Abdul Fatawu Safiu has got off to a flying start for Asante Kotoko in what is almost certainly a ‘life without Songe Yacouba’ period.
After four games in the GFA Normalisation Committee Special Competition, the striker has bagged four goals.
Kotoko’s official admission, on April 8, that they’ve negotiations with Zambian side Zesco United for the transfer of Yacouba has caused some fans to question the ambition of the club. But is there really any cause for panic?
And, more to the point, does Fatawu offer a reprieve for the Reds in light of the departing Yacouba?
What the stats say
The answer looks conspicuously easy on the eye with the numbers above, and one can easily be convinced beyond reasonable doubt. That said, stats sometimes do not tell the whole story. Let’s look beyond the stats.
Hold up play
It is interesting here that both forwards excellently hold up the ball well. This is an important quality to bring other teammates into play and to increase cohesiveness in the team’s attack. Although Fatawu (5 ft 10) is physically more imposing - especially in the use of his upper body strength - Yacouba (at 5 ft 9) generally has better hold up play, technique and skill.
Link up play
Yacouba is more mobile and combines better with his teammates. However, Fatawu has better off the ball movement and positioning in the final third, both of which are very key for forwards.
Set piece ability
It takes something extra special for players to score regularly from set pieces. And it’s certainly refreshing to see that both players seem to be able to do that.
Yacouba fancies them around the box. The Burkina Faso forward usually prefers the curved freekick, where he pings the ball around the wall and back inside the post. This usually requires rare technique, skill a lot of practice.
Fatawu, on the other hand, is a belter merchant, who has not got that finesse around the kick. He simply ensures the ball rockets past the keeper with pace and power. Four in 15 games for Yacouba and three in 14 games for Fatawu makes this debate close to call.
Chances created is statistically defined as key passes + assists (Whoscored). For the avoidance of doubt, a KEY PASS is that final pass leading to a shot at goal from a teammate. In other words, the second assist.
But let’s look at the duo with the ordinary football eye, without stats, and it is apparent that Yacouba creates more chances for his teammates than Fatawu does.
Yacouba is able to do this by simply combining better with teammates, and an uncanny ability to take on players. Although the assists numbers look very close, it is important to note it only involves those chances created that are successfully finished off. Yacouba was virtually at the heart of everything meaningful Kotoko created in the group stages of the Confederations Cup. And there, he takes a lead.
Here, it is almost impossible to try looking beyond the numbers. Fatawu easily edges Yacouba on this having scored more in fewer games. Numbers aside, Yacouba is a very wasteful striker, judging from both the chances he creates for himself and those laid for him.
Fatawu, on the other hand, doesn’t get too many chances but is clinical. Here, Fatawu edges it.
Yacouba works hard for the team defensively, but Fatawu is still ahead with his enviable work ethic.
The high line employed by Kotoko coach Charles Akonnor requires that forwards are the first line of pressing - and they must press really high. This tactical instruction would be given all the time, but Fatawu does it so effortlessly, doing so with stamina and attitude. This was a key feature in most of Kotoko’s early goals at home in the Confederation Cup.
Abdul Fatawu Safiu is already outscoring Yacouba, he is as dangerous in dead-ball situations as the Burkinabé, and assisting (creating chances) as well.
It is safe to come to only one conclusion - a soothing one, of course for the Kotoko faithful - that Fatawu is capable and has already started filling the boots of the departing striker. All that Fatawu needs is patience, support and confidence from those around the team.
He can only get better.