Djiku eclipses Andre Ayew, what next for Ghana center-back?

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Ghana have a strong and proud tradition in the French top flight — Ligue 1 — with some of the Black Stars’ greatest ever players gracing the division over the years.

From Abedi Pele, Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew with Olympique de Marseille to historic contributions like Anthony Baffoe and Michael Essien, many of the country stars have thrived in France.

Latterly, the likes of Kamaldeen Sulemana, Majeed Waris and Gideon Mensah have impressed in Ligue 1, although no Black Star to have featured in the division can eclipse Alexander Djiku, who broke the Ghanaian record for appearances in the French top flight.

The center-back broke Dede’s record of 182 outings last weekend, when he made his 183rd league appearance in Ligue 1.

It’s an impressive feat for the defender considering some of the great Ghanaian names to have played in the division, and it’s testament to the stopper’s longevity in one of the world’s most competitive leagues.

The 27-year-old made his Ligue 1 debut while on the books of Corsican side SC Bastia — Essien’s alma mater — in the 2014-15 season, and has featured consistently across the next six campaigns.

Following time at the Furiani, he moved on to SM Caen, before signing for current club Racing Club Strasbourg Alsace in 2019.

It’s here that Djiku has moved from being a player regularly battling the drop — he’s twice been relegated — to one competing for the top three.

By the halfway point of the season, only one player had made more interceptions across Europe’s big five leagues — AS Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni — with Djiku demonstrating why he’s been compared to Liverpool center-back Virgil van Dijk.

Indeed, heading into the weekend’s fixtures, ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Olympique Lyonnais — currently struggling in midtable — Strasbourg sit fourth in the table, hot on the heels of Stade Rennais in third.

European football would be a fitting next step for the center-back, who is entering his prime years and has demonstrated an admirable level of consistency during the course of his Ligue 1 career to date.

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Djiku has already shown in recent years that he belongs at international level, having first made his debut when international football resumed in the Autumn of 2020.

Things did not start strongly — with that miserable 3-0 friendly defeat by Mali — but things have steadily improved, through the tenures of CK Akonnor, Milovan Rajevac, Otto Addo, and now, Chris Hughton.

Djiku has had his tough moments — notably that 3-2 Africa Cup of Nations defeat by Comoros — and only five of his 16 international outings have been competitive victories.

However, the defender came into his own during those two World Cup qualifying draws against Nigeria, enjoying the tussle with Victor Osimhen and forging a fine partnership with Daniel Amartey.

With Dennis Odoi and Mensah now forming a defensive unit ahead of Joseph Wollacott, and Iddrisu Baba protecting from midfield, Ghana can start to build a strong platform as they look to tackle a tricky World Cup group. Perhaps even Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu will be added to the mix before Qatar.

While he continues to excel in Ligue 1, Montpellier-born Djiku is not closed to potential opportunities beyond l’Hexagone.

“I’ve spoken a lot with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Thomas Partey,” he told Sky Sports last month. “They have enjoyed the Premier League so much since they have been here.

“It’s a spectacular league that gives you the opportunity to express yourself and it’s often a very open game,” he added. “It’s one of the best leagues in the world and obviously this makes you want to try it one day.”

For now, Ligue 1; next season, perhaps the World Cup and the Champions League… beyond that, does the Premier League beckon?

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