Thomas Partey has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the game, coming a long way from his poverty-stricken existence in Ghana.
A mainstay in Atletico Madrid’s rigid midfield system, he’s provided the steel and determination reminiscent of his manager Diego Simeone during his playing days – impressing with his powerful displays, and scoring model Wag Gifty.
The 26-year-old’s performances have alerted Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who has made Partey his No1 transfer target.
The combative ball-winner’s father has confirmed his son are in talks with the Gunners over a possible move.
And it was Partey’s dad who helped the aspiring footballer achieve his dream by selling off his possessions so the family could afford a visa for Thomas to travel to Spain for a trial.
Born in the poor town of Krobo Odumase in 1993, Partey was the eldest of eight siblings.
His mother worked as a petty trader, while his dad was a beloved football coach for a local team.
It was only natural he would play with a football from a young age.
He starred for his father’s team, alongside his brother Frances. They both saw football as a pathway to a life away from their slums.
Partey was given the nickname ‘Senegal’ by his dad because he reminded him of a friend with the same name.
As Thomas continued to develop his talent, he harboured dreams of travelling to Europe.
Knowing their son was blessed with talent, his parents attempted to raise money for his trip by seeking sponsors in case an opportunity abroad came.
However, the family failed in raising the capital – and were forced to think of other means.
Making a sacrifice
Round about the same time, Partey was a standout player for Odometah FC.
He was signed up by an agent, and although he wasn’t the best player in the team, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to move to Europe was in the offing.
There was someone better than me, a forward who scored all the goals, but he did not want to come to Europe and wanted to play for a team in Ghana,” Partey told Marca.
“So, my turn came and when he asked me what I wanted I said to triumph in football so as to help my family.
“He asked me who was my father and he went to speak to him to ask if he could take me to Spain for a trial, but never said which team.
“I went with the agent who did all my papers but I had nothing to do, I just trained, ate and slept until the day arrived when I had to travel, which I did not know when it would be or what time.”
What Partey wasn’t privy to was how his visa was paid for.
It turned out that he owed a great debt to his dad, who sold some of his prized possessions to fund his son’s ambitions.
Partey explained: “He made a big effort and he sold things in order to get my papers and to buy me boots.
“He had helped me since I was small as without boots you could not play. He also helped a lot the team from my neighbourhood and I remember we brought food.”
Incredibly, Partey didn’t get an opportunity to say goodbye to his family before he had to travel to Spain.
Going it alone
Partey made a sudden decision to leave Ghana in 2012.
And he didn’t wait when it came to taking the opportunity to trial at Atletico Madrid.
“I got into a car, they (agents) took me to the capital, they gave me my passport and said: ‘today you travel,’” he said.
“My dad wasn’t at home, nobody from my family knew anything, nor that I was going that day because if they were told then it would cause a lot of problems.
“I travelled to Spain and it was six or seven months before anyone realised that I wasn’t in Ghana.”
And he never knew about his father’s kind act until much later.
“My father was always OK with my decision because he did not have any help, it cost him a lot and he said nothing,” he said.
“The following month they sent me money for me to buy boots. My mum was worried because she was thinking about what could happen to me.
“Sometimes I listened to her and others no. I always do what I think is best and for that reason I decided to travel without saying anything to anyone.