The Irish-born defender of Ghanaian descent says the Italian Serie A side were ‘good enough’ to farm him out to English League One side Charlton Athletic.
Last season, as he admits himself, exceeded expectations for James Bright Adusei Abankwah at Serie A side Udinese.
After arriving in Italy from St Patrick’s Athletic in June 2022, the Ireland U-21 centre-half impressed with the club’s U-19s and was swiftly called up to train with the first team.
Despite spending the majority of last term on the first-team bench, the 19-year-old made his league debut against Bologna before his first start followed in June against giants Juventus.
But now his next challenge is to play regular senior football. Too good for Udinese’s U-19s, but not content to sit on the first-team bench for another campaign, Abankwah has swapped north-east Italy for south-east London, signing a season-long loan deal with League One Charlton.
“There is no U-21s or ‘B’ team (at Udinese), so I would have been playing U-19s again which wasn’t ideal if I wanted to be playing for the Ireland U-21s. I want to play at the highest level I possibly can and I didn’t feel like that was,” says Abankwah, speaking from the Ireland U-21 camp this week ahead of their opening Euro 2025 qualifier against Turkey on Friday.
“Udinese were good enough to let me go, to play more games. I felt like England was the best place to go. I feel great about the move. It’s a great opportunity for me. I’m ready to step into Charlton and give it my best shot.”
It’s been a whirlwind few days for the former Saint, from departing Italy, undergoing his medical at Charlton to linking up with his Ireland U-21 team-mates. Having left Ireland for Italy aged just 18, it’s safe to say he has never been afraid to move outside his comfort zone, a trait he thinks is rare for many players nowadays.
“Many players do like to stay in their comfort zone, but I’m happy to go wherever just as long as I’m playing,” said Abankwah.
“I feel like it comes from my dad. He is a reverend minister (in the Church of Pentecost) so has had to move about quite a lot. I definitely get that from him. You should never be shy to just go out and enjoy your football.
With full-backs Séamus Coleman (injured) and Matt Doherty (suspended) out, the 21-year-old could be tasked with marking world star Kylian Mbappe.
“He would love that I’m sure,” smiles Abankwah. “I’d like to see the race between the both of them. That’s what he’s been doing for Udinese so it shouldn’t be any different. He is used to that position. He has become one of my best mates.”
“It was the Charlton technical director (who signed me). Still waiting on the manager, hopefully they can get that sorted,” he adds, after Charlton sacked Dean Holden late last month five games into the season.
While Abankwah’s focus is on the U-21s’ upcoming double-header as Euro 2025 qualification begins, at senior level his Udinese team-mate Festy Ebosele could make his first start against France on Thursday.