Feature: Abedi Ayew - 'African Pele' who conquered Europe

Feature: Abedi Ayew - 'African Pele' who conquered Europe

Abedi Pele

He was just a young boy — long before he became one of Africa’s all-time football greats and racked up trophies in Europe’s top competitions — when Abedi Ayew first heard people comparing him with arguably the game’s best player — Brazil’s Edson Arantes do Nascimento, also known as Pele.

Yet, there was just one problem for the young Abedi, who grew up in a poor Ghanaian village and shared a home with his 18 siblings. He didn’t know who Pele was.

“You imagine that we don’t have access to televisions, we don’t have lights in our villages; we were closed in the very small village so we didn’t have access to all these things,” he explains.

“So for me, playing behind our modest windows and any small places we would get, we tried to play football. And then you see people who are a little bit older than you saying, ‘oh Pele, he plays like Pele.'”

That nickname followed the attacking midfielder all the way from the red dirt fields in Ghana to some of the world’s biggest football stages, including the 1993 Champions League final where he helped lead the French club Olympique de Marseille to its first ever European championship.

Like his namesake, the Ghanaian “Pele” displayed a nimble athleticism on the pitch, dazzling defenders with his spectacular technique and blistering pace.

He signed his first contract in 1978 with Ghana’s Real Tamale United but it wasn’t long before he attracted the attention of foreign scouts, becoming a pioneer for African football at a time when few players from his continent enjoyed major international careers.

He spent several years honing his talent abroad — including spells in teams in Qatar and Benin — before heading to France to play in the country’s second division.

In 1987, he made his move to France’s top league after being signed by Marseille.

But his first spell at the club in the south of France proved to be a short one as Ayew grew frustrated with the racial abuse he suffered from his teammates.

“I started playing with them and three weeks later I called my manager and told my manager ‘look, I would like to change club because I wasn’t accepted by the players,” he reveals. “Any time they see me passing, they spit on the ground… [and say things like] ‘go back to where you come from, go back to the bush.'”

The Ghanaian star left Marseille after just one year and began playing for rivals Lille. But his excellent performances in his new team made Marseille’s club president realize what he had lost and try to sign him back again.

Ayew was initially reluctant to play again for his former club but was eventually convinced by his wife who urged him to “go and prove to them that you are the best.” So in 1990 he rejoined Marseille, where he enjoyed three golden years, culminating in the 1993 Champions League triumph over mighty Italian giants AC Milan.

“I felt proud because every footballer’s dream is to win a Champions League,” says Ayew. “Having the opportunity to be one of the first African players to win is huge and I think I was just happy.”

A champion in Europe, Ayew was also the heart and soul of Ghana’s national team, which he captained for six years, starting in 1990. During his 16-year career with the Black Stars, he scored 33 goals in 67 appearances and played in a record five Africa Cup of Nations.

Ayew, who’s seen three of his sons following his footsteps by playing professional football, ended his career with Al Ain the United Arab Emirates in 2000.

But his passion for football remains unquenched. These days, Ghana’s football legend spends his time and money coaching and mentoring young players. Beyond the fundamentals of sport, he also tries to prepare them to face some of the challenges he overcame.

“We just try to … ensure that they have a better career but it’s not easy,” he says. “It’s not everybody who is going to be a very good footballer or to have a professional career.

“So what we try to do is we teach them how to be in a society and that is very important — even if you don’t succeed in the football pitches, outside you can live within the society and I think that needs a whole lot of respect and discipline.”

Source: CNN


  1. Larbi says:

    yes he was a good Footbaler won all in Europe but what with the Black Stars? agent of apathy in the then Black Stats. He should look back and see what he did during his time of captainship. know what he did with Tony Yeboah? what about how he became captain? egocentric person, Akwasi Appiah is still around. those days were the dark days of Ghana Footbal. shaaaaaam shame shame

    • Kojo. says:

      You seem ignorant my brother. Do you know that Abedi reported to the black stars camp with Akwesi Appiah the same day? Do you know the situation which resulted in Akwasi Appiah becoming Captain in the first place? The story is,AA lost the band because he was out of form in 1992. Better players like Tony Baffoe and Frimpong Manso had emerged and so there was no place in the squad for AA. He was left on the bench. The only black spot in Abedi’s career was that he couldn’t play in the World Cup. This was as a result of the Adante envi in the stars. I bet you that Appiah was somehow successful because he holds an Ashanti name. Thus there were no saboteurs on his back.

  2. Adebayor says:

    Honestly,as a Ghanaian or as northern guy who plays and follow football,i have not seen any help ‘pele’ has done to any northern footballers,which is a shame.just ask any northern guy who goes to nania f.c to play football and here’s what he has to tell you.i have two friends who used to play for nania f.c namely OKOCHA (frm bawku) and OKOCHA(frm sandema).the guy frm bawku was in the team even before raheem ayew was brought to the team and till date he is still there.if am right raheem was in abroad for the past four years or so,but because this guy is not his biological son so he won’t bother to help get him a foreign club which is very BAD.had it not being for help,you would’nt have gotten where you are today.some of you have international recognition but looks very insulting and disappointment to the society which made you who you are today.is a shame!!!!

  3. Larbi says:

    @Kojo, thanks for your comments. I hope u will laugh this Of, Akwasi Appiah was stripped of the captaonship because he could not speak french but not lost of form. ask anybody who is above 55yrs and will tell u the through. In Ghana he is not the greatest. talk about the Mohammed Polo, Razak, Babayara Anas Saidu, Adulf Amah, Sunday Ibrahim, Osei Kofi and more, Brother Ghana had had greater players than Abedi he was a good player but not the greatest in Ghana

    • KWAKU AHENKAE, NY,NY says:

      Abedi in his youthful days was dubbed “easily the best player in Ghana” by not only journalists but all followers of football. I remember this vividly in the early 80s when I was in Secondary school. Abedi was far above the golden boy Abdul Razak and the rest, even though they were older than him and had made names before him.
      Why he is not regarded by some as the greatest Ghanaian player is because he did not spend enough time playing in Ghana, but went to play in Benin, Qatar etc. If he had spent all those years playing in the Ghana league- for RTU, Kotoko, Hearts etc, within those years, he would have easily solidified his legacy, far bigger than even Razak, Polo, Osei Kofi etc whom we remember too much because they played long in front of us- locally. Read from the article:
      “He spent several years honing his talent abroad — including spells in teams in Qatar and Benin — before heading to France to play in the country’s second division”. Abedi was both Razak and Polo combined the Maestro of Razac, the dribbling skills of Polo, plus a blistering pace(speed) that none of them had. A real Pele indeed!

  4. Eric, Toronto. says:

    Abedi Pele is best Ghanaian footballer i’ve seen. Though, my love for the blackstars declined after his generation waned off. They couldn’t bring anything meaningful like silverware, World Cup qualification etc. but i think i will attribute that to the factions they had in the team. Abedi Pele has always been the best and greatest player to me but not the leader i expected of him. I love Abedi.

    • KWAKU AHENKAE, NY,NY says:

      My brother, hmmm, how could he be the best leader for you when everyone was trying to pull him down to ensure that he fails? Osei Kuffuor said on GTV in 2008, “at Abedi’s time everybody wanted to be a leader”, and he thought he was dissing Abedi Pele. He didn’t know he was giving them(the opposition) away. How come everybody wanted to be a leader when there was already a leader? I tell you, a lot of fans and players, out of hatred for Abedi, just wanted the team to fail. Someone said, “if we win don’t you know Abedi’s name will be mentioned?” And for that reason, he wanted the black stars to lose. This was Senegal ’92. How can you put someone there as a captain and you don’t want to acknowledge him as such? If the Captain is not there his deputy deputizes. But if he comes there before the start of the game, do you deliberately ignore him and expect him to play with his deputy- at a time when there was obvious politics going on? So many people just wanted the black stars to fail so that they can blame Abedi. At the end of the day, wisdom is justified by her deeds, says JESUS.

  5. Larbi says:

    some of u young ones should ask and be told what happened before u start talking. go ask Abedi what happened 10mins to the start of Black Stars friendly with Germany where we were gargantuanly beaten 6 – 1 in Boocom. every great footballer is good on and Off field. how come his team Nania score 30 goals and the team was thrown over board. a power drunk person. that is why we the old ones do not like to hear his name. Today he is against Akwasi Appiah, tomorrow Issa Yahatu, another time Akwasi Nyantakyi. He even has the impetus to call Akwasi Appiah his friend, the one he shamelessly stoled the captianship b’cos of French language. young ones u should better lean, ” if u don’t help ur friend to get 9 u will not reach 10″ “se wamma woyonko atwa ankoa wonso ntwa endu” Shame on him. I will eat my head of if he is better than the Razaks and Polos, Rev. Osie Kofis, Baba Yaras. Aaaa how can he even be better than Malik Jabee, the “gool na ma fi fe” man. he should bow down his head in shame. I suggest to u…….

  6. Larbi says:

    yes when playing in Europe he play fine fine football, but when it comes to BS he plays selfishly like his son Dada Ayew and “kokofumuly” like Jordan Ayew, just like how he Abedi and Kwame Ayew played in the Senegal92. shame on him