Augsburg - On 11 August 2014 Abdul Rahman Baba knew he was about to play his last game for SpVgg Greuther Fürth. A deal with FC Augsburg was almost complete and he was heading further south the following morning to tie up the formalities. His parting gift to Fürth fans, however, was a memorable reminder of his precocious talent.
Augsburg's assist machine
The left-back inspired the side to their first victory on home soil over local rivals 1. FC Nürnberg in 18 years with two goals and an assist in a 5-1 victory. If the performance left Fürth fans reminiscing over what might have been, it had Augsburg supporters licking their lips at what was to come.
"We’re really pleased to have taken Abdul Rahman Baba under contract," said Augsburg sporting director Stefan Reuter. "We’re convinced that it's not just his sporting qualities which make him a very good fit for our team. He’s a young player with plenty of potential for development who wants to prove himself in the Bundesliga."
So far, that development has come rapidly, his final performance for Fürth proving a prelude of what was to follow at the SGL Arena. Augsburg fans are by now used to the sight of the left-back beating an opposition full-back for pace, while his three assists from open play are only bettered by Kevin de Bruyne so far this term. Furthermore, Baba has also put in more crosses (47) than anyone in the league apart from Hertha Berlin's Roy Beerens (52). However, the fact that he makes almost three interceptions and five tackles per game highlight that he is defensively sound too.
Baba’s performances at both ends of the pitch have made him the highest-rated U-21 footballer in Europe according to whoscored.com, and he has filled the boots of his Augsburg predecessor Matthias Ostrzolek (now at Hamburger SV) with aplomb. His impressive start to the season has even brought him a first international call-up, as Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah handed the 20-year-old a debut against Togo on 10 September. True to form, Baba picked up an assist in the 3-2 success.
Such international recognition is the reward for an intelligent career path, which saw Baba opt for Fürth ahead of bigger-name suitors prior to the 2012/13 season. Despite an inauspicious debut, receiving a red card in a DFB Cup clash with Kickers Offenbach, the then-teenager bounced back in fine fashion. He played every minute of Clover Leaves' Rückrunde, in the process emerging as one of the club's few bright points as Fürth were relegated with only 21 points.
'The complete left-back'
Despite the team going down, the only way for Baba’s career was up. FIFA described him as "the complete left-back" in their report on the U-20 World Cup in summer 2013, a tournament in which he captained his country to third place. Indeed, his decision to move to Augsburg the following summer was taken in characteristically well-thought out fashion: "Lots of players come to this club and have the opportunity to improve," Baba pointed out after joining. "I want to make the most of that opportunity and establish myself in the Bundesliga."
He has started doing just that already and Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl is in no doubt that Baba is not so much a rising star as almost the finished article: "He made a good impression here from the very first day. We’ve been unreservedly impressed by him and by his footballing qualities." Weinzierl might as well have been speaking on behalf of the Bundesliga as a whole.