Black Stars footballing superstars despite the early signs mainly suggesting otherwise.
Boakye – Humble Beginnings
Off the back of a football dream and an unfulfilled promise that he would go on to conquer the football world with his sweltering talent, the African star Richmond Boakye moved to Italy as a young boy hungry for success.
The cold reality of a cruel Italian football scene hit Boakye hard at Genoa where he struggled to gain his footing. Boakye got loaned out to Sassuolo after only six matches and one goal for Genoa where his long-lost African football dream came back to boost his confidence with ten goals in 34 appearances.
It wasn’t too long before then that Juventus coach Antonio Conte recognised a raw warrior-like gene and moved to sign the Ghanaian, who remained with Sassuolo for another 32 games and 11 goals in a loan deal away from Bianconeri.
The stars never lined up for Boakye who – instead of with Juventus – spent the 2013/14 season with Elche, on yet another loan deal. Six goals in 30 appearances marked the beginning of his demise which saw him being thrown in and out of Atalanta, Roda JC and Latina.
“I have had too many inconsistent years, and I realised that maybe consistently playing for teams struggling at the wrong end of the table and to stay in the leagues was not helping because the chances of scoring were a bit difficult”, he told KweséESPN.
“I have grown up a lot the last years, and there are certain things I did in the past I won’t do again. That comes with experience”, he said.
Belgrade Big Break
Richmond Boakye’s football faith seemed to have been going hand in hand with his club Latina.
After a season defending the Latina colours in Serie B – during which he notched 33 appearances, and not more than three goals – Boakye was left hanging on the ropes with Latina being declared bankrupt after failing to find a new owner who would cover debts exceeding €6 million.
The Italian minnows went through an end of an era as they had to be renamed as Latina Calcio 1932 and begin their reincarnation from Serie D. Richmond Boakye was not short of options at the time, but the reasoning was telling him to be wise this time and think his decision through.
“My priority when I was leaving Latina was to find a team that attacks more and gives me a good chance of scoring goals. Red Star was perfect for that.”, Boakye said.
As a relatively obscure player who had been mocked in his homeland for consistently playing table tennis and taking his duties lightly during the 2013 Nations Cup when he aggravated an injury with his off-pitch antics, it’s fair to say Richmond Boakye raised a couple of eyebrows in Serbia.
Ghana Under 20 coach Sellas Tetteh claimed Boakye was “not respectful enough and didn’t follow instructions”, which had Red Star fans questioning their club management’s choice, despite the fact the financially troubled Serbian giants had little opportunity in choosing their signings.
Former world champions, Red Star, have for years notoriously failed to handpick affordable foreign signings who would be given an opportunity to revive their careers in Belgrade and help the Serbian giants boost their wobbly budget with future sales.
As a general rule of thumb, affordable but quality foreign players come few and far between. Red Star management was shooting in the dark by bringing in Boakye as a backup option for DR Congo international Jeremy Bokila who was out of their financial reach ahead of the 2016/17 season.
The Most Productive Foreign Goalscorer in Red Star History
A self-disciplined Richmond Boakye grabbed a firm hold of his Red Star chance, well-aware this could be his last chance of making it as a professional football player who was en route to become the latest in the long line of unfulfilled Ghanaian football talents.
“I am sleeping early, and I have a more positive attitude in training. For me, training has become like the game itself because I realise that you can’t have one attitude for training and another for match day. It doesn’t work.”, he says.
The powerful frontman was an instant success as Red Star. He was scoring goals for fun with Belgrade’s giants, leading them forward to a substantial lead in front of eternal rivals Partizan this season.
Boakye was initially brought on loan from Latina, but 12 Super Liga goals in 16 games during the 2016/17 prompted the Red Star hierarchy to do whatever it takes to sign the Ghanaian. A promise of ten percent of the future sale to Boakye’s agency was enough to seal a deal for the new fans’ hero at Stadion Rajko Mitić.
Boakye hit the ground running in the 2017/18 season, firing up 15 goals in 14 Super Liga appearances and adding eight more in Red Star’s historic Europa League campaign which saw the Belgrade behemoths survive the European winter for the first time in last 25 years.
Richmond Boakye took his total tally to 39 goals in a Red Star shirt which made him the most prolific foreign striker in club history.
Eastern Riches In Front of European Glory
Richmond Boakye’s dominant displays for Red Star, most notably in Europa League, saw the likes of West Bromwich Albion and most prominently Chelsea took notice of his glorious emergence.
The Ghanaian was seen as an alternative for the faltering Blues forward Alvaro Morata and was widely expected to replace Belgrade for London in a move that would represent the cherry on top of a turbulent career and a symbolic closure of a full circle with Boakye reuniting with Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge.
Then the Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning entered the fray with a €5.5 million offer that proved to be irresistible for both the player and his club. The Ghanaian will split €550,000 with his manager whereas the Red Star’s budget will be topped with a hefty €4.95 million to make Boakye the 12th most expensive Red Star player to be sold ever.
He surpassed the club legends such as Nemanja Vidić, Darko Kovačević or Siniša Mihajlović to slot himself as one of the best players firmly – both from the sports and financial point of view – to have gone through Red Star in the most recent history of the club.
Having signed a multi-year deal with the club led by Fabio Capello, Richmond Boakye seems to have solved his existence and will look to make a significant impact in the new surroundings. His next football goals remain undetermined, but if Italian reports are anything to go by, Boakye could be the one to replace Mauro Icardi at Inter Milan’s frontline next season.
Close ties between the Chinese and Italian clubs could facilitate such a move which could be the biggest surprise of the summer transfer window and a definite Hollywood closure for the much-travelled Ghanaian striker’s football journey.
A holder of Master’s degree in English language and literature, Miloš Marković worked as the Editor-in-Chief at Sportske.net. He now contributes to various outlets as a freelance journalist. He also is a member of the Guardian Network and a FIFA correspondent for Serbia. Passionate about English language and football, Miloš Marković is also a huge Liverpool fan. You can find him on Twitter @milosemarkovicu.