United's man of Steel

2009-02-11 00:00

IT takes more than ability to survive relegation — it takes heart, soul, steel and determination. Fortunately for Maritzburg United, defensive midfielder John Arwuah has all those qualities, and ability too.

Not for the first time this season for a player who throws himself into challenges, Arwuah missed training yesterday to have an ultrasound scan. “It’s just a knock I got against Sundowns. It’s because I’m always in the thick of things,” he said dismissively.

Ghanaian Arwuah found his form captaining Maritzburg to promotion last season. In the PSL, the midfielder immediately looked comfortable, and has gone from strength to strength.

Ghanaians are a tough breed. They are raised on plantain — a vegetable that looks like a banana and is packed with fibre and energy — fresh air and sea breezes.

“I think in Ghana we like to train a lot and live an outdoor life,” explains Arwuah, who began his professional career at 19 with Ghanaian Premier League team Tema Real Sportif in Accra.

“People who live in the coastal area like to train on the beach. And maybe the local food does have something to do with it, like plantain. There is more local food available and people don’t eat out at restaurants as much.”

Arwuah came to South Africa in 2005 when he joined Tembisa Classic with the notion that he would play in the PSL with the newly-promoted team, only for its franchise to be sold to Maritzburg United. He did not fit into then coach Trott Moloto’s plans so ended up at first division Durban Stars, where he alternated as attacking midfielder and defender.

After joining United last season, Arwuah discovered his best position in defensive midfield.

“The role Ian [Palmer] had me play was new to me, but I realised it was probably my best position.”

Arwuah has really hit form in his last six games, playing a prominent role in United winning three of those to ease their relegation concerns.

“It’s a team sport so the team as a whole has worked on turning the side around,” he said.

“And coach Gordon [Igesund] is also playing a major role. He’s making us play well in training, and has got us knocking the ball around, keeping possession and attacking more.”

Arwuah says management have helped the situation by not putting too much pressure on the side.

“We are under pressure, but the chairman, Farouk [Kadodia], and Gordon have really helped because even when we lose they come to the change-room and say, ‘Guys, don’t worry, you played well’.

“That’s boosted our spirit and helped us to be calm, because they are taking the pressure for us.”

The player’s high work-rate has made an impression in the PSL, and it will not be surprising if bigger teams try to buy Arwuah out of his three-year contract.

And his form has not just attracted attention locally, but also back in Ghana. Arwuah believes he could make a contribution to the Black Stars, even though he is in competition for his position with one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, Chelsea star Michael Essien.

“This last game against AmaZulu, I don’t know how, but people in Ghana knew I was man of the match and I was called for interviews by radio stations. They have DStv there, but it’s not in every home and mostly in hotels. But people do seem to know about what I am doing here.”

After playing such a prominent role in United’s promotion, the midfielder is determined to see the team stay in the PSL.

“Definitely we are going to stay. And it won’t be only ‘John’. It’s a team sport and all the players … it’s our job. We fought so hard to get the team to the PSL, and we know how many people will be disappointed if we don’t stay there.”

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