Gideon Baah never frets about his career as a professional soccer player. “I’m a very religious person and I believe in God,” he told the Guardian. “Everything that happens to me is the will of God. I know with him in my life, anything is possible.”
Soft-spoken, the defender’s route into professional soccer was far from conventional. A reality TV star in his native Ghana, Baah appeared on MTN Soccer Academy. “It was the first show of its kind in Ghana, so it was a very big thing there,” Baah explains.
Competing for a host of prizes including, a car, a trip to the 2010 World Cup and cash, the most sought-after reward was a two week trial with Chelsea. Winning the competition, Baah not only impressed the club but also compatriot Michael Essien. “It was a dream come true actually,” Baah says of his time at Cobham. “So many players in Ghana and worldwide would love to see how Chelsea run their academies and how football is there. I loved every moment of my time there.”
Essien urged the club to sign the youngster, but his inability to secure a work permit made it impossible. A blow, Baah returned home to Ghana where his exploits on television had earned him considerable interest. “With all the offers that I had at that time, [Asante] Kotoko was the biggest team,” he says. “As a kid I relished the chance to play for Asante Kotoko. At that time, I also had offers from South Africa which I declined after advice from my father.”
One of Ghana’s biggest clubs, the Porcupines have won their domestic league well over 20 times. “It’s a big club, they play with a minimum capacity of 20,000 or 30,000,” Baah explains. “People in Kumasi love football. I am happy to have played in that club, they made me who I am now.”
While there, Baah played with another talented defender destined for Europe: Chelsea’s Baba Rahman. “At the time he came I was injured,” Baah says. “I had a fractured tibia and fibula. I was out for almost a year, and they tried to find my replacement. They found Baba Rahman, and the rest as they say is history.”
Baah spent four years with the club, leaving in 2013. “At that time I wanted to come to Europe really badly,” he says. “I’d made my name in Ghana, in Kotoko, and I had many offers, but some were not in good footballing countries. I chose Finland, and FC Honka, because they had qualified for the Europa League qualification stages. I thought why not? If I play for Honka I have the opportunity to sample the Europa League.”
It was with Honka that Baah first caught the eye of Aki Riihilahti, CEO of HJK Helsinki. “Gideon is the kind of player that you can see the talent immediately,” Riihilahti explains. “He’s very explosive. He has some rare qualities, both physically and with the ball. We pay special attention to a player’s background check and their personality too. We’re a small country, you can’t make mistakes in recruiting players.”
A step up in expectation, with his move to HJK came the chance to once again compete in Europe. “What’s best about Gideon is he believes in his talent,” Riihilahti says. “He believes he can play in all leagues, and funnily enough the higher the challenge, the better he performs. He played his best games for us in the Europa League group stage.”
Baah believes his composure comes from his time in Ghana. “Being able to live up to the big games in Europe, and wherever I play, is due to playing in Kotoko. The fans are really demanding, there is always pressure on the players. If I could override the pressure in Asante Kotoko, anywhere should be ok for me. I think it will really help me playing in New York.”
Drawing interest from Lech Poznan, as well as Barcelona B, the 24-year-old has been cautious in choosing his next club. “Before I signed on for New York Red Bulls I watched them a bit,” he says. “I was really attracted to their style of play, and I know last year they had a fantastic season. It’s a good club with good infrastructure, so the decision to come to New York Red Bulls was not hard at all.”
Furthering his Chelsea connection, Baah will now fill the void left by Matt Miazga. The towering defender moved to Stamford Bridge in January, by which point the Red Bulls were already preparing his replacement. “Even before I came to the States, I had reps from Red Bull coming to Finland to show me the tactics, and how the team play,” Baah explains. “They spent some time teaching me the philosophies of the game, even before the deal was done. Everything has been in place, and I’m learning really fast. To me its very demanding, you know you are coming to a team and going to be a starter. The pressure is ok though, the feedback from the coaches is positive.”
Citing Kaka as an idol due to his profession of Christianity, Baah will hopefully come up against the Brazilian this season. One of many tests he’ll face as he tries to make it back to the elite level he tasted with Chelsea, those who worked with him are confident he will find success. “I think he will do well in every club that he goes,” Riihilahti says.
“I’m not going to start guessing what will happen with him, but I think there’s a lot of football still in him.”
EnterGhana.com | Credit: the Guardian | From reality TV to the Red Bull Arena: Gideon Baah’s strange trip to MLS