Frimpong Manso: Kessben FC Was My Baby Project

This is the second and concluding part of an exclusive interview by Graphic Sports’ George Ernest Asare with a former Asante Kotoko and Black Stars great, Frimpong Manso. In the first part, the defender talked about his transition from football into coaching and delved into his project which later became known as Kessben FC.

In this part, he talks about his playing career at both club level and his experience with the senior national team, Black Stars
Below are excerpts of the interview:

GS:  Now tell us about how your football career started?

FM:  I started football between the age of 12 and 14 with Alhaji Karim Gruzah’s Olympics Babies, a colts team in Kumasi.  
In those days, the height of a player determined which colts side he played for so I was promoted early because of my height.

I therefore played at the colts level for two years with Alhaji Gruzah’s colts team in Kumasi. I also played at the inter-schools and colleges competitions while I was schooling at Kumasi Secondary Technical School.

One of my school mates, Stephen Osei, who was then playing with Industrial United at Asokwa, convinced me to play for his team at the weekends and there my interest grew and I developed my career until Kumasi Brewery Limited signed me to play for their team.

My big break came when Mr Jonathan Pobee of Neoplan Stars signed me to play in the First Division in 1980. While playing for Neoplan Stars, they were involved in a legal tussle with Upper West Heroes, so at a stage the FA suspended Neoplan Stars from the league in 1983.

Some of my teammates, including Tony Yeboah, Michael Osei and Thomas Boakye, joined me to Kumasi Cornerstones (Corners) to continue our football career.

GS: Who were among the players you captained Corners to win the WAFU Cup in 1987 ?

FM:Thomas Boakye, Kojo Sumaila, Tony Yeboah, Odame Ampomah, Ibrahim Gariba, Sampson Appiah and  Emmanuel Ampeah, were some of the players who won the Cup with me in those  days.

It was afterwards that almost the entire defenders, including Emmanuel Ampeah, moved to Kotoko. However, Tony Yeboah, Thomas Boakye and Michael Osei joined Okwawu United. Corners was, therefore, left depleted of almost all the quality players.

GS: How did you end up at Kotoko after excelling at Corners?

FM:  After winning the WAFU for Corners in 1987, I together with my teammates joined Kotoko primarily because of the professional way management of Kotoko treated their players.

While in the Black Stars camp some supporters and officials of Kotoko visited their players and showered them money and with gifts.

Even though I was not a Kotoko player, I benefited tremendously from such gifts. It got to a point that even as a player with Corners, I was on the payroll of Kotoko and received money on a monthly basis.

GS: Why would officials of Kotoko pay you while you are playing for a rival club?

FM: Perhaps, they did so because they had in mind that I would play for them in future.  
GS: Was this not a form of inducement to compromise you to play it soft against Kotoko?

FM: I remained committed to Corners in all matches against Kotoko and other clubs because I was a professional player, so receiving money regularly from Kotoko never induced me to play it soft.

GS: How long did you play for Kotoko?

FM: I played for Kotoko between 1987 and 1995 before moving outside Ghana to play professional football in Kuwait.

GS: Which of the matches would you describe as your most memorable in Kotoko?

FM: I excelled in most of the matches I played but the one which still rings a bell in my mind was against Hearts of Oak in Accra. It was a decider because if we defeated Hearts we would win the league.

Hearts were awarded a penalty kick but missed it. In the course of the match, Kotoko were also awarded a penalty which I scored to win the day for Kotoko. It was my goal that won the league cup for Kotoko, so that match remains one of my best.

GS: Is there a particular international match which also stands out?

FM: It was a match against a Sierra Leonean team which we won 4-0 in Kumasi. I scored two of the goals as a defender. And in 1993, I scored about 10 goals as a defender.

GS: What do you consider to be the missing link in Kotoko lately?

FM:  I played for Kotoko for eight consecutive years just like many of my teammates. The team had consistency because many of the players played together for quite a long time.  In those days, management camped the players for more than a month when playing in Africa competitions.  Besides, we also had special physical training which made us very fit and prepared well for Africa.

Teams like Zamalek and Al Ahly always do well in Africa because their players had played together for some time,making them very consistent in Africa.

Ironically, players recruited into Kotoko lately sometimes spend less than six months with the team and leave for trials abroad for reasons difficult to understand.

Such players are not often ready to play professional football abroad but they still leave and when they fail to land contract and return home, they find it difficult to fit into the team again. This is the bane of Kotoko at the moment.

GS: How can Kotoko turn things around?

FM:  Kotoko should develop medium-- and long-term plans for players recruited into the team. The players should be made to sign a minimum of three -year contract, and depending  on performance, the contract should be extended or abrogated. They should not recruit players just for the sake of recruitment . Only tried and tested players should be recruited.

GS: Who deserves to wear a Kotoko jersey?

FM: Any player recruited should have the requisite confidence and should not have an inferiority complex. His style of play should be unquestionable and should not be afraid of the crowd.

Today, players who lack confidence are recruited into the team. Many of these players are not ripe for Kotoko and cannot help the club win honours.That explains why Kotoko are struggling to compete with the likes of Aduana Stars and  Dreams FC, among other teams, in terms of player recruitment.

GS:  When did you catch the eye of the Black Stars handlers?

FM:  It was in 1986 when playing for Cornerstones that I got my break. I saw the call-up in Daily Graphic newspaper -- at that time Tony Yeboah was already playing for the Black Stars. I remained with the team and played consistently. I met players such as Bashiru Gambo, Rauf Iddi and Kwabena Asiedu, so it took some time before I earned selection into the first team after a lot of hard work.

GS: Do you remember your first match for Ghana?

FM: It was against Togo during a West African competition when I replaced Bashiru Gambo who had suffered a shoulder dislocation. I played  in the team until we got to the final against Liberia who paraded crack players such as George Weah.

I was told to mark out Weah who was in top form, and I did it to perfection and helped Ghana to win the trophy at stake. 

After that tournament, my confidence soared high and I cemented a place in the team and played consistently until I finally retired from active football after the 1994 AFCON in Tunisia. It was after the tournament that I left for Kuwait to play professional football.

GS: Which of the matches did you consider to be  your best for the Black Stars in your eight-years stay with the team?

FM: I excelled in many matches, including the  Senegal 1992 CAF tournament when Ghana  lost to Cote d’ Ivoire in the grand finale through a marathon penalty shoot-out

GS: As a key member of the team, what is your take on the captaincy brouhaha when Abedi Pele replaced Kwasi Appiah as the team leader at the 1992 AFCON in Senegal ?

FM:  Burkhard Ziese was the coach during a greater part of the qualifying competition, but  he had some issues with the team’s management so he was replaced with Otto Pfister who had by then  won a FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 1991.

That was when all the problems started. When Otto Pfister took over the team, he realised that many of the Black Stars players were very loyal to Burkhard because of his positive relationship with the players.

He had by then promoted some of the young players, including Odartey Lamptey, Isaac Asare, Yaw Preko and Mohammed Gargo, from the U-17 side straight into the Black Stars. Just after our last training session in  Accra, the coach assembled all the players and the late C.K. Gyamfi, who was part of the technical team, broke the news to us that because the tournament was being held in Senegal, which is a French speaking country, they preferred Abedi Pele to take over the captainship from Kwasi Appiah.

They explained that  Abedi was more fluent in French and could handle the team well. The announcement took all the players by surprise

GS: Why so?

FM: We were surprised because the timing was wrong, especially having been led by Kwasi Appiah and knowing his quality in leadership, many of the players felt language should not be a barrier to strip him  of his captainship.

We never expected that  mere language barrier should be used to prevent Appiah from completing a  journey he stared very well and was making much progress to complete successfully. Behind the scenes the players murmured but no one asked any question.

GS: Were you in agreement with the players?

FM: To me, the issue was not handled well and the timing was wrong. If they had used any other reason, especially the popularity of Abedi for playing at top level in Europe to hype up the Black Stars, it would have been quite reasonable, but to use mere language barrier to strip Appiah of the captain’s armband was not the best .

GS: Abedi missed the final due to suspension, but the captain’s armband was handed to Tony Baffoe even though most of you expected it to be given to Tony Yeboah. Why was Baffoe given the armband instead of  Yeboah ?

FM: To be sincere with you, I can’t explain why the armband was given to Tony Baffoe instead of Tony Yeboah.  However as deputy skipper, Tony Yeboah was aware that he would lead the team to play Cote d’Ivoire in the final, so he was shocked even more than Kwasi Appiah who was given a raw deal just before  the tournament.

GS: Did the captaincy issue affected the team?

FM: I would say it did not. This was because it was the final and all players were determine to win the trophy. I am certain all the players were eager to play their heart’s out to win the ultimate so we were focused.

GS: You were part of the Ghana team that lost 1-6 to Germany in Bochum where the captaincy issue reportedly played out again. What happened ?

FM: What happened was that Abedi Pele initially said he could not honour the match so when they were announcing the players who would play in the match, his name was excluded.

They [team management] never hinted us that he was on his way to Germany to play for Ghana, so the late Shamo Quaye was made to replace him and he wore the number 10 jersey even though he was to start from the bench.

It was when we were in the bus that we were told to wait because Abedi was on his way to join us. By then, the coordinators of the game had become apprehensive because we had spent so much time waiting.

It was when he [Abedi] arrived that they called Shamo from the bus and gave his jersey  to Abedi. I don’t know what they told him before taking the jersey from him, but even after Abedi was given the jersey, he kept us waiting so we were wondering why he was not joining the team bus.

It was at that time that we realised that he was demanding the captain’s armband as well before joining us, but because Tony Yeboah was wearing it, they [team management] found it difficult to take it from him. 

I was sitting next to him [Yeboah] in the bus so when he sensed that it was the armband that was preventing Abedi from joining us, he went out himself and handed it to him after which, Abedi joined us and we left for the stadium.

Even, before the match, many things happened in Germany and the captains band just  compounded it.

GS: What were the nature of the problems?

It was about our per diem allowance. We never knew that the management of the Black Stars at that time discriminated in the payment of per diem allowance to the Black Stars.

It was in Bochum that we realised that there were differences in allowances for the local players and that for their foreign-based counterparts.

While local players were paid in local currencies, foreign players were paid in dollars which was far higher in value than the local currency.

A day before the match, the GFA chairman and team leader, Nana Sam Brew-Butler announced at a meeting that the foreign-based players would be given $1000 while the home-based players would be given 1,000 Deutsche Marks.

It infuriated the players and created heated argument and protest in camp, so early the following morning, Salifu Ansah, Emmanuel Armah, Ali Ibrahim and I went to Nana Butler and demanded to know why there were discrepancies in our per diem.

In response, Nana Butler said the system had operated for sometime so he could not change it. We then protested vehemently until he rescinded his decision and indicated that local players who would start the match would be paid in dollars just like their foreign-based counterparts. This incident did not go well with the players before playing Germany.

It was only when we protested vehemently that Nana Butler rescinded his decision and indicated that local players who would start the match would be paid in dollars just like their foreign-based counterparts. This calmed our nerves before the match started.

This was something that did not make sense. How can players who play regularly be  given far less than their foreign counterparts  who sit on the bench during matches?

GS: Do you have any regret for using football as a career?

FM: Not at all. I have never regreted a bit for using football as a career.

This is because it is a career I had enjoyed so much. It never let me down and catapulted me to a level that I never dreamt of reaching. I therefore appreciate much because it helped me in many ways.

GS: How did football help you as a person?

FM: It offered me  opportunity to travel worldwide and when I played professional in Kuwait for five consecutive years, I generated much in monetary terms. Football therefore gave me fame and opened many doors that had been firmly locked .

Anywhere I go,  I meet people who are  ready to help me in many ways, and in terms of managing my finances efficiently or otherwise  it was my personal issue . Football helped me much so I will never say I wasted my time in playing football as many had been saying . Truthfully, I have never regretted for taking to football as my career.

GS: What  would you do differently if you were to start your career afresh?

FM:  I would attached much more importance to my training to enhance my career.  I would also contract an agent to guide my career and to enhance my market value.
Players therefore need qualified managers to manage their affairs in diverse ways. It is good to plan your life after football in your active days to ensure a smooth transition. However some of us start after we have retired and we don’t normally take the right decision which eventually affect us