When Major League Soccer (MLS) side Cincinnati FC signed Ghanaian youngster Isaac Atanga on 31 March from Danish top-flight side Nordsjaelland it caused surprise in some quarters.
Instead of heading to North America many expected the promising winger to make a move to one of the elite leagues in Europe.
After all his compatriot, as well as former Nordsjaelland team-mate, Mohammed Kudus was snapped up by Dutch Eredivisie powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam in the summer of 2020.
The 20-year-old product of Ghana’s Right to Dream Academy, which also owns Nordsjaelland, had been linked to Scottish champions Rangers, Spanish side Alaves, Dutch side Feyenoord as well as Belgian duo Anderlecht and Club Brugge.
“[Mohammed] Kudus is a wonderful player and wherever he is now I’m happy and proud of him. But we both are two different people and cannot have the same decision,” Atanga told BBC Sport Africa.
“I decided to move to MLS because I feel it’s a great league to play in. So I’m happy with my decision and excited to play for FC Cincinnati.”
A changing image?
With MLS sometimes seen as something of ‘retirement league’, where some stars especially go to spend the twilight of their careers, Atanga is adamant that his move to North America will not be forever.
“Not all people think the same, some think it’s a step down but I think it’s another big step up towards my dream and I’m excited about that,” he insisted.
Indeed in recent times young talent has been on the move to Europe from MLS with the likes of Alphonso Davies moving from Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich, AS Roma signing of US international Bryan Reynolds and Tyler Adams’ transfer from New York Red Bulls to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig.
“My expectation with FC Cincinnati is to achieve greatness. I’m going to give everything in my power to help them,” he continued.
“The American lifestyle didn’t play a part in my decision to move to MLS, it’s a very interesting league and I want to also be part.”
Atanga’s compatriot and fellow former Right To Dream Academy trainee David Accam is one man who has moved back to Europe after a stint in MLS.
In 2014 Accam was in demand in Europe after a purple patch of scoring form in the Swedish top-flight with Helsingborg but he moved to North America, where he spent seven years.
The 30-year-old Ghana international is currently on loan back in Sweden with Hammarby from Nashville, who he joined in 2020 after stints at Chicago Fire, Philadelphia Union, and Columbus Crew.
“I don’t have any regrets moving to MLS but the only regret I had was not forcing my way out after 2-3 seasons in MLS when I had offers in the top five leagues in the world,” Accam explained.
“I don’t think it is a step down going to MLS. I consider MLS to be a development or a stepping stone for young players to move on to bigger leagues in the world.
“I went through the offers I had with my family and management and at that moment, putting everything into consideration, I think the best offer on the table was MLS.
“I don’t want to mention names [of clubs] but I had two offers in Europe, two in North America and one in Asia.”
An added bonus for Atanga is that Cincinnati FC has a partnership deal with German Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim which could help in any bid he has to play in Europe again.
Ibrahim Ridwan Asante
Football Writer, Toronto