James Abankwah joins growing list of Irish players making European switch as Irish clubs enter new era

Another very exciting League of Ireland talent is packing his bags.

St Patrick’s Athletic have confirmed that Serie A side Udinese have signed their teenage defender James Abankwah, adding the defender’s name to a growing list of Irish players making the move to Europe.

Abankwah joins Kevin Zefi – previously of Shamrock Rovers – in making his Serie A move, while ex-Saint Glory Nzingo has also swapped the League of Ireland for Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims.

And while Abankwah makes his move to the continent a bit later than Zefi and Nzingo, he does, in fact, signify a growing trend in Irish football; with more going down the continental route, rather than sticking to the previous tried and tested move to the UK.

The Saints Go Marching On.

In recent years, the Saints have made no secret of their desire to increase revenue from player sales to foreign clubs, and in the case of Abankwah, that is the case, most certainly.

“Football clubs are businesses, and we have been so far behind on this in this country on that,” the Saints’ Director of Football Ger O’Brien said.

“People become sheepish when money is mentioned, but clubs have to think like businesses. Players, unfortunately, are commodities, and we’ve got to look at our best potential players to sell.

“We’ve always wondered why Scandinavian clubs have been able to make money off players. But that’s because they have turned their clubs into business models. We have a product, but we don’t sell it well enough.

“In the business model [pre-Brexit], we would be getting 25 or 30 grand for some players at 16. However, should he get many senior games by the time he is 20, you’ll be looking at [receiving] 250k or 500k for a player. That’s where the business model has to come in.”

St Patrick’s Athletic.

And that is something in which O’Brien, and the Saints have stayed true to.

A reported record League of Ireland fee has been suggested in terms of bringing Abankwah to the Serie A, with the young defender set to stay at the club on loan until the summer, when he completes his Leaving Cert.

“James joined our Academy as a young boy and has matured into one of the top centre-backs in the country over the last three years,” O’Brien told his club’s in-house media team as the deal was confirmed.

“I have always had the belief that James could make the step into professional football outside Ireland and he now has that opportunity in Italy…

“It’s been a fantastic eight months for him since he signed his first professionala contract last July. He made his first team debut as a 17-year-old, he also played a key a role towards the end of the season in the first team, culminating in our FAI Cup success and also represented Ireland at U18 and U19 level.

“We will continue to help and develop James in the next number of months and we’ll watch with interest when he moves to Italy, we are very proud of him and his family.”

James Abankwah.

And while Abankwah will remain at Richmond Park until June, he is likely to continue progressing in terms of senior first-team football.

While he probably won’t get senior football straight away in Italy, by staying at home, he will be able to progress from the confines of the League of Ireland for a number of months yet.

That, in fact, should give him a sizeable headstart on players his own age at the Italian giants, who are generally lacking first-team football.

But for now, Abankwah has completed his move to Italy with the blessing of the Saints, and may within Irish football, as the old days of receiving paltry amounts for young players appear to coming to its long-awaited end.

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