Southampton record signing Kamaldeen Sulemana believes his experiences at the World Cup with Ghana have given him a “solid foundation” for the future.
The 20-year-old’s career has taken him on a journey though Ghana’s Right to Dream Academy, Danish club Nordsjælland, Rennes and now to the Premier League with the Saints paying a club record fee of $27m on transfer deadline day.
The forward scored five goals in 27 appearances in his Ligue 1 debut last season but, plagued by a back injury, he scored just once in 18 matches prior to departing Rennes this term.
Sulemana told BBC Sport Africa however that the World Cup call up provided invaluable experience: “I think we learned a lot, especially the young players because there’s so much ahead of us.
“As a squad we’re good together. We kept the ball on the ground and showed what Africans can do; moving forward I think the improvement is going to continue. The future is bright for the team.
“It was a dream come true to play in Qatar because four years back, I was 16 playing at Nordsjælland academy.
“Watching the tournament (in Russia) on television in 2018 and to be able to play the next World Cup; I feel blessed and happy. It was a very great experience.”
After a disastrous showing at the Africa Cup of Nations in early 2022, coach Otto Addo drafted in new players such as Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey, Inaki Williams of Athletic Bilbao and Sulemana’s new Southampton team-mate Mohamed Salisu for the tournament in Qatar.
The Black Stars beat South Korea at the World Cup in between defeats by Portugal and Uruguay to finish bottom of Group H but Sulemana believes the team had the potential to go a lot further, much like Morocco on their run to the semi-finals.
“When you get out of the group, it doesn’t matter if you’re favourite or not, you can keep going like Morocco did. With the potential and players we have, had we gone through I think we could have done something great,” Sulemana said.
“It’s just so unfortunate how it all ended for us at the World Cup (but) to go out in the group stage on the biggest stage in the world is a learning process that should prepare us for the future.
“We had three points and needed a draw or a win to go through, I think we were close but paid the price. We have shown in Qatar that we are fearless and the victory against South Korea is another proof that we have a solid foundation to build on.”
A new era for the Black Stars
Managerless, following the resignation of Addo, the four-time African champions will be counting on the European-born members of the squad as they now resume qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations.
German-born players – Stephen Ambrosius, Ransford-Yeboah Konigsdorffer and Patric Pfeiffer will join Lamptey and Williams to compete on the continent.
Salisu, Daniel Amartey and Alexander Djiku look set to be the bedrock of Ghana’s defensive set up while Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, at 29, has the capacity to be captain and lead the next era.
The squad also has a younger element who will benefit from the experience in Qatar, such as Sulemana and Mohammed Kudus, while the likes of Fatawu Issahaku, Gideon Mensah and Abdul Samed Salis all have their best years ahead of them.
“It’s self-motivating for us as young players. We know Ghanaians see us as the future and that is a big responsibility. I think we can handle it,” Sulemana said.
“If you can’t handle the pressure against you, you just stay at home and don’t play football because in football, there’s pressure every day.
“Football is a game of opinions, you know, some people will believe in us and others won’t. That’s just how football is.”
It remains to be seen how much further involvement elder statesmen such as 33-year-old Andre Ayew and his brother Jordan, who is 31, will have.
Ghana will resume action in the qualification to reach the next Nations Cup in March.
Back in June, they opened their campaign for the delayed 2023 tournament with a 3-0 home win over Madagascar before a 1-1 draw away to Central African Republic.
However, the country’s Football Association (GFA) is yet to fill the void created by the departure of Addo and will need to name a replacement before the home and away fixtures against Angola.
“We need to return to international football with the mindset of improving from the outing in Qatar,” Sulemana added.
“Everyone understands what is expected and we cannot make the same mistakes again as a country.
“We must do all we can, deliver on the pitch and make our country proud.”