LIFE may have shaped Wakaso Mubarak, but he hasn’t allowed it to define him. Even when it has dealt him tragedy of unspeakable proportions. The Ghana winger arrived at Celtic yesterday on a season-long loan deal from Rubin Kazan with a determination to “make it big” at the club. Yet, whether he does or not is insignificant when set against what he had to make it through in January.
Then in his hometown of Tamale with his wife and four children, because the Russian league was in winter shut-down, the 24-year-old’s four-month-old youngest, Wakaso Mubarak Jnr, developed a fever and sickness. The player took him to hospital, but after a check-up was told there was “nothing wrong”. However, after the child seemed to improve on his return to the family home, his condition deteriorated, and by the time Mubarak and his mother were making a desperate dash back to the hospital, “I realised the baby was no more alive”, he told a newspaper in his homeland shortly afterwards. I am a strong guy. But to lose someone who means a lot to your life, it definitely brings your spirit down,” he said at Celtic Park yesterday. “But right now I am okay. Anything can happen in life, so anything that happens you need to accept and keep on going.”
Wakaso did that with incredible resolve. “At that the time it happened I was on holiday so I was able to come to terms with it,” he said. Indeed, even when he had to cope with the cultural disorientation of residing in Russia as he grieved, he played his way into the Ghanaian World Cup squad. He did so, though, consoled by the heartfelt messages of sympathy from team-mates, his national manager Kwesi Appiah, and the country’s football association. “I really, really appreciated their support because sometimes it is not easy to get love from other people,” he said. The love of his son continues to inspire him. “It makes me work harder to get someone like him or even more than him.”
Wakaso believes that he can become the equal of stellar international team-mates such as Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan. All four were with the winger at the finals in Brazil as he made substitute appearances in the draw with eventual winners Germany, and the tournament-ending defeat to Portugal. He said he consulted them all on his move to Glasgow..
“In my mind I won’t be here for only one season. I know I will make it big and stay with Celtic for a long time,” said Wakaso. “Playing at the World Cup has given me even more confidence. It was good to be with such people [as Essien, Muntari, Boateng and Gyan] because you can learn a lot from them and the experiences they’ve had. They have been on the scene for so many years. They have the experience. I believe I can make it as big as them. I wish to be more than them.
“I have been in touch with these players often, sometimes every day. I really took advice from some of them to be here.
“They told me Celtic is a great team with a fantastic history, that I can make it big here. So I said ‘okay’.”
The powerful belief Wakaso has in his abilities can be traced to the season that pre-empted his move to Russia, which he spent in La Liga with Espanol.
That followed a stint with relegated Villarreal, whom he joined from their B team after he developed a reputation in the country with second division side Etche as being temperamental. “The Spanish League is one of the most competitive leagues in the world. If you are able to play in La Liga then you are good enough to play for any team in the world. It was a great moment for me to play there. There are so many quality players there. So many challenges.”
There were all too many challenges from Wakaso – both in terms of tackles and verbal disputes – in his early days in Spain and in his season with Espanol. For the latter, he made 26 league appearances, and in the course of those was shown 15 yellow cards and two reds. His career record, indeed, reads a total of 62 bookings and five dismissals. He offered one note of caution in judging him by those numbers yesterday.
“I am a fighter on the field. My character is different outside of football. But when I am playing I always want to win and make it big on the field.
“I am a fighter on the field and that’s why I get some cards. Sometimes I am quick tempered. That is part of it. Right now, though, I am okay.
Last season I played a lot of games with only two or three yellow cards and no red cards. So I think I am improving. I am learning a lot of things and I think I am learning to avoid trouble. It is not as bad now as it was before.”
Such passion could be welcomed by a Celtic support dismayed by the supine fashion in which Ronny Deila’s team have twice exited from the Champions League this season, the conclusive meek surrender coming with the 1-0 play-off defeat at home to Maribo.
Asked what he would bring to his new team, Wakaso shot back: “Glory and victory.” The pacy, industrious winger later said it was an “ambition to excite the Celtic fans”. They certainly need it.