Much like newly-signed midfield anchor Dru Yearwood, the story that leads 24-year-old forward Samuel Tetteh to New York Red Bulls (on loan from sister club Red Bull Salzburg where he is still under contract through 2022) is one of early potential that is still far from faded away.
A rapid rise from local obscurity to the brink of European stardom has been stalled enough by knee injuries and the thin margins of the Red Bull talent pipeline to merit a reset with a New York team desperate for attacking energy.
Tetteh hails from the town of Odumase Krobo (sometimes Krobo Odumase) in central Ghana, where he was raised with his three siblings. While attending and playing football at local Anglican schools he was recruited by the Gomoa Fetteh youth club, a program operated by Dutch club Feyenoord Rotterdam in the capital of Accra that took over much of the infrastructure of the now-defunct Red Bull Ghana academy and changed its name to the West African Football Academy (WAFA) in 2014.
“I was never born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My parents did their best to provide us with the best of education coupled with the basic necessities of life…I’m not from a rich family, sometimes it was hard for my mum and dad, in terms of money and getting food to eat. When I started playing football, my family struggled to buy my football equipment; it was also difficult for my parents to pay my school fees.”
A path away from the hardship appeared as Tetteh’s performances for WAFA had earned him a place in the Ghana youth national team program, and his performances in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup (particularly a group stage performance against an Argentina side featuring current Red Bulls playmaker Kaku) brought the attention of European scouts beyond the Feyenoord structure. Later in 2015 he traveled to Denmark for an unsuccessful trial with FC Midtjylland.
After briefly featuring for the Ghana under-23 team, a personnel shortage in the senior national team for a September 2015 friendly against DR Congo – where Tetteh happened to be playing in a tournament with the U-23s – saw Tetteh brought in as an emergency call-up and led his career to a new stage. Tetteh recorded an assist in Kinshasa and earned the trust of senior national team coach Avram Grant, the former Chelsea and West Ham manager.
The new attention allowed Tetteh to pursue further foreign trials in 2016 with Swedish titans Malmö FF as well as clubs in the United Arab Emirates, but none resulted in a contract. According to Goal.com, Malmö had been “impressed with his trial, but the only hindrance to sign the player is his price tag and onward transfer benefits to WAFA when he joins another team in the future.”
Despite the the organization’s restriction of his opportunities abroad, Tetteh remained a strong performer for WAFA and one of the standout players of the Ghanaian domestic scene. However his standing was slightly blemished by a red card suspension in April 2016 following an alleged physical assault of a referee.
Tetteh finally made the jump in Europe after being recruited (for a reported transfer fee in the neighborhood of $1m) by the Red Bull Global soccer network to play for Salzburg’s reserve side FC Liefering in the Austrian second division. In his first season he logged 10 goals, five assists in 20 second division appearances for Liefering, known to hold and produce more talent than the average reserve operation. He continued his rise with the Ghana national team, scoring in his first start, a 1-1 draw against Rwanda, and it was around this time that the 20-year old’s strong form reportedly attracted scouting interest from Manchester United.
In January 2017 he was promoted to the Salzburg first team before suffering what became a long-term meniscus injury in a March training session and undergoing season-ending surgery. Upon returning to fitness he was again assigned to Liefering but made cameo appearances for the Salzburg first team in a domestic cup round and later a Europa League match.
In January 2018 Tetteh joined Austrian first division side LASK Linz on 18-month loan with an option to buy. Then-Linz manager Oliver Glasner stated about Tetteh “he can take any offensive position and makes our game even more varied.” In a foreshadowing of the circumstances that would lead him to New York, Glasner stated that Linz were fortunate to have a player of Tetteh’s quality.
“Even if he is undoubtedly a very good player, one must not forget that he was injured for nine months last year. He’s not quite in the rhythm yet and certainly not yet at his old level of performance. If he were, we would not have been able to sign him, an A-team player from Ghana.”
After scoring five goals in sixteen league appearances in his first half-season with Linz, Tetteh suffered a knee injury in July preseason camp but claimed he wouldn’t need another surgery. However as weeks went by it was clear this prediction was not panning out and Tetteh went under the knife again, missing league play in September and October and suffering a further setback with an appendectomy in December.
Nonetheless Tetteh rebounded to close the season with four goals in twenty-one league appearances, enough to make LASK to extend the loan from Salzburg (now under former New York manager Jesse Marsch) for the 2019-20 Austrian league season. Tetteh continued his productive form with seven goals and seven assists in forty-two first team appearances prior to the suspension of competition due to covid-19 pandemic. Despite reported interest from Linz in making Tetteh’s contract permanent, he officially returned to the Salzburg squad in July and shortly afterward began talks with New York.
Though Tetteh has yet to find success breaking through at Salzburg, he has praised his time in the demanding and precise Red Bull system.
“The best part of being at a club like Red Bull Salzburg is that it helps you develop into a better player. The facilities there are amazing and as a player you must take advantage of the facilities to work and become a good player. The atmosphere is so great; it makes you want to play there all the time! The people are friendly, cool and always ready to help you out with anything.”
Tetteh even took an understanding view of his loaning out from the main team, stating “some players think going on loan to different clubs is upsetting and think that the club doesn’t need you anymore but I think moving on loan can change your career. Taking myself as an example, I wasn’t playing at Salzburg after my long-term injury and it was difficult to get games or even minutes, but moving to LASK really helped.”
While the positive attitude in face of career adversity is certainly refreshing, it should still concern New York fans that Tetteh is coming off over three years of substandard fitness that has left him largely unable to complete a full 90 minutes even in the less-rigorous environment of the Austrian leagues – only twelve times in the last two years has he gone even beyond 75 minutes.
However as stated by his previous coaches as well as New York head of sport Kevin Thelwell and head coach Chris Armas in the announcement of Tetteh’s signing, he is a player that fits the Red Bull mold of active, mobile play in all facets of the game. The generous Tetteh has recently provided a gift of boots and training kits to his childhood youth club, and if RBNY staff can help him revive his career from injury hell, they might be lucky enough to have the young striker buy them a new Toyota Corolla.