Inside the fabulous gym at the Alisa Hotel in Accra, Black Stars physical trainer Jamie Lawrence belts out instructions and encouragement in equal measure mixed. His words and gestures are directed at Black Stars defender Jonathan Mensah, who bends down, lifts a bar with a bit of weight, raises it up to chest level and over his head. It is a routine he repeats over and over again.
Mensah has spent a fair bit of his time at the gym in the last few weeks for a few reasons. Unlike most of his teammates, his season was not the best after Nations Cup duty and a FIFA ban conspired to make it one of the most difficult in recent memory. With the Black Stars due to play in a Nations Cup qualifier on Sunday, he says the best way to stay in the best physical shape is not to lose his mind and focus by simply utilising the time in the way he has been doing.
And then there is the motivation of knowing that this is something he will potentially have to do over the next four months as he sits out a worldwide ban from the game.
That ban has clearly rocked Mensah who already had to deal with a tough season at the time FIFA announced it but the France-based defender is determined to make it his major turning point in life.
‘It is a football thing and I have to live with it. An issue came up, the law has been applied and I have to learn from it and move on. It was not my fault because my team and everyone did the necessary investigations but this is how it has ended up,’ Mensah told www.allsports.com.gh.
That ban is severe in every sense and was imposed by FIFA after they came to the conclusion that Mensah joined Evian in France from Udinese in Italy despite having a valid contract with the Italians. Mensah had thought initially that the ban will run during the off-season and effectively leave him free to play at the start of next season. But FIFA insist the ban has to be put on hold until the club season swings back into effect. For Mensah, the implications are dire.
He says ‘the fact that the ban is on hold during the off-season’ is tough to take and knows it also affects where he will play his club football next season. With Evian relegated, Mensah will in all likelihood move but says his immediate club future is suffering as a result of the ban.
‘I have to clear this before I know my next step. Teams know what I can do, I know I will get over it and just carry on enjoying my football.’
Mensah in fact says that the dispute between Evian and Udinese which existed in his four year stay at the club has consistently affected his ability to switch clubs.
‘I think so but this issue with my club was still pending and even club that came around was told to wait for a while. I feel my progress has been hampered by that. I feel my progress has been in the balance.‘
No wonder he calls the recent months challenging. But it has not been all doom and gloom for him. For all his recent problems, Ghana boss Avram Grant still considers him central to the Black Stars and on Sunday he will line up against Mauritius as he has so consistently for the national side. Being with the national team and bonding with some of his closest pals is providing a good escape.
And he is confident it will end well with victory on Sunday even though he is fully aware that the road to redemption for the team beginning with qualification for the 2017 Nations Cup will be a long and torturous one.
‘We will win convincingly. I am confident about that but there is a long road to travel for us the players,’ he said. ‘I think the nation expects a lot. When you say we nearly won the cup, which is not what the nation expects. They want trophies and we did well in Equatorial Guinea. Now we must kick off as well as we want to and finally win a trophy. It is important for us.’
Kicking off is something that many people also say Mensah must do at club level. He has been always been held in high esteem at national team level and habours great ambitions.
At national team level he wants to be considered in the same light as John Mensah who he says served Ghana with distinction. At club level he has watched Nemanja Vidic and thought what a player.
David Duncan thought same of Mensah when he took him along to Free State Stars as a teenager and in 2010 Mensah was bossing it at world cup level against Germany. When that ban expires he will hope to mix it at the highest level again.
In the meantime the gym will continue to be his favourite place as he looks to get a difficult chapter of his career behind him.
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