2014 World Cup countdown: Top 10 Ghanaian footballers of all time
As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole journalist Barney Corkhill takes a look at the top 10 players in the history of Ghana.
By Barney Corkhill
Ghana are relatively new on the scene but have already made a big impression. With their first appearance coming in 2006, they captured the imagination in Germany before being a kick away from the semi-finals four years later.
They have now qualified for the tournament three times in a row and have fast become Africa’s biggest hope of competing with the powerhouses from South America and Europe.
Despite their recent success on the world stage, however, Ghana have not won the Africa Cup of Nations since 1982 and face a big ask to progress from the group stages in Brazil.
10. Stephen Appiah (1995-2010, 67 caps, 14 goals)
Stephen Appiah was one of the men at the heart of the Ghana national team during their recent revival, playing a big part in their first two appearances at the World Cup finals. He captained them in 2006 and was a member of the squad in South Africa four years later too.
At club level, the midfielder enjoyed success with Juventus while also featuring for the likes of Udinese, Parma and Bologna in Italy. He went on to spend a three-year stint with Fenerbahce, where he won the Turkish Super League.
Individually, he was named as Ghana’s Footballer of the Year on two occasions and was also included in the All-Star teams for both the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.
9. Asamoah Gyan (2003-present, 77 caps, 39 goals)
While he may be remembered by Sunderland fans for a brief and topsy-turvy stint at the Stadium of Light at the start of this decade, Asamoah Gyan is highly regarded as one of the key components of the recent golden era of Ghanaian football.
Having joined Sunderland for a club-record fee from Rennes, Gyan has since moved on to Al Ain in UAE. Following a brief sabbatical from international football in 2012, the 28-year-old returned to captain the side and is expected to lead them out in Brazil for his third World Cup tournament.
A two-time Ghana Player of the Year and one-time Ballon d’Or nominee, Gyan is perhaps harshly remembered for missing a crucial penalty for the Black Stars in the 2010 World Cup. Ghana were awarded a spot kick in the last minute of extra time against Uruguay, but Gyan struck the crossbar and the South Americans went on to reach the semi-finals via a penalty shootout.
8. Sulley Muntari (2002-present, 79 caps, 19 goals)
Another member of the Ghana squad to have plied his trade in the Premier League, Sulley Muntari is amongst the most decorated players to have pulled on the Black Stars shirt. He is expected to feature in his third World Cup this summer having also played and scored in the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
One of those goals came in the 2010 quarter-final against Uruguay that Ghana went on to lose on penalties despite late drama in extra time, while the other helped them to a 2-0 win over Czech Republic.
At club level, Muntari won the FA Cup with Portsmouth and also played for the likes of Udinese, Sunderland and his current club AC Milan. It was at Inter Milan that he enjoyed his greatest success, however, as he helped them to an unprecedented treble of league, cup and Champions League in 2010.
7. Ibrahim Sunday (1966-77, 20 caps, eight goals)
Ibrahim Sunday‘s career had an air of always the bridesmaid, never the bride about it as he reached two Africa Cup of Nations finals, only to lose in both. The defeats were undoubtedly harder to take considering he had scored in the semi-finals on both occasions.
His performances with the national team and club side Asante Kotoko earned him a move to Bundesliga outfit Werder Bremen, although his time in Germany was mostly spent on the bench.
His talent was recognised on the world stage, however, as the winger was given the African Footballer of the Year award in 1971, just one of three Ghanaians to ever claim the accolade. He was also named among the 50 greatest African players of the 20th century by the International Football Federation of History and Statistics.
6. Mohammed Ahmed Polo
While his own claims that he was “better than Lionel Messi” are wide of the mark, there is no doubt that Mohammed Ahmed Polo was one of the most gifted and technically sound players in Ghana’s history.
Nicknamed the ‘Dribbling Magician’, the left-winger was one of many players to feature for Hearts of Oak in the Ghanaian Premier League before a move to Dubai, where he quickly became a hero of the Al Wasl fans.
His greatest success came on the international stage, however, as he helped the Black Stars to victory in the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations. Three years previously, he was named as the Ghanaian Player of the Year, becoming the inaugural winner of the award.
5. Karim Abdul Razak (1975-88, 70 caps, 25 goals)
Another member of the 1978 side that won the Africa Cup of Nations, Karim Abdul Razak played a major role in Ghana’s success by scoring two winning goals during the tournament. The first came against Zambia in the opening round before he netted the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in the semi-finals.
Individually, Razak won the 1978 African Footballer of the Year award, becoming the second of just three Ghanaians to ever be given the honour. He was also ranked as the 31st-best African footballer and third-best Ghanaian by the International Football Federation of History and Statistics, while the Confederation of African Football included him as one of the 30 best players in their history in 2007.
4. Tony Yeboah (1985-97, 59 caps, 29 goals)
English fans will remember Tony Yeboah well for his two-year stint with Leeds United, which was sprinkled with Goal of the Season contenders that helped him to earn cult hero status at Elland Road.
The striker also played for FC Saarbrucken, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburger SV during his time in Europe, establishing himself as a clinical finisher and ending top of the Bundesliga scoring charts in 1993 and 1994. He was voted Leeds’s Player of the Year in 1996 and one year later earned the accolade of Ghana’s Player of the Year.
He also finished in the top three in the African Footballer of the Year awards on two occasions and was voted as high as ninth in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 1993.
3. Samuel Kuffour (1993-2006, 59 caps, three goals)
Despite only making one appearance for Ghana at the 2006 World Cup, Samuel Kuffour burst onto the world scene at the tender age of 15 when he became the youngest Olympic football champion in history with the Black Stars’ bronze at the 1992 Games.
The central defender is best remembered for his time with Bayern Munich, where he made almost 250 appearances and won 17 major trophies during a 12-year stay. Amongst those trophies were six league titles, four cups and a Champions League, while he also featured in the unsuccessful 1999 Champions League final, memorably beating the ground in frustration after Manchester United had scored twice in stoppage time to win the trophy.
Individually, he was twice named as runner-up in the African Football of the Year awards and was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2001. He is a three-time Ghanaian Footballer of the Year and was included in the Confederation of African Football’s top 30 African players of all time.
2. Michael Essien (2002-present, 52 caps, nine goals)
At his prime with Chelsea, Michael Essien was regarded as one of the best midfielders in world football. The versatile Ghanaian could also play at the back, where he was often employed by Jose Mourinho during his loan spell at Real Madrid.
Having become the most expensive African footballer of all time with his move from Lyon to Stamford Bridge, Essien quickly established himself as a key member of the national team. He featured in the 2006 World Cup but was unlucky to miss out four years later due to injury.
The 31-year-old has won four league titles and seven domestic cups in two different countries, while also being part of the Chelsea squad that won the Champions League in 2012. Individually, he was named the Ghanaian Player of the Year in 2008.
1. Abedi Pele (1982-98, 67 caps, 33 goals)
The undoubted king of the Ghanaian national team, Abedi Ayew is known throughout the football world as Abedi Pele due to comparisons with the Brazilian legend of the same name. That goes some way to showing how highly regarded he was during an illustrious career that saw him amass numerous individual accolades.
He was a three-time winner of African Footballer of the Year, winning the award consecutively from 1991-93. He was also twice nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, finishing ninth in the voting in 1992. The International Football Federation of History and Statistics named him as the third-greatest African player of the 20th century, while he was also the only Ghanaian included in the FIFA 100.
His greatest success at club level came with Marseille, where he won the Champions League in 1993 having been on the losing side in the final two years previously. He also won three Ligue 1 titles with the French side, although the last of those was revoked due to a match fixing scandal.
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