Ghanaian focus on Partey ahead of Madrid derby
Atletico Madrid's matches have taken on a much greater significance in Ghana following the recent rise to prominence of Thomas Partey, with the nation tuning in to follow the progress of its new poster boy.
Diego Simeone's side had already become popular in Ghana after threatening the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly in Spanish football in recent seasons, but these days the attention has reached a new fever pitch due to Partey.
On Saturday, when Atletico Madrid face Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano, the Ghanaian focus on Partey will be intense.
From being a bit-part player in recent seasons, Partey has become central to Simeone's side this term, and has already made more starts this term than he managed in either of the last two campaigns.
He rescued a point for Atleti in the Champions League in a 1-1 draw versus Qarabag, avoiding a humiliating defeat, before curling in a superb effort to earn them a 1-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga.
In all, he has scored three goals this season, and finally, Ghanaians can celebrate the fact that another one of their compatriots is starring at a major European club.
"I am very happy with what Partey is doing at Atletico Madrid," Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan told KweséESPN. "Since the days of Michael Essien, who was making Ghana proud at Chelsea, we have not had a midfielder who has stood out like this.
"No disrespect to anyone because we have had great midfielders, but since Essien, Partey is the one who is beginning to stand out in Europe."
The comparisons with Essien don't simply end with the fact that both played key roles in the heart of the park for a European heavyweight.
Like the former Chelsea man, Partey can pass, dominate midfields, and score the odd spectacular goal.
He demonstrated his goalscoring prowess for the Black Stars in a recent World Cup qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville, becoming the first Ghanaian since Jordan Ayew in 2014 to score a hat-trick in national-team colours in a 5-1 victory.
"Every coach would love him in the team," Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah told KweséESPN. "He is perfect in the defensive role and his confidence level is really high.
"He can [anchor] a team well and, of late, his scoring ability is fantastic. For me he is an all-round player."
While the Black Stars head coach has made no secret of his desire to build the Black Stars around Partey, largely due to his versatility across the midfield, he's vowed not to burden the powerhouse with any leadership roles for the time being.
"He says very little off the pitch so you have to allow him to play," the coach continued. "On the pitch he controls a game well but is not one to bark instructions to anyone.
"He leads simply by what he does."
The Ghanaian national side may feel like they're at a low ebb now following their disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign and their failure to reach Russia, but the emergence of Partey - a fine talent currently making an impact at a European giant - offers hope for a brighter future.