But who is Felix Afena-Gyan, Mourinho’s darling? / Italy / AS Roma / SOFOOT.com

Arrived in Italy in March 2021, promoted to Primavera in April, landed in the first team in October, then launched into the deep end in the wake, Felix Afena-Gyan never stops toasting the stages. Sunday evening, he even scored his first two goals in Serie A, against Genoa. José Mourinho rubs his hands: he holds a nugget there that he gently smears.

What happened on January 19, 2003? José Mourinho and his FC Porto were moving on the lawn of Belenenses. Led 1-0 at the break, the Dragons awoke in the second half. Jorge Costa plants a brace, and Alenichev completes the victory at the last minute. A success that allows the Mou and his flock to already have 11 points ahead of Benfica. Very well. But something else happened on January 19, 2003. Some 5,000 kilometers away was born in Sunyani, Ghana, a baby Felix Afena-Gyan. The probability that, 18 years later, Mourinho will witness the Ghanaian’s first pro goal from his sidelines was close to zero. However, this is what happened on November 21, 2021. Came into play at the 74e minute in place of Shomurodov, the 18-year-old took only eight minutes before scoring his first Serie A goal, with a flat foot of disconcerting ease. A few minutes later, he allowed himself to double the bet of a striking marvel in the skylight, before being overwhelmed by the hugs of his teammates. A double that is worth three points, but also a hell of a spotlight on this little guy who, until now, had played only 78 minutes in professional.

Love from the first sight

A man, more than the others, must have been smiling this Sunday evening. Morgan De Sanctis, the former goalkeeper of Roma, now team manager of the Roman club. Last February, De Sanctis, advised by scout Simone Lo Schiavo, went out of his way to convince Tiago Pinto, the general manager romanista, to sign a young Ghanaian who had just celebrated his 17th birthday. Roma have thus grilled politeness to many English clubs who had already spotted him. But Roma were more responsive, and especially played on the sensitive chord: in 2018, when he was 15 years old, Felix Afena-Gyan literally fell in love with Roma when they demolished Barça ( 3-0) in the Champions League quarter-finals second leg. So when the leaders giallorossi showed up, he obviously didn’t hesitate, and jumped at the chance.

It must be said that the road traveled so far had not been easy. Felix grew up in the village of Beposo, in southern Ghana, where he was mainly raised by his mother. Very quickly, he becomes crazy about football, but his mother insists that he go to school, while cultivating his dream of becoming a footballer. And the progenitor will achieve her goals: in 2019, Felix graduated from Berekum Presec High School. Along with his studies, he played for small local clubs, including a Wenchi team called Real Madrid, and another called Watomba 11. (photo above). At the age of 18, Félix wanted to join Asante Kotoko SC, a pro club in the city of Kumasi. His mother pushed ahead, but at the time, the Asante Kotoko academy was not yet sufficiently developed. Afena-Gyan must therefore give up, and instead join the EurAfrica Academy. He is then already followed by the agent Oliver Arthur, who will enlist him in his agency, Arthurlegacy Sports ML, and will manage in particular, in 2021, his transfer to Rome. It is also interesting to note that just before his signing in Rome, Afena-Gyan had made rather convincing tests at AC Milan. But once again, Roma were more alert.

Two matches in 24 hours

On March 13, 2021, Felix Afena-Gyan therefore arrives in Trigoria. He is integrated into the under-18 team, and will soon be talking about him. The next day, March 14, he was lined up in a U18 championship match against … Genoa, believing that the Genoese club was part of his destiny. Author of a monumental match, he scored a goal and offered an assist, for a 5-0 victory for Roma U18. His coach, Aniello Parisi, quickly understands that his new colt will not make old bones with him. And indeed, on March 15, only 24 hours later, Felix Afena-Gyan is already playing his first minutes with the Primavera in the league. He then played five games in the U18s (3 goals), then went definitively to Primavera, where he would play at the end of the season (14 appearances, 4 goals).

During the summer of 2021, José Mourinho in turn arrives in Rome. During his first weeks at Trigoria, he sifts through his squad, and asks to know more about this young Ghanaian player. He will even observe it with the Primavera, with which FAG has made a thunderous start to the 2021-2022 year. In five games, he scored six goals, including two doubles, and is already the top scorer in the championship. This time, Mou cracks, and asks him to come and train with the pros. He was immediately won over by his qualities and above all by his humility. « What impressed me was his cynicism in front of the goal, he assures the Gazzetta dello Sport. He might not be a phenomenon technically, but he’s really good at scoring goals. And then, I really liked his athletic abilities and his humility. Often, in the new generations, you see boys who think they already know everything. Him, it’s the opposite.  » On October 27, Mourinho offered him his baptism in Serie A, on the lawn of Cagliari. Moved, the player thanked everyone at the end of the meeting, but especially his mother, who remained in Ghana, to whom he sent a few words of love.

With his first appearances for Team 1, Felix Afena-Gyan was called up on November 4 by Milovan Rajevać to the national team. A consecration? Not yet. Humble to the end, Felix declined the summons to be able to « Stay in Rome and train hard with Mourinho » , as his agent reported on Twitter. This strong choice was therefore rewarded this Sunday, November 21, with a double straight out of a fairy tale. Over the course of an evening, Felix Afena-Gyan thus won several records (that of the youngest player to have scored a double this season in Europe, or the first player born in 2003 to score in Serie A), a notoriety and … a pair of shoes. “I had promised him shoes that he likes a lot and that cost around 800 euros, let go of the Portuguese coach in the mixed zone. At the end of the match, he came to remind me. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go buy him.  » To better run after his dream?

By Éric Maggiori

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