Introducing Mohammed Abu
Mohammed Abu is the most Columbus Crew SC signing imaginable. So much so that when my colleague Pat Murphy first caught glimpse of his rumored signing, my first thoughts were “this nearly sounds too logical of a signing to be real.”
A lot goes into the transfer of a player, and even more so a foreign one into Major League Soccer. Because of this you can’t get every player you would want. There is so much that goes into a single transfer that in the end, some transfers make no sense at all.
And then there is the signing of Mohammed Abu.
To check off the boxes... he’s Ghanaian (all the rage for Crew SC in 2017), played in Scandinavia, former teammate of Ola Kamara. For a central midfielder he is an adept passer, favors a low tempo and possession-based approach, hard-working, coachable, and loves himself some back passes.
Abu is a Ghanaian blend of Wil Trapp and Mohammed Saeid. He is supremely everything Berhalter desires for a player. The perfect fit for a perennially platonic “let’s pass in circles and hope they give us a goal” team -- but offers more.
A more of a complete defensively-minded player than Saeid or Tony Tchani could hope to be. For them, it was an imperfect fit for a youthful molding of Berhaltarian insularity. For Abu, it is a chance. One not only to prove himself, but to prove the viability of Berhalter’s approach in tactics and in the transfer market.
Where does he fit it?
From the brief times I have seen him play, Abu is mostly similar to Wil Trapp of any of the Columbus midfielders. Will he displace Trapp? No. So does that mean a guaranteed backup role for the new singing?
In the “current” team setup, yes. But it appears some tactical changes are on the horizon with Berhalter toying with a permanent change to a 3-4-3-esque shape.
With three central defenders, two wing backs and three forwards (or attacking midfielders), it leaves two players in the center. Two players with a stronger defensive focus than the midfielders of 2016. A new focus, that could lend Abu a starting role next to Trapp in the center of the pitch. A true double-pivot. Two players that can rotate, alternate runs, and bring stability in transition.
It is through this change that I see Abu displacing Tchani, who may still have a place in this team. Ultimately I think it depends on the type of football that Berhalter wants to play, but as it stands, I have Abu as Trapp’s partner.
What kind of player is he?
My elevator pitch for him would be: An undersized, quick-but-not-elusive, defensive midfielder whose first instinct is security. A good passer, Abu is often opting for the open one rather than the risky ball. Defensively, he works tirelessly, surprising on-rushers with his tackling technique and desire.
To compare him to a player, I liken Mohammed Abu to Claude Makelele: The Frenchman who was run out of Real Madrid because he wasn’t “special enough”; the player, who would move to Chelsea and have a position forever dubbed in his name. Upon Makélelé’s departure, Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez uttered,
“We will not miss Makélelé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn't a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélelé to be forgotten.”
Everything Perez said was 100 precent correct.
Many people, I would ascertain, would need to be reminded Makélelé ever played for the club. His technique was never great despite playing 71 international matches, and would never consider dribbling an option. Instead, he did all the little things: The dirty work no one wants to do but everyone wants to take credit for.
You will never see the likes of Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets nominated for a Ballon d’Or, but remember that without them, FC Bayern and Barcelona would be hard-pressed to find their rhythm on the European stage.
To quote former Spanish manager Del Bosque,
"You watch the game, you don't see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game."
Abu is that player. The one on the field who will play every minute, sneaking in and out of space, dumping the ball off to his playmakers, making silent challenges -- not to be noticed by onlookers. It is that grace of invisibility that so few can replicate, but leaves many in wonder.
He will come into this team and maybe not start the season in the first 11, but I feel confident he will find his place and with it a lot of success — even if it goes unnoticed.
As a former coach once said,
“The two most important roles in a team are the water carriers: The one who never plays a minute, but will service the team in every regard. He will help his teammates to achieve greatness, but will never be noticed; And the one on the field -- who does the same.”