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The inside story of Felix Afena Gyan – The wonderkid catching Jose Mourinho’s eye at AS Roma

Felix Afena Gyan has burst to prominence following his brace against Genoa in Serie A. FTF charts his spectacular rise with his agent, Oliver Arthur.

Growing up in Sunyani, football clubs from around Ghana approached Felix Afena Gyan, but his mum turned them all away.

She wanted her son to stay in school. She knew the right opportunity would come their way with time. There was no need to rush.

Her son had the talent. And talent can take you far with patience and hard work.

“Initially he didn’t understand it,” Oliver Arthur, Afena Gyan’s agent, tells First Time Finish. “But looking back, he believes his mum took the best decision for him in terms of his career.”

A few years later, that gratitude was evident on Afena Gyan’s gleaming face after a celestial twenty minute cameo for Roma against Genoa to herald his arrival on the European scene.

“I thank God for this opportunity he gave me, the team, the coach, the fans, players, for their amazing support. I also want to say thank you Mom, she is in Ghana, I love you,” he told DAZN.

Oliver Arthur understands Afena Gyan’s special relationship with his mother more than most.

“A lot of his success started with her. Because if you think if he had registered with a club while in school, he wouldn’t be the way he is now.”

From playing at school in Ghana to the Serie A in the space of merely a year, Afena Gyan’s prodigious rise in Europe has morphed into a modern day fairy-tale. With the guidance of his very own Merlin in Jose Mourinho, it’s a tale that has just begun.

EurAfrica

Out of all the clubs and academies that approached Afena Gyan and his mum, only one could persuade her to say yes.

EurAfrica based in Ghana’s capital of Accra was only founded just over two years ago, but its trusted connections to Europe has already reaped the academy a plethora of successful graduates.

“The good thing about the academy is that they are very focused and they only recruit the players the absolutely believe are prepared to make the next step in their career,” Oliver Arthur, who has developed a good rapport with the academy’s founders, says.

It was thanks to Arthur’s good connections with EurAfrica that he spotted Afena Gyan. He was called to watch the then 17-year-old forward, and he was instantly enamoured.

“His power and his speed stood out about him straight away. He had a lot of speed and you could see a lot of power in his legs.

“I spoke to the coach about him. The coach told me, Oliver: This player, if you want to move him, don’t move him to any club in mid-table. Make sure that he is in a top four club in the main European countries.”

Oliver quickly obliged.

Before long, Felix Afena Gyan was having trials with AS Roma and AC Milan.

The Italian chapter

As a teenager, Afena Gyan first fell in love with Roma in 2018 watching from a TV screen in his home in Sunyani. The spectacular 3-0 comeback against Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico in the Champions League left an indelible mark.

Little did he think he would play for the club’s first team merely three years later.

“When I told him he was going to Roma, it was like wow, a dream come true!” Arthur recalls with a proud smile.

Felix Afena Gyan joined the club in January 2021. He initially, linked-up with the club’s U18 side, but after averaging a goal contribution per every 90 mins, Afena Gyan was promoted to Roma’s second string side in the Primavera.

He finished the season with six goal contributions in 15 games for Roma’s Primavera side earning praise and recognition in the process, even training with the club’s first team under Paulo Fonseca.

It would be a summer appointment that would change his fortunes.

Jose Mourinho

“Personally, I think he has a lot of the attributes of Samuel Eto’o with the speed and the power to take on defenders,” Oliver Arthur says.

“If you make a mistake and he gets ahead of you, then he is gone. Maybe he will be like Mbappe in the future. But for now, he reminds of Eto’o.”

Perhaps it is by mere coincidence that Jose Mourinho’s last reign in Italy heralded the renaissance of Samuel Eto’o with the legendary forward playing a key role in the duo’s Champions League triumph at Inter Milan.

Mourinho’s track record with Didier Drogba — Africa’s second greatest forward in the 21st century is also one that hints towards positive omens.

Arthur is hoping Felix Afena Gyan can follow suit.

“In the second team, he wanted to do everything possible to catch the eye of the manager.

“He [Mourinho] is somebody he admires so much. Once he came in, Felix said that he was ready to learn everything from this manager. He told me: I’m ready to go every length to be part of the first team.

Afena Gyan stuck true to his word, scoring six times in five games for Roma’s Primavera team and alerting the attention of Mourinho.

A dream debut

With the game at a stalemate, Jose Mourinho had to roll the dice against Genoa.

His Roma side desperately needed a victory and Mourinho decided to play his wildcard.

Felix Afena Gyan had only played 78 minutes in Serie A up until that fated November Sunday evening, but he settled into the game like a veteran who had been playing in Italy for years.

“We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The first goal was what a lot of strikers would miss. After that I was like, wow. Then the second one, it was magical,” Oliver Arthur recalls.

“After the game, he called me from the dressing room and said: I just want to say thank you for everything you have done for me. I will never ever forget those words. There was so much joy. Everybody shouting around. For me it meant so much.”

Footage of Mourinho buying Afena Gyan the shoes he had promised him in the game’s aftermath went viral all across social media. Afena Gyan’s astounded reaction captured the hearts of many, and Arthur believes humility is one of his client’s best asset.

“What I like about Felix is that even now, when everybody is talking about him, he doesn’t see himself as a star or as a player who has arrived.

“He is still thinking of himself as somebody who is just starting and who needs to learn.

“That attitude is what is going to propel him to the highest level. He wants to win the Champions League and compete for the Ballon d’Or but we know it’s a step-by-step process and he is ready to take every step.”

The future

What the next chapter holds remains to be seen. Felix Afena Gyan is determined to build on his exceptional burst to prominence and he has the work-rate and desire to hone his skills and develop.

In Rome, he has found himself a place where he can thrive not just at the club but in the city, too, having settled quickly in his new surroundings.

“He loves the city and loves everything about Rome. He has never stayed in any other city than his hometown of Sunyani.”

Mourinho’s guidance could be crucial in aiding him along the way. Afena Gyan is determined to seep all the knowledge from the renowned manager like a sponge.

At international level, Afena Gyan has rejected advances from the Ghana FA. But sooner of later, he will play for his nation who are experiencing an exciting metamorphosis.

The likes of Kamaldeen Sulemana, Mohamed Kudus and Abdul Fatawu are already regular members of the senior team. The prospect of adding Afena Gyan to the mix is an enticing one.

For now, though, Oliver Arthur insists his client needs to continue his hard work in Rome.

“He is still learning, and he is very much in the learning process. He has that mentality too. Felix wants to learn everything to achieve the highest level.”

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