Gideon Baah's first season with the New York Red Bulls did not go as hoped or expected. The Ghanaian's year was disrupted and ultimately derailed by injury, limiting him to just 10 appearances in all competitions for RBNY.
In an interview with Ghana's Starr FM, Baah provided a blunt assessment of his circumstances:
My career has suffered a major setback. It hasn’t been easy, lots of surgeries and all that.
Out of action since mid-summer with a broken tibia originally estimated to need four or five months to heal, the defender said he wasn't yet quite fit to play:
I am still under rehab and hope to return very soon. I have to recuperate really well and comeback stronger next season and do my best for the club.
Nonetheless, per Ghana Soccernet (the original interview is elusive), Baah did say he was making encouraging progress:
I am back running and that is the most important at the moment.
This is not Baah's first major injury. In 2010, he suffered a broken leg that kept him out of competitive action for more than a year (incidentally, creating opportunity for the emergence of Abdul Baba Rahman - currently part of Chelsea's loan army - at Asante Kotoko).
It is to be hoped Baah doesn't take nearly as long to recover this time around. He was dangled in front of MLS newcomers Atlanta and Minnesota in the recently-concluded Expansion Draft, but the fact he hasn't yet proved himself fit after his second major leg injury in six years likely explains RBNY's willingness to risk one of its major acquisitions of 2016.
It was, with hindsight, a pretty safe bet that the Expansion Uniteds wouldn't risk a roster spot on a player yet to demonstrate that he is still capable of playing, let alone returning to the level that once had him linked with a move to Barcelona.
Before his latest setback, Baah considered himself to be "in the best form of my life". After recovering from the first broken leg of his career, he had won league titles in Ghana with Asante Kotoko, won Rookie and Defender of the Year in his first season in Finland's top flight in 2013 (while at FC Honka), won a Finnish league and cup double with HJK Helsinki, and - in 2015 - earned his first national team cap. That (to date) lone appearance for Ghana brought Baah to the attention of Lloyd Sam and started the chain of events that ultimately brought the defender to RBNY.
His first season in MLS has seen both injury and insult (exposure to the Expansion Draft). A major setback, indeed.
Baah is currently the only specialist center back on RBNY's first team roster. That won't be the case by the time the new MLS season starts in 2017, but the perceived progress of Baah's recovery will surely influence the Red Bulls' squad-building decisions during this off-season.
His injury wasn't just a setback to his own career. Baah was an opening-day starter for RBNY in 2016, and looked more than capable of holding on to a place in the lineup for as long as his fitness would permit. Sadly, that turned out to be just 10 games for the season. The Red Bulls were forced to re-think their plans for the back line (in fairness, not simply because Baah went down, but because the team suffered a preposterous run of injuries to defenders), and were lucky Ali Curtis was able to
hoodwink persuade Orlando City into parting with Aurelien Collin on terms amenable to RBNY's budget.
Collin is out of contract and by no means certain to return to RBNY. If the Red Bulls somehow get to opening day with Collin and a fully-recovered Baah in the lineup: they've managed to start 2017 with a stronger back line than they had at the beginning of 2016. And if they don't re-sign Collin but have the Gideon Baah they signed in February: well, that's simply the plan the club had at the start of last season but was never quite able to see fully executed.
In 2016, Baah's injury set himself and his team back. His team recovered. Now it's his turn.
Get well soon, Gideon.