The Atletico Madrid midfielder has risen to prominence for club and country over the last three months, and has proved a silver lining on both fronts.
These are hard times for saviours in Madrid. Where once deity was regarded in terms of foregone conclusion, there now have arisen doubts, both over Zinedine Zidane and Diego Simeone, helmsmen respectively of Real and Atletico. That both require affirmation at this time underlines just how far their teams have strayed from the ideal.
Zidane’s doctrine of control and efficiency has found its most cutting betrayal in a troubling midfield lethargy and the apostatical imprecision (momentary? Who can know these things?) of Cristiano Ronaldo, while Simeone’s more militant gospel has been undermined by the absences (in body) of Resurrección Koke and (in quality) of Antoine Griezmann.
For the former, it is hard to fathom a continued slide, such is the technical nous in the side. In that vein, a welcome domination of Las Palmas at the weekend was just the trick to bounce back from losses to Girona and Tottenham Hotspur. For the latter though, his moment of doubt was punctuated, right at the death, by Thomas Partey away at Deportivo.
One might say that Ghana international Partey is the one silver lining in a less than remarkable campaign so far for Los Colchoneros…well, that and the gleaming Metropolitano. Both, though, are the fruition of a long-term project and patience, even more so for the 24-year-old, who this season has begun to make himself more relevant than ever before.
The bare numbers bear this out. He has already started more league games (eight) this season than he did all of last season (six), and has scored four times in all competitions for Atletico, the latest a corker to earn Simeone’s men a barely deserved victory in Galicia.
It has been a long, hard (literally; the brutal physical regimen that Cholo insists on is now legendary – compatriot Bernard Mensah famously vomited during a preseason session last season, an occurrence that is apparently quite commonplace) road for Partey, whose lean, imposing physique and stride length make him an obvious fit within a team built around discipline and intensity.
However, what is apparent watching him play is that there is more, as is often the case with African midfielders typecast as defensive players purely for their physical attributes.
Looking away from the concomitant racial undertones, it is perhaps this restraint, the willingness to become what is required and subjugate free rein of his abilities to the service of the team, that is most attractive to Simeone.
He has, however, offered little glimpses notwithstanding: the aforementioned set-piece at the weekend, but more impressively, the opener in their disappointing Champions League draw at home to Azerbaijani champions Qarabag. For Ghana, however, he is a whole other proposition, and has thrust himself front and centre of Kwesi Appiah’s second coming.
“There is expectation because I play for Atletico; I am a young player and still quite new to the national team,” the midfielder told KweséESPN. “I know that I just have to keep playing and improving and try to not think about the pressure.”
It is with the Black Stars that he displays the full range of his ability, marrying that technique with the intelligence of his runs to create a lethal darting weapon from deep. If he feels any such pressure, he certainly does not show it.
As Appiah has controversially sought to wean the national team off the outsized and slightly entitled influence of the Ayew Brothers, Partey has taken up the mantle, scoring four times in two games against Congo in September to breathe short-lived impetus into Ghana’s flagging World Cup qualifying bid.
That boat has now sailed, but the process of regeneration has begun for Ghana, with Thomas as the catalyst, bidding Appiah to take that step off the side of the boat.
While a new build was probably always the plan, his blockbuster performances over the last three months have done more to embolden the much-maligned trainer, and have perhaps even bought him patience from a jaded public.
There may be life after Gyan and the Ayews after all; and in Partey, though young, the Black Stars have a new leader.