Ghanaian international Harrison Afful has joined Crew SC as a Discovery signing. The defender brings a wealth of experience to Columbus, having earned 53 caps for Ghana, including two appearances in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where he notched an assist in the Black Stars’ 2-2 draw with eventual champions Germany.
“My biggest strength is to attack,” Afful says of his ability on the pitch. “That is what the coach [Gregg Berhalter] told me about his system [...] and I said, ‘That is my style.’ So I think I will be very happy here and I will be able to adapt.”
Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter encourages his outside backs to get forward and involved in the attack. Leftback Waylon Francis, for example, is leading MLS defenders with six assists. The speedy Afful has a tendency to press forward, as well, and has made his mark with the Black Stars and his previous club, Esperance Sportive de Tunis, in the rightback position.
“He has a good cross on the ball, [he’s] good getting forward, confident on the ball, good on defense one-v-one, and [has] good endurance,” Berhalter says. “He’s a guy that fits right into our rightback strategy.”
Afful says he has taken on a great challenge with his move to MLS from Tunisia's Ligue 1, but he says he is ready to deliver for Crew SC.
"It’s a short time being here, but I believe in God and I believe in myself because I’m always a winner,” he says. “I like challenges because when you challenge with somebody, it makes you grow on a higher level for you to be at the top. I’m very happy to be here and I hope I will do well.”
Berhalter says he expects the Ghanaian international to compete for minutes in the rightback position.
“He started every game in the African Nations Cup, so he has a high profile. We expect him to be able to make an impact in MLS,” Berhalter says.
Afful is certainly no stranger to success as he has won four Ligue 1 titles with Esperance Sportive de Tunis, where he spent the past six seasons. He has also seized African club soccer’s biggest crown, winning the CAF Champions League in 2011, where he scored the lone championship-winning goal.
In his 53 appearances for Ghana, Afful has registered five assists. He made his debut for the Black Stars on Feb. 9, 2008 in that year's Africa Cup of Nations. He has since gone on to appear in 23 Africa Cup of Nations matches, 17 FIFA World Cup qualification matches, 11 international friendlies, and two matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
But Afful is not one to rest on his laurels.
“I always say one thing to myself,” he says. “I already have the talent, so if you have the talent, you need to work. You need to work more. This is a great challenge I have taken in. I need to work a lot to get to my standard. And there is a saying: to be at the top is easy, but to maintain it is very difficult. So, I’m just hoping I’ll maintain my performance.”
Afful’s desire to climb to the top and be the best led him to take on the nickname “The King Harrison.”
“A king is always a winner. He’s always at the top,” Afful says. “I’m not saying this to boast or something, but I’m the kind of person who always wants to be at the top, so that is why I chose the name ‘King.’”
His nickname may be a little deceiving, however, as Afful remains humble both on and off the field.
“I just want to help the needy,” Afful says of what he enjoys outside of soccer. “When God blesses me with something, I always want to give it back to the needy. I want to be an advisor, to advise people when they are going on the wrong path, because I’m the kind of a person who will listen to advice and take it.”
Afful says his willingness to give and receive advice impacts his relationship with his coach.
“In football you just have to have that coach-and-player relationship to be happy and deliver on the field," he says. "You need to listen to what the coach wants you to do on and off the pitch. So, I’m that type of player who will listen to advice a lot.”
The other relationship Afful relishes is with his club's supporters.
“I love to play when the supporters are around. When you play and you see the supporters, it makes you want to 'kill' yourself for the club,” Afful says. “Sometimes it’s very difficult for a supporter to even get money to buy a ticket to come and cheer you on. So, for me, when I see a supporter 'dying' for the club, I also want to give it back to him or her.”
Afful says he has heard a lot of good things about Columbus and the club's supporters.
“What I heard was they love football,” Afful says. “I just love the place and everybody has been nice to me since I’ve been here.”