Former Black Stars Captain Stephen Appiah officially announced his retirement from football on Wednesday, January 14 amidst tributes from soccer-loving Ghanaians to the extent that he was the leading trend on Twitter-Ghana. Many have given testimonies why they think Appiah remains a legend in Ghana football. Indeed, leading Ghana to a maiden world cup appearance is a feat that will be indelible in the football annals of the country.
Well, before I tell you about my personal experiences with Appiah, who played barefooted on the grassless pitches of Chorkor, a slum in Accra, let me tell you why he stands tall among captains of the Black Stars just from what I saw during his playing time. Ghana’s qualification to Germany 2006 was made difficult by Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou after a last-minute goal put the Black Stars on the losing side. But there was a turnaround in Kumasi as Sulley Ali Muntari and Stephen Appiah gave Ghana a 3-0 victory over South Africa, a nation that had been a thorn in the flesh of the Stars in the decade preceding that encounter. But after scoring two goals in that qualifier, Appiah was substituted by then coach Mariano Barreto. Unlike some Black Stars captains I have seen, Appiah removed the armband and run straight to deputy Samuel Osei Kuffour to hand the band to him. That gesture played out more visible to me after a similar incident in a Black Stars competitive match at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations resulted in team division. I felt then that if that captain had done the right thing by walking straight to the one he intended to hand the arm band over to, that controversy would not have arisen as the player who wore it said he did so because of the pressure the team was under at that time. “Being sent” to give the band to another player would waste time, that player argued. Appiah’s gesture staunched a lot of controversy which may have defeated Ghana’s resolve to qualify for her maiden global tournament. Several other stories have been told about Appiah that inured to the team’s qualification and I will leave those for another time but not the one in DR Congo, where the former Hearts of Oak man is said to have personally motivated the side by pushing the side back just after emerging from the tunnel and seeing the dominating crowd at the Stade des Matyrs in Kinshasa. Also, in an interview as to who is Ghana’s best player going into the Germany 2006 World Cup, Appiah showed his humble self yet again and said: “It is Michael Essien”.
Fast-forward to my experience and it was during the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. Appiah had not made the cut due to injury. His place had been given to diminutive Anthony Annan. I had graduated from the University of Ghana and was practising in the media. In fact, I did not read journalism at the university but national service personnel of that year were asked to help make the tournament a success by volunteering any which way they can. Working for a media company, I found myself in the sports department during that period. My first assignment was to cover a donation at the Nima Kawukudi Park by Cameroon legend Roger Milla, representing kit makers PUMA at the ceremony. Truth be told, I went star-gazing and just could not interview the oldest goalscorer at the world cup but to watch how the experienced professionals were going about their job. I picked my first lessons from there, nonetheless.
My second assignment came in the form of a pre-match press conference by the Black Stars then lodging at the Royal Fiesta Hotel in Accra. I had my baptism of fire then at the hands of then Ghana Football Association (GFA) Spokesperson Randy Abbey after a question I asked. The fat GFA man descended heavily on me for not paying attention to the answer to my question, something I have seen the experienced ones do often. But of course I was new in the job and, to them, I was not muscled enough to do so. I agree. After that press conference, I had to conduct a couple of interviews and the first man I met was Stephen Appiah, who was standing just at the Hotel’s foyer with some friends. I just went straight to him with my microphone and lo and behold, I was talking to a player I had idolized on television. Well, I was also reporting for a tv station though. I must state that I didn’t really pay attention to the questions I was asking that legend but sure it made sense since he addressed them. I must state that if Stephen Appiah had declined that interview after the ranting and raving of Randy Abbey, my confidence in the profession would have been killed. Appiah’s welcoming smile and answers to the question boosted me up. I was surprised at his humility because I was very young then…in my early 20s. After his interview, I went on to talk to stand-in captain John Mensah, Richard Kingson, Junior Agogo and, of course, then coach Claude LeRoy. There was resistance from Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari when I attempted interviewing them. That was when I realized Appiah had given me something few players would have.
No wonder his exploits with the national team, which began in 1995 as a world champion, saw him at a point as the only foreign-based player invited by then coach Sir Cecil Attuquayefio after his colleagues had declared persona non grata in the national team. He was also among the three senior players included in Ghana’s Olympic team for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
In this time that he is hanging his boots, I join the millions to say ‘Thank You’ tornado. The former Juventus, Parma, Brescia, Bologna, Udinese and Cesena player plans getting into coaching. From what he has done in the past, goodness and mercy shall follow every path he charts. Lest I forget Appiah is also a former Fenerbahce and FK Vojvodina player. Go Tornado!!!!