The Hidden Gem of (Ba)Bavaria – Augsburg’s Abdul Rahman Baba in the Spotlight

As the second half of the Bundeslilga season begins, who   teams are hoping to kickstart their 2015 campaign with a fully fit and assembled squad. Particularly FC Augsburg, who has been the surprise package so far this season, and now sit in a tie for the 3rd spot in the table after beating Hoffenheim Sunday. With a mixture of youth and experience in players such as Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Alexander Esswein, Dominik Kohr, Halil Altintop and Paul Verhaegh, Augsburg have managed to instill a team spirit admired and praised even by their Bavarian big brother Bayern Munich. In the midst of these compliments, one individual from Augsburg’s ranks is making a real name for himself.  He currently has the highest rate of tackles per game (4.8) in the Bundesliga and averaging 2.9 interceptions, 3.5 clearances and 1.4 dribbles, establishing as an integral part of Fuggerstädter’s potentially finest-ever season. Having played every match for Augsburg in the Hinrunde, his game-winning assist to put Ghana through from their group stage at the Africa Cup of Nations against South Africa means that Augsburg will not be welcoming back their hottest prospect anytime soon. And he will certainly be missed, as also on Sunday Ghana defeated Guinea to once again make the semifinals of the AFCON..

Enter Abdul Rahman Baba.

Humble rise to the top

Born in July 1994, Baba is a product of Ghana Division Two side Dreams FC, where his stellar performances paved the way for a one-year loan deal to the Ghanaian Premier League giants Asante Kotoko in 2011. Despite his young age, he consistently demonstrated solid displays that earned him a nomination for the league’s Discovery of The Year Award, but although missing out on the award eventually, his name was already carved into the books of several European scouts that included the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City. But it was Greuther Fürth that got the upper hand, securing the services of Baba with a five-year contract in 2012. “This is a very friendly club and ideal for a young player like me,” he said at the time. “I would like to be here to develop and establish myself in European football.” And it has certainly paid off.

This season, Rahman Baba’s phenomenal displays with Augsburg have taken many by surprise, considering that his debut season in the Bundesliga with SpVgg Greuther Fürth in 2012 did not start in the optimum fashion, receiving a red card in his debut match. Although he was arguably his side’s best performer at the end of the 2012/2013 season that saw Greuther Fürth suffer from relegation to 2. Bundesliga, the then 18-year-old Baba opted to stay to help his side chase promotion despite numerous clubs clamouring for his signature. His decision to stay proved worthy, as Greuther Fürth finished third but eventually lost in the play-offs to Hamburg, which prompted Baba to join Bundesliga side Augsburg for a five-year deal in August 2014 for a sum of approximately £2 million. Within the space of a few months into his spell with Augsburg, the Ghana under-20 captain, who played every single game as Ghana triumphed with a third place finish at the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, received a promotion to the senior team, and his AFCON 2015 performances are currently being closely monitored by clubs such as Roma, Real Madrid and Chelsea. Impressive rise, indeed, by the 20-year-old, who has gone from being overlooked to cementing the left-back position for the Black Stars.

Modern-day left-back

“He has the ability to become a top left-back and might even be better suited as a left-wing back,” Bayern’s enforcer Xabi Alonso claimed last November, praising the in-form guardsman for his impressive performances. Not only Alonso, but both the manager and CEO of Augsburg, Markus Weinzierl and Stefan Reuter respectively, have showered praises on the Ghanaian youngster, who has been arguably the best left-back in the Bundesliga so far. “We are convinced and delighted, not only with his sporting qualities, that he fits very well into our team,” Reuter addressed. “He’s a young player with immense potential for development who wants to prove himself in the Bundesliga.” Weinzierl further added: “Baba Rahman is a young and hardworking player who will add another dimension to our play.”

Blessed with lighting pace and exceptional energy, coupled with his powerful overlapping surges that can be devastatingly effective, Rahman Baba is quickly becoming one of Bundesliga’s most exciting and modern defensive talents with statistics to rival the best left-backs in the league, drawing comparisons with the likes of Gareth Bale, Ricardo Rodriguez and David Alaba. Highly comfortable using both feet, the tough-tackling left-back, sometimes deployed as a left-winger to complement his attacking strengths, is extremely efficient on the break and possesses excellent crossing skills that has rewarded him with the second-highest crosses in the league (47) and four assists to his name, two of which came against Dortmund in Week 2 of the season. Although slim in nature, his quick footwork and reactions enables him to catch opponents on the break and instigate attacks with burst of pace and precise passes from deep. In this respect, Baba’s style of play is a true, stereotypical, definition of a modern-day full-back. That said, he often gets outmuscled and caught on the break due to his poor recovery and positioning, which is a part of his game that needs improvement.

Interestingly, when analysing Augsburg’s attacks so far this season, nearly 50% of the attacks came from the left flank that Baba operates, which signifies the pivotal role he plays in the team. Moreover, he has a dribbling success rate of over 80%, which, compatible to the league’s best performers, accounts to Baba’s tendency to taking the ball out of the defence to launch an attack, with FIFA labeling him as a “competitive left-sided defender with excellent technique and forceful attacking runs.” His pass success rate, however, is rather low of just under 60%, which is certainly an area that also requires honing. Nevertheless, he has, without a doubt, all the qualities to enjoy a similar meteoric rise to that of Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg, who over two years ago was also just starting to make waves in the Bundesliga. And look at him now.

What more can we expect?

Although the stocks of left-backs has recently, to some extent, been inflated after the transfer of Luke Shaw to Manchester United for £30 million, Rahman Baba seems unfazed with a lucrative move abroad, focusing to develop and mature as a player at Augsburg. “I play for Augsburg and that’s it, “ Baba said after talks of a move to AS Roma. But with rumours circulating that Real Madrid sees Baba as a successor to Marcelo, while Atletico Madrid and AC Milan are keeping close tabs on his development, it is only a matter of time that Baba will ply his trade at a bigger club to further his career, as he will certainly outgrow Augsburg if he maintains his phenomenal form, despite penning a contract until 2019.

As for his international future, one can envisage a truly great Ghanaian football star in the making, capable of uplifting Africa’s hopes and spirits. However, Rahman Baba is still somewhat a diamond in the rough, and still has a long way to go if he is to emulate his Ghanaian counterparts. He must also maintain his form at club level in order to continue to blossom for the national side, especially with Leicester City’s Jeffrey Schlupp challenging him for a starting spot at left-back. That said, both Augsburg and Ghana will continue to rely on Baba’s services, who is on his way to adding his name on the list of great full-backs in the world of football.

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A Masters student from Finland currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Luyang is a keen follower of German football with a passion for sports.

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