Thailand, India, Vietnam, Australia … Everyday, Ghanaian players travel the world to play professional football with varying degrees of success.
It is a trend that started years ago when the late CK Gyamfi played professional football in the late 60s. There were the likes of Wilberforce Mfum and Abdul Razak who chose North America in the 70s; a wave of players left for the Ivory Coast at some point, before the Middle East became a popular destination in the 70s.
The movement of Ghanaian players to Europe became increasingly popular in the 80s and 90s. Opoku Nti, Abedi Pele, Ali Ibrahim and Tony Yeboah went to countries like Germany, France or Switzerland.
Then Ghana’s success at Under-17 level in 1991 opened the eyes of the world to the great vault of talent here. It also opened the eyes of the players to the fact that football could truly change lives and reinforced the belief of the clubs, agents and parents that it was a trade well worth paying attention to.
But what has been the end product of all that movement? Some of the players have been exceptional. Others not so good. Here are our top five Ghanaian exports to Europe in no particular order.
The Yeboah/Abedi Pele rivalry is one of the most told stories in Ghanaian football. There are tales of how it ripped the Black Stars apart and stifled the progress of the national team. But what everyone agrees on is that they were both phenomenal ambassadors for Ghana via their club careers.
Yeboah’s best spells came in the Bundesliga, where he helped project the image of African players by scoring loads of goals. He netted 62 times for FC Saabrucken in the second tier of German football before shining for Eintracht Frankfurt.
Yeboah scored 68 times in 123 appearances, and those goals helped make him the Bundesliga’s top scorer twice. Howvere, his impact in Germany went beyond scoring goals. As one of the first black players to appear in the Bundesliga, Yeboah’s success helped a great deal in racial integration, having overcome initial abuse himself.
Later he would light up the English Premier League with some of the best goals ever in the division when he signed for Leeds United. He scored 32 goals in 66 appearances, including two stunning volleys against Wimbledon and Liverpool that to this day are considered some of the best ever in England.
His last club in Europe was SV Hamburg, where he played 100 matches, before finally rounding off his career in Saudi Arabia.
Abedi PelePele is the man who made us fall in love with the European Champions League. In 1992 he was a losing finalist, but in 1993 he was a winner. A national icon already after the 1992 Nations Cup, his Champions League success with Marseille a year later won many others to his side. The fact that a Ghanaian had been involved at such a high level of club football was unprecedented.
In addition to his success at Marseile, there were also good spells at Lille, Lyon and later in Italy with Torino, where he emerged the best foreign player in the league. He went on to play another 50 games for 1860 Munich in two years before he rounded up a remarkable career in the United Arab Emmirates with Al Ain.
He was named African Player of the Year three times in a row and never looked out of place in a Ghana jersey. His contribution in convincing European clubs that Ghanaian players are worth taking a chance on is amazing.
Samuel Osei Kufuor
Samuel KuffourIf Yeboah opened the door for African players in Germany, Kuffour was a big beneficiary. He was one of the talents coming through after Ghana’s Under-17 success, but his own work-ethic and relentless determination played a big part in making him the most decorated Ghanaian of all time.
In 12 years (1993-2005) at Bayern Munich, Kuffour won everything there was to win – six Bundesliga titles, four German Cups and one Champions League triumph. The latter, in particular, brought Kuffour worldwide fame both in triumph and defeat. His relentless thumping of the pitch after losing the 1999 Final against Manchester United provided the image of the tournament, but he returned to the Final in 2001 as part of a Bayern side who triumphed on penalties to make Kuffuor only the second Ghanaian to win the title.
After his time at Bayern, he also went on to play for AS Roma, Livorno and Ajax Amsterdam. As far as defenders go, there has been no-one quite like him from Ghana in Europe.
Michael EssienEssien emerged on the European scene at a time when Ghana was yearning for a new poster boy. Another product of the country’s prolific youth system, the midfielder rose through the ranks at national Under-17 level through to the Under-20s before breaking through in Europe, first with Bastia and then Lyon.
He made 66 appearances for Bastia in three years before racking up 71 for Lyon in two seasons, including some dominant displays in the Champions League, especially in the 2004/05 season when he scored five goals. That season he was also named Ligue 1’s Player of the Year, prompting Chelsea to pay a then African record of £24.5m for his services in 2005.
He continued to thrive in England, gaining a reputation for his strong presence in midfield, passing and an ability to dominate games.
His roll of honours include two Ligue 1 titles, two Premier League titles, a Champions League winner’s medal in 2012, four FA Cups and being named Chelsea’s Player of the Year in 2007. No Ghanaian has been close to emulating the incredible success he had in England.
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Sulley MuntariMuntari was the complete package. Hot headed, a great left foot, defensively sound, a good passer of the ball and scorer of spectacular goals. He didn’t win a great deal in his European career, but he had a consistency about him and played at an impressive level.
His European career started at Udinese, where he made 125 appearances in five years between 2002-2007. He then spent one season with Portsmouth, where he played 29 games and scored four goals before winning the FA Cup.
He had a four-year spell at Inter Milan between 2008-2012, where he won the Champions League in 2010 under Jose Mourinho, before loan spells at AC Milan and Sunderland.