Ibrahim Atikwho? Goodbye to Swindon’s new Misun man

Alex Cooke looks at the brief Town career of Ibrahim Atiku, who might have never played but still got paid.

“Now I realise completely that people in this league play the straight ball there and [compete] for second ball”.

It is rare for Paolo Di Canio to admit to making a mistake – even when he’s sent a ref tottering backwards like a giraffe in heels. Except that after the Plymouth match Di Canio seemed to reveal to BBC Swindon that he had overestimated the quality of League Two football and by extension the footballers that he had signed to play it. And last Friday the club paid for this error, in terminating the contract of Ibrahim Atiku.

Atiku has now joined an exclusive club at Swindon: players who signed but never played. It is a small, select band which includes such lowlights as Franklin Anzite of the ‘three amigos’ fame, Claude Gnapka and, of course, the invisible Milan Misun.

But the signing of the Ghanian midfielder on a two-year deal always had more of a whiff of desperation than most. At the age of 28 he seemed to be a player already past his best, not just because of his age but, because his six Under 17 international caps and trial at Old Trafford had come more than a decade ago. But such was the need, and the desire, in the club and the fan-base to start building a team that this flaw was overlooked.

Instead of a career Atiku seemed to be on a bad gap year, moving constantly between in Israel, Sweden and Greece. And whatever he showed on trial with Swindon, plenty of other lower league managers across the continent seem to have missed it as his stays were almost always brief.

They also must have missed the skill which made Di Canio believe that Atiku could become a centre forward. Because while other specialist strikers were turning the Town down or failing to turn up for trials, Paolo tried putting Atiku in the forward line while on tour, despite the Ghanian having only ten career goals over ten years. And despite playing 180 minutes in the two games, when 16 goals were scored, Atiku never so much as got his name on the score sheet. He didn’t score in any of the friendlies either but by then he’d already been superseded up front by Alan Connell, Medhi Kerrouche, Billy Bodin and Miles Storey.

Aside from these few friendly appearance, the only place that most Swindon fans could see him was the now obligatory YouTube footage. Obviously it was trimmed as tightly as a Nuts cover star but even then it shows a player whose skills are limited to a few stepovers and some raw pace – making him look like a Swedish man’s Mark Marshall. Or perhaps the new Nii Lamptey.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Atiku’s signing was in how it has highlighted the two strands in Town’s transfer policy. While Atiku and many of the trialists came from the far and wide, the rest were solidly British-based, and sourced from the lower or non-league: Jon Smith, Joe Devera and Raffa De Vita were all young and experienced in first team football. And while these signings relied on detailed scouting reports and knowledge of the demands of basement football, the others relied on agents, YouTube and Di Canio’s own admitted guesswork about League Two.

So Atiku was a mistake by Paolo, and probably not a vastly expensive one, but he, along with the currently surplus Billy Bodin, Leon Clarke, Micheal Timlin, Lander Gabilondo and Etienne Esajas, might not be the most costly mistake to come as Di Canio gets used to the demands on the basement division.

Update:

We’ve recieved the following comments on Ibrahim Atiku from his agent on Twitter…

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