The October 6, 2020 edition of the Marca newspaper had Thomas Partey’s transfer to Arsenal as one of its headline stories. Accompanied by the photo of the midfielder smiling, the succinct caption read: “El Arsenal paga la cláusula de 50 millones y se lleva a Thomas (Arsenal pay the 50 million clause and take Thomas).”
Indeed, some hours earlier, the Gunners had gone all out to sign the Ghanaian midfielder, having activated his £45 million release clause. It’s been a long time since any African footballer stole the spotlight on deadline day as Partey did on Monday.
This was one of those open scoops where every newsroom had the juice, but just couldn’t go to press before the news became official.
In the end, Arsenal got their man but this move has been two years in the making. The 27-year-old first became a target of the North London outfit in April 2018 when Arsenal faced Atletico Madrid in the semi-final of the Europa League.
It was Arsene Wenger who first recommended the midfielder to the club, having watched him put up a man-of-the-match performance at the Emirates. Not even Sime Vrsaljko’s sending off within the first 10 minutes of the first-leg could dim Partey’s lights.
It was that night at the Emirates that the world truly took notice of the midfielder. A man down and a goal down after the hour mark, Diego Simeone had Partey playing as a make-shift right-back and occasionally moving centrally to support the midfield, as a last-minute Antoine Griezmann goal secured a priceless away draw for Atletico.
Partey was again in beast mode as the Rojiblancos beat Arsenal 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano to advance to the final of the Europa League, eventually winning the trophy after an easy 3-0 win over Marseille in the final.
The last two years have been some sort of a Jekyll and Hyde box office for Partey, whose professionalism, patience and loyalty have been pushed and tested. For a man who came from humble beginnings, he’s lived by the aforementioned virtues and has worked hard to get to his current status.
He loved it at Atletico, but ever since that Europa League night at the Emirates he’s been wanting to become a Gunner. A decade ago, he was in Ghana, not sure of whether he’d even become a professional footballer.
Then he met Ernest Sogbodzor, the unsung hero in Partey’s rise from just another talented footballer to a world-class lieutenant in Arteta’s artful legion. Sogbodzor was the one who scouted him and played a key role in the midfielder’s life-changing move to Atletico Madrid.
Partey has stuck by him to date. Sogbodzor was present at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais to celebrate Atletico Madrid's Europa League triumph with Partey.
It is this same level of loyalty that enabled the midfielder to stay at Atletico even when he wasn’t being accorded the respect he deserved. In his eight years at the club, not for once did he say anything bad about them.
He always described Simeone as a “father” and Atletico as his “home”. And yet he was one of the lowest-paid players in the team, despite his increasingly growing status. His contract was extended twice between February 2017 and March 2018, the latter allowing the club to insert a £45 million release clause.
But his wages were still nothing to write home about. For a player playing for one of Spain’s top teams, competing in one of Europe’s best leagues and a constant fixture in the Champions League, it was puzzling that he was being paid the wages of Championship-level players.
With some of Europe’s elite clubs beginning to circle around, Atletico made a desperate attempt to get the player to sign a contract extension to drive his release clause up. Towards the end of 2019, the club offered fresh terms but it was rebuffed by Partey and his agency, who deemed it not good enough.
Sources close to the player described the terms of Atletico’s contract extension as “disrespectful” and “rubbish”.
There were also reports that, instead of improving their offer, Atletico decided to take it off the table altogether, citing the Coronavirus pandemic as an economic challenge to the club’s purse. Most players, when treated this way, would readily push for a move away.
Knowing of Arsenal’s interest, it would have been easy for Partey to ply this route. However, he remained calm, bided his time, never submitted a transfer request, and allowed things to take their natural cause.
Sometimes players rise with a little help from the hype train but Partey’s journey has been that of passion, professionalism, loyalty and hard work.
On Tuesday, he returned to Atletico to say his goodbyes. Some at the club were not happy with the way Arsenal got the player, but no grudges can be held against the midfielder. For he gave his all to the Rojiblancos during his time there, putting the club first over his own discomforts.
The departure of Wenger in the summer of 2018 may have slowed things, but Arsenal continued to keep tabs on the former Tema Youth star and they now have their man.
“We have been watching Thomas for a while, so we’re now delighted to add such a high quality player to our squad,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said after Partey’s transfer.
“He is a dynamic midfielder with great energy. He brings a lot of experience from a top club that has competed at the highest level in La Liga and the Champions League for several years.
“We’re very impressed with his attitude and his approach to the game. He’s an intelligent footballer and we’re looking forward to him integrating into our system and contributing to the progress we’re building at the moment at the club.”
Partey’s journey to Arsenal is the ultimate reward for his patience, loyalty and hard work over the years. The stage is set and Arsenal fans will love him!