News Matches
African All Stars

Welcome Salisu: Six reasons why Southampton star will be key for Ghana

18:47 BST 07/05/2022
Mohammed Salisu Southampton
With the 23-year-old speculated to be nearing commencement of an international career, GOAL looks at what his presence will mean to the Black Stars

After three years of unavailability, Southampton defender Mohammed Salisu is reportedly set to join Ghana’s national team for their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Madagascar and the Central African Republic next month following last week’s meeting with football association president Kurt Okraku.

Rumours of his imminent international career heightened after the Black Stars beat Nigeria to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they have been zoned with Portugal, South Korea, and Uruguay.

So just what does the 23-year-old bring to Otto Addo’s set-up? GOAL takes a look amid the public divide over his potential involvement with the four-time African champions.

  • Mohammed Salisu Southampton 2021-22

    Physical presence

    Ghana’s current first-choice central defensive pair of Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey (1.86cm, according to Transfermarkt) and Strasbourg’s Alexander Djiku (1.82cm) are not exactly the tallest men in football terms for the centre-backs that they are.

    Salisu’s 1.91cm frame, then, appears very useful for the Black Stars, at least aerially. Rated 29th on the list of the tallest central defenders in the Premier League this season, the former Real Valladolid man stands so highly above 73rd-ranked Amartey, the taller of Ghana’s current first-choice pair. With Caglar Soyuncu (62nd) and Amartey playing the most games at centre-back for Leicester this season, it is not surprising the club’s biggest defensive frailty has been arguably their aerial struggles with crosses.

    Salisu does not just boast of solid areal ability but also physical presence (West Ham striker Michail Antonio knows all about that), the kind that will not allow him to be bullied as Amartey (and Djiku) were by Victor Osimhen during the World Cup play-off clash with Nigeria.

  • Mohammed Salisu Southampton

    Strong ball progressing for attack build-up

    Ghana’s new technical leadership have shown a likeness for ball progression from deep in building attacks. Considering neither Amartey nor Djiku has this ability among their best attributes, the Black Stars have had to rely on defensive midfielder Iddrisu Baba to drop deep and take up the role at the beginning of attacks.

    The negative side of this move is that the midfield structure becomes compressed deeper as the No.8 and No.10 also have to drop slightly deeper to cover and avoid creating gaping spaces for the opposition at the centre of the park. This, thus, limits attacking ability.

    Again, with his back to the game, at times, in receiving the ball, Baba could be pressed into discomfort in dangerous areas, as was the case during the game against Nigeria, where the situation led to a penalty which was later cancelled by VAR.

    With Salisu, however, Ghana will not need to drop Baba into deeper areas than normally required as the Southampton man is known for his ability on the ball, and his willingness to step into midfield positions with the ball to find a man or drive a long pass.

  • Mohammed Salisu, Kelechi Iheanacho - Leicester City vs Southampton

    Defensive flexibility

    Baba’s movement into midfield areas momentarily gives Ghana a back-three look when starting attacks. When things got tough against Nigeria in the play-off second leg, Otto Addo permanently switched his system from a two-centre-back system to a three, dropping Gideon Mensah from left-back to left-centre-back.

    In Salisu, Amartey and Djiku, Ghana have a good set of men for defensive flexibility whenever they wished to switch to a back three, which many suspect will be the case when Salisu joins the Stars.

  • Mohammed Salisu Southampton 2021-22

    Command and leadership

    Despite being the youngest among Southampton’s main central defensive options, Salisu has taken control as leader and commander of the defensive backline, marshalling his men.

    Over the months, he has grown more vocal than ever when in action, a development manager Ralph Hasenhuttl highlighted as needed when the defender first transferred from Valladolid.

    For a Ghanaian central defensive line struggling to hold their own against the likes of Gabon and Comoros, Salisu’s presence will be crucial if the Black Stars can stand against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Son Heung-Min’s South Korea, and Luis Suarez’s Uruguay at the World Cup.

  • sammy-kuffours-jens-jeremies-28032022

    High level performance

    Since Samuel Osei Kuffour’s days at Bayern Munich, Ghana’s closest to a high-level performer away from international football was former captain John Mensah during his days with Sunderland in the Premier League.

    In Salisu, Ghana has a player who could move on to join a top Champions League club in the near future. Why, though, will this be important for the Black Stars?

    A top performer at club level usually brings a lot of confidence, calmness, and command to the national side, as Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly does for Senegal. And like they say, a good backline, or better put it, keeping away goals, is unarguably the best way to achieve results in football.

  • Mohammed Salisu Southampton

    There now and for the future

    Only 23 last month, Salisu could be around for as long as about three more World Cup cycles, an availability which will not only assure quality but stability for Ghana’s defence, considering Celta’s Joseph Aidoo (26), Amartey (27) and Djiku (27) could all be available for at least the next World Cup cycle.

    That’s good news for Ghana now and for the future.