It was only three months ago that I was waking up everyday and making my way to the training pitch here at West African Football Academy (WAFA), to carry out our morning training session with Lawrence as a key member of our playing squad. Today, he started and played the entire ninety minutes of the UEFA Youth League Final between Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), and S.L. Benfica (Portugal). Lawrence has grown as a person and as a player at a rapid pace and it has truly been a pleasure helping him along the way.
Lawrence arrived at WAFA four and a half years ago as a youth player and progressively made his way up through the ranks at the academy before finally reaching the First Team last season. He started and played in almost every match through-out the league campaign being one of the key players for the team. This year, we were lucky to have him for the first nine games of the season before he was finally able to make his dream move to Europe. In early February, he signed a professional contract with Red Bull Salzburg committing him until 2026.
It is a truly remarkable story when you take into account the limited opportunities that players have in this region of the world. Finding success in soccer coming from West Africa is not to be underestimated. These are some of the toughest living conditions on the planet. The limited resources available in Ghana and the surrounding countries make you realize how much more opportunities there are in more developed nations. All the more reason to have an admiration for someone who has been able to come from difficult beginnings and reach the highest level of competition in youth soccer.
It is amazing to think that having been in Europe for only over a little more than three months, Lawrence has already managed to go on trial, sign a contract, make his way into the starting line-up, perform well enough to be playing week in and week out, and finally being selected to start the match for the biggest game in European youth soccer. Although today's result did not go as planned (a 6-0 loss to the Portuguese side), I am confident that Lawrence will take this as a learning experience and grow from the defeat as he has done so in the past. He is a player with huge potential and a work ethic to go along with it.
It is worth noting that Lawrence is not the only member from West Africa in this Red Bull side. Former teammate and fellow WAFA academy graduate Daniel Owusu is also currently playing for the Austrian club. Although Daniel did not feature during today's final, he is a regular member of the playing squad and has featured is many games during the tournament. It is a high recognition for an institution like WAFA who has been developing players for the past twenty-four years to have two former academy graduates from the same generation playing in the final of the UEFA Youth League.
Here is a to recognizing Lawrence and Daniel on their achievements so far, and hoping that they can find further success in the future. With a correct work ethic and a strong mind-set, one can go a long way in life. I wish the two of them the very best. I am sure this is only one of many stepping stones in a bright playing career in Europe.
As for West African Football Academy (WAFA), I can only be proud to be a part of this institution. It gives boys like these a chance to succeed in life while carefully guiding them along the way. I have been so fortunate to have been given this opportunity in life, to come to Ghana and help players achieve their dreams.
Congratulations to Lawrence and Daniel and thank you to WAFA for letting me be a part of their journey.
Guillermo Hamdan Zaragoza