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Italy-born Emmanuel Gyasi may have fulfilled his childhood dream of playing for Ghana but he already has a new one to chase.
The 27-year-old, who plays for Italian Serie A side Spezia Calcio, made his international debut on 25 March as the Blacks Stars drew 1-1 with South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
He now has his sights firmly set on being part of the squad at the Nations Cup finals in Cameroon next year and helping his country end a 30-years wait for success.
“My childhood dream has always been wearing the Ghana National team shirt,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“I wanted to become a football player and play for Ghana: I never had a doubt about it.
“In the past I had two idols in our national team: Stephen Appiah and Asamoah Gyan. They were great, I used to love them and watch all of their games.”
A bond to Ghana
Gyasi was born in the Italian city of Palermo in 1994 but was then raised in Ghana by his grandparents until he was 11, when he returned to Italy.
He is grateful for a life split between Africa and Europe.
“I went to Ghana as I was a small child and I lived there with my grandparents and my uncle,” he explained.
“It was a great experience for me, it allowed me to know my origins and the culture of my country. When I then moved back to Italy, I kept feeling Ghana was very close to me.
“Although I was born in Italy and I feel very comfortable here, my land of origin is Ghana. My bond to Ghana has never vanished or diminished throughout the years.
“Those are my origins. That is my motherland. It’s something indelible in my heart.”
The next dream
His bond with Ghana was completed earlier this year when Black Stars coach CK Akonnor named Gyasi in his squad for the final two 2021 Nations Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Sao Tome and Principe.
“There had been some speculations about me, but I had never spoken to anyone from the Ghana Football Association (GFA) before (the call-up).” he explained.
“Then I was finally called up! Ghana is an important football country in Africa, with thousands of good players. I am very proud of myself.”
Ghana are four-time African champions but have not won the title since 1982, instead they have lost in three finals since then and reached the semi-finals on a further five occasions.
Having fulfilled a personal dream Gyasi’s next dream is one held by every Ghana football fan.
“Ghana are a strong National team, a good mix of interesting young prospects and more experienced players. The manager and his staff are very prepared too,” he explained.
“Ghana have played several World Cups and Africa Cups of Nations: our dream and that of our fans is to win the trophy.
“We know it won’t be easy and we will have to think game by game, but we’ll go there to make our dreams come true. We have to believe in ourselves.
“I met Alfred Duncan and Kwadwo Asamoah (the only other Ghana internationals in Serie A) when we played against Cagliari we had a nice chat after the final whistle and they gave me some advice, I want to thank them for this.”
Impressing with Spezia
Gyasi’s Ghana debut has come after he made his first Serie A appearances this season for Spezia, who are also playing top-flight football in Italy for the first time.
The Aquilotti, or the Little Eagles, as they are known in Italy have surprised many by remaining three points clear of the relegation zone with four matches left to play.
“We kept the core of last year’s team and that helped us integrating the players who have arrived in the summer,” Gyasi explained.
“Before I actually judge our performance, I’d rather wait and put the cherry on the cake. We did well so far but we have to top it with the right finish!”
The fact that Spezia are in the Serie A has a lot to do with Gyasi as it was his goal that decided last season’s play-off first leg against Frosinone, allowing his club to clinch promotion after the second leg.
“I will never forget that goal. It has been an historical moment for us,” he said.
“We got promoted to Serie A in the end, something which had never happened before in the club’s 100 years of history.”
It might be their first year in the top-flight but wins against AC Milan and Napoli as well as draws against champions Inter Milan and Atalanta alongside knocking AS Roma out of the Coppa Italia has proved Spezia can give anyone a game.
“We are a great group and we have a common goal,” Gyasi added.
“The club takes care of everything and we just need to concentrate on our job on the pitch.@
While Spezia have been fundamental in Gyasi’s recent development he also points to the role played by the club’s manager Vincenzo Italiano.
“A player has to be lucky and meet the perfect manager and that has happened to me, I feel his confidence and that made me develop greatly.” Gyasi insisted.
“It’s my third year here, Spezia feels like a second home to me. I have found the necessary stability and most of this is down to the manager.
Another source of inspiration for Gyasi to continue striving to develop is Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, who at the age of 36 is the leading scorer in Serie A.
“Cristiano Ronaldo has won everything and still has the same determination: he is an example every child, who wants to become a football player, should follow,” Gyasi said.
“This year we faced each other on the pitch, we talked and we swapped shirts: I would normally see him on TV and all of a sudden he was there, standing in front of me. It was an incredible emotion, I can’t even explain it.”
With that source of inspiration Gyasi’s and Ghana’s future could be a bright one.