‘He inspired the most recent and current generation of Black Stars players and most of us still look up to him. He was always a joy to play with’. Michael Essien said of his one-time partner in crime and skipper Stephen Appiah in his blog on November 2013 when a Chelsea fan quizzed him the best player he has ever played with.
Essien played with Lampard, Makelele, Drogba Shevchenko and many others, but he chose the man from Chorkor.
The Bison’s choice is no exaggeration. His talent has been admired by football connoisseurs, his humanity, one of kind according to people who knows him so well.
His humility and humanity, coupled with his talent catapulted him to be found in the pantheon of Ghana football.
When Appiah made his debut Black Stars appearance in a Solidarity Tournament against Benin in Cameroon on 24th December, 1996, most of the current Black Stars were not even at their teen age. Now, he is the figure they eulogise at every given opportunity. He is an inspirational figure every youngster look up to.
As a 16-year-old, a call up to the Black Stars was purposefully to play football and had anyone told him he will be considered the team’s most successful skipper ever, it would’ve been considered a mirage.
From the sandy pitches at Indadfa park in Mamprobi, a surburb of Accra where his career was honed like he said in his press release of his retirement from football on January 14 early this year, to the grassy green field in Turin, Italy where his career blossomed and to Vodjvodina where his European career ended, Stephen Appiah will look back to the day he played the match involving Hearts of Oak and Mighty Jets where his talent was unearth to Ecuador 1995 U-17 World Cup — where he sold his talent to the world, to 27 June 2015 — his last game of football; marking an incredible two decades in the game he loves, with nostalgia.
Although, Stephen Appiah won nothing as a player and a leader for Ghana at senior level — something he described as his biggest ‘regret’ in football, his leadership sold Ghana to the World.
Ghana had arguably the best squad in the continent but never managed to book a ticket to the global football festival, the FIFA World Cup. Prior to the year 2000, there was disharmony among the Black Stars squad which eventually led to parliamentary and Executive intervention to settle issues between two squad members, Abedi Pele and Anthony Yeboah in the late 1990s and that, without doubt, played some part in the team’s failure to reach its heights.
‘We (Ghana) could not win Afcon ’92’ not only because we missed Abedi in the final but because Tony Baffoe was given the captain arm band. The players did not play 50% of their ability’, Abubakar Damba who was a member of the team, said prior to Black Stars Afcon 2015 final against Cote d’Voire. A clear indication of disunity.
But, when Appiah took over the captaincy of the disunited team in 2002, he carved a niche’ for himself, ‘equality’ and transformed the Black Stars: his message to his colleagues was simple; the arm band is only for 90 minutes, after that nothing more.
Leadership band around the arm on the pitch is only a reminder of service not of power or pride. His message was pro-progress, pro-people. Four years later, Ghana’s flag was flying high in Berlin.
To put this into perspective, Appiah turned down the captain armband when John Mensah handed it to him in the quarter final of the 2010 World Cup against Uruguay. The message in that was simple, everyone is a leader, everyone has a role to play.
And, that, is unmatched.
Who would forget how his led Black Stars went unbeaten in 2005 enroute to the Mundial in Germany with a group of players at the peak of their prowess.
The team failed to make an impact in the 2006 Afcon in Egypt — exiting the continental fiesta at the group stage, but four months later after the Egypt dismal display, the team gained global prominence with scientilating football, going past a group with eventual winners Italy, Czech Republic and the USA.
Neutrals were swept off their feet. Ghanaians believed that had round of 16 match day referee Lubos Michel’ of Slovakia not ‘robbed’ the team against Brazil, they would have gone a step better.
After the World Cup heroics, Ghana bid to host and win Afcon in 2008 could not materialise, but the country was the newest member of football royalty.
The team brand of football became beastly as it gained more international prominence through exciting performances and spearheaded Africa’s entry into the A-list of global football powerhouses.
The Ghana team reached its highest ever FIFA Ranking – 14th – in 2008 with only Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari as a recognised star names – because they plied their trade in the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea and Portsmouth respectively. One or two trees can never make a forest. It was the unity that made the team so strong.
Eight years into his reign as Ghana skipper, Black Stars were whisker away from ending Afcon trophy drought in Angola and reaching the last four of a World Cup had it not been for Suarez’s cynical handball and Asamoah Gyan’s blazing the resulting penalty kick against the cross bar, Ghana would have changed Africa football story at the mundial.
Appiah helped steered the Black Stars here with his play, his leadership, his captaincy, his diplomacy and ingenuity. His leadership was missed in Brazil in 2014, but his legacy remains.
Former Presidents, Parliamentarians, Religious and Traditionals leaders and colleagues world wide recognises Appiah’s good work and have accepted to honour his testimonial match to say goodbye to his love and passion.
Most great men and women, in life not just in football, just don’t know when to step away from the stage. The temptation is for one last cheer, one last jag of adrenaline, the belief that ‘They can’t do without me’ – the crazy notion which tempts us all, that we possess some sort of gene that says our powers will never diminish.
Yet here is Appiah, ending his career as the man who redefined a national team. The evidence before he took over the mantle of leadership and after sets him apart. So does the fact that the Ghana national team’s entire change from infighting to a unit fighting for a common goal.
No amount of words can describe Appiah: from his passion of representing Ghana to his leadership.
They do not tell the full story of the magic. The game, ultimately, is about the ball and the ball was a part of Appiah’s right foot. What he has done with it over the last 20 years for Ghana has been magical – slashes of colour, movement and operatic thrall which embody the elements which have made football the greatest sport. A strong all-round box-to-box midfielder who had the ability to defend as well as create and score goals. Passing and trapping the ball the ball was a joy to behold. He had many great moments and deserve a massive send off.
A man can only travel down the road laid before him. And on this road, the former Ghana captain has been stellar. .
Credit:Muftawu Nabila Abdulai/mufnabila.wordpress.com