Ahead of the draw, ‘Golden Boy’ had a chat with CAFOnline.com on his career, expectations of next year’s tournament amongst others. Below are excerpts;
‘Golden Boy’ nickname
It was in 1975, during an AFCON qualifier against Mali. We lost the first leg 3-1 in Bamako and the head coach at the time (Karl-Hienz Weigang from Germany) criticised the entire team but me. For the second leg, it was very tough but we won 4-0 and I scored two of the goals. Due to my performance, the commentator (late Harry Thompson) referred to me as ‘Golden Boy’ and ever since I have been known by that nickname.
Memories of 1978 Africa Cup of Nations
The semi-final against Tunisia, and I scored the only goal. They (Tunisia) had qualified for the 1978 FIFA World Cup (in Argentina) and had renowned players like Sadok ‘Attouga’ Sassi, Tarak Dhiab, Témime Lahzami etc. In the build up to the goal, there was a long pass from Isaac Acquaye (defender), and I slid the ball past Attouga who had come off his line.
The headlines after the match was “Golden Boy scores golden goal”. This is a match I will never forget. Then we beat Uganda 2-0 in the final. I scored two goals in the tournament and was named Best Player.
I played in two, 1978 (in Ghana) and 1984 in Cote d’Ivoire. It could have been more. I played in the qualifiers for the 1982 edition (in Libya), but missed out on the final tournament as I was playing abroad.
Favourites for AFCON 2017
Ghana is always one of the favourites, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal too. I may add Egypt despite being in a transitional period with a new team after the retirement of the generation that won in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Key players to look out for in AFCON 2017
Algeria have Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi; Andre Ayew (Ghana) if he is fit and Christian Atsu, who can deliver on a good day. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has always been there for Gabon and Sadio Mane of Senegal.
Career highest point
Individually, being named African Footballer of the Year in 1978 and collectively winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1978. The third is being named an Ambassador for the TOTAL Africa Cup of Nations Gabon 2017, which is a big honour and a platform to give back to society all they did for me during my playing days.
Generation and playing mates
From the Ghanaian side, I can mention Opoku Afriyie, Kuuku Dadzie, Adolf Armah, Mohamed Polo, George Alhassan amongst others. Nigeria had Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Baba Out Mohamed and the likes. On the part of Tunisia, they had Sadok ‘Attouga’ Sassi, Tarak Dhiab, Témime Lahzami. Ahmed Farras (Morocco), Phillip Omondi (Uganda), Papa Camara, Bengally Sylla, Abdoulaye Keita, Chérif Souleymane, Petit Sory (all from Guinea).
I still hang out with my playing mates during my days with Asante Kotoko and the national team. A few have also passed away including Ofei Ansah, Justice Moore and Emmanuel Quarshie.
Playing for New York Cosmos
At Cosmos, I played with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Carlos Alberto, Francisco Marinho (Brazil) and legendary Italian striker Giorfio Chinalia, who later became President of Lazio. Pele had just retired when I joined in 1979. We won the league in my first year. After I joined Emirates Sports Club, now Al Ain then Arab Contractors (Egypt), winning the CAF Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983. Also, I won a domestic double at Africa Sports (Cote d’Ivoire) before hanging my boots in the early 90’s.
Football now and then
It was purely for national pride during our time, and a lot of sacrifices were made until the era of professionalism. For most of us in West Africa, it was merely for pride. It was different in North Africa, because they had a better standard of living. Players at the time were naturally gifted compared to the current crop. Now, most African players have the opportunity to play in Europe where there are good conditions and facilities. The organisational aspect has improved with huge media exposure, but I believe the better players were in the older generation.
World Cup regret
Not at all! During my days, the ultimate was the Africa Cup of Nations not the World Cup and that is why we won many AFCON titles. We did not do well in the World Cup qualifiers. It was recently that a lot was done and Ghana has qualified for the last three World Cups. However, we have missed the AFCON title since 1982. I have no regret of not playing at the World Cup. This is how far God decided to bring me, and I cannot ask for more. I’m happy with what I achieved in my life.