At the start of the current season, many Bundesliga experts believed Augsburg to be among the prime candidates for relegation, just as they have been every year since winning promotion to Germany’s top flight in 2011.
Despite these gloomy forecasts, coach Markus Weinzierl has managed to build a team that never give up and consistently impress crowds with their remarkable cohesion, resulting in an incredible campaign for the Swabian side. With ten matches left to play, not only is their safety assured but they are also challenging for a UEFA Champions League qualifying spot.
This achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that several players – including key performer and recent international debutant Andre Hahn – left the club at the start of the season, while a total of seven new recruits arrived. Abdul Rahman Baba was Augsburg’s final summer transfer and arguably their best, becoming the emblem of their recent upturn in fortunes after settling effortlessly into his role on the left side of defence.
Despite arriving from second-tier team Greuther Furth, the Ghanaian had no problems adjusting to life at his new club, completing the full 90 minutes in 21 of the Fuggerstädters’ 25 Bundesliga matches so far in this campaign and missing a further three while on international duty at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2015.
Indeed, the 20-year-old has yet to encounter any significant snags as his career continues its steady yet meteoric rise. His journey began in his hometown of Tamale, as he explained in an interview with FIFA.com: “It was always my dream to become a professional footballer. As a kid I spent every day kicking a ball around the streets.” Baba did not have to wait long for this dream to become a reality, progressing straight from Dreamz FC’s U-17 side to its first team. He travelled to Asante Kotoko on loan in 2011 and immediately won the league title with his new colleagues.
Moving abroad while scarcely an adult
This sudden success also attracted the attention of European clubs, prompting the then 18-year-old Baba to swap his homeland for Bundesliga football in the Bavarian city of Furth in 2012. The 1.79-metre-tall defender’s desire to impress meant he was unfazed by his new environment and the unfamiliar climate: “I was happy to have been given such a great opportunity in Germany, so I settled in relatively quickly.”
It was at this point that the Ghanaian experienced his first minor setbacks, having to deal with both the Shamrocks’ relegation to the second tier and the loss of his place in their starting line-up. Undeterred, he played his way back into the first team, not least because he had been spotted by Ghana’s national coach, who gave him a valuable confidence boost on the world stage.
The Black Satellites achieved a third-place finish at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 in Turkey where, according to the Technical Studies Group (TSG)’s final report, Baba was one of his side’s key players, impressing the experts with his tackling abilities, technique and attacking drive. The man himself remembers the tournament fondly and regards it as “extremely important” for his personal development. “A World Cup is always something very special. What’s more, I played regularly at the tournament and had an international opportunity to demonstrate that I’m a good footballer.”
A thoroughly modern full-back
After continuing to demonstrate his talent week in, week out on his return to club football, it was little surprise when Germany’s top-flight sides came calling. Baba has been the image of a modern full-back – to borrow a phrase heard so often nowadays – while working hard down Augsburg’s left flank this season. But what, in his opinion, makes a good wide-playing defender? “You’ve got to be strong in both defence and attack,” the youngster explained. “You have to be confident enough in your own ability to push forward, but of course you’ve also got to tackle strongly, pass accurately and remain disciplined.”
“Perhaps the key thing about my play is my pace, technique and willingness to attack,” he added. Given these attributes, it is little wonder that he cites Brazil and Real Madrid’s Marcelo as his role model. Baba is keen to keep learning from his idol in future, explaining that he is not yet satisfied with what he has achieved in his career before adding: “I’m proud to have been able to experience so much at my age and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”
Ghana’s new generation
There is no doubt that travelling to the Africa Cup of Nations at the start of this year was a particularly vital experience for the young defender, who was an integral part of his national side and played a key role in helping them reach the final, where they were only narrowly beaten on penalties by Côte d’Ivoire. Although the disappointment of this defeat clearly stung deeply at first, the fact that Ghana performed so well with a young team is something Baba can now look back on with pride. One thing he remembers particularly clearly is “the welcome received from all our fans at the airport just after the final.”
The tournament in Equatorial Guinea marked the first major step for the Black Stars since the upheaval that followed the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™, with experienced players such as Kevin Prince Boateng and Michael Essien left out of the squad since the team’s disappointing group stage exit from last year’s competition. This radical change left the door open for talented youngsters including the Augsburg defender, who appreciates the positive effect this overhaul has had. “We have a very young side filled with players who are hungry and want to achieve something,” he explained. “I’m sure we can draw attention to ourselves over the next few years.”
Baba is determined not to be distracted by anything in his quest to ensure that these words are accompanied by action, and continues to live by his own motto: “You’ve got to work hard every day, constantly strive to improve and believe in yourself.” With this in mind, it will only be a matter of time before Abdul Rahman Baba takes the next step in what has so far been a stellar career.