Speaking to Daniel Theweleit of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the week before the start of the tournament in Qatar, Ghana manager Otto Addo discussed the current state of Ghanaian and African football as well as his team’s World Cup grudge match with Uruguay.
Hamburg-born Addo played for Borussia Dortmund between 1999 and 2005, winning the 2002 Bundesliga title under coach Matthias Sammer. Addo gathered a team around him, consisting of former Brighton Hove-Albion coach Chris Hughton, Aston Villa U23 coach George Boateng, former Nordjaelland coach Didi Draman and goalkeeping coach Richard Kingson. A number of players were persuaded to switch national teams, most prominently Spanish-born Iñaki Williams, and new players were also called up, including Hamburg’s striker Ransford Yeboah-Königsdorfer. At the World Cup Ghana are currently in second, three points behind Portugal and face a rematch of their South Africa 2010 quarter-final, which they lost due to a goal being denied on the line by Luis Suarez’s infamous handball, against Uruguay on Friday.
Otto Addo, you were a talent coach at Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund and became head coach of Ghana quite unexpectedly in March in an interim role. Does it still amaze you at times that you are now leading Ghana to the World Cup?
“It was a bit of a surprise, but it didn’t feel like a completely new thing in my life. The appointment brought back early career memories of when I didn’t know whether I would make the leap into professional football. I realised very early on that you can’t plan football the way you can life in other industries. The fact that I found a way into professional sport as a youth player was surprising to me, I was asked to take over Ghana’s national team.”
When you were appointed in the wake of Milovan Rajevac getting fired as national team coach Ghana were in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the second time in a row after Russia 2018 in the play-off games against Nigeria, the work of many years was at stake, were there concerns the pressure on you might be too much?
“Pressure is a matter of perspective, and I always try to find a perspective that doesn’t pressurise me. We wanted to win, it was an important game, that was clear. But I’ve seen so many things in my life that I know: pressure is something completely different. I had friends in Ghana in my childhood, who didn’t know what to eat the next day, and we’re talking about football here. On top of that, this team hadn’t been successful before, the federation were in the doldrums, and Nigeria was in theory much stronger. So, I would have had a lot of ‘excuses’ if things hadn’t gone well. I didn’t have much to lose.”
When unexpected opportunities like this arise, it can often end up being the start of something really big, do you feel that is the case for you in this instance?
“I don’t think so. Ghana has been to three World Cups before, so this qualification is not a situation where I feel something completely new is being done. We’ve done pretty well, and we’ve certainly been lucky getting to play at the World Cup. But after this tournament, I’ll be concentrating exclusively on my work at Borussia Dortmund again.”
As someone who grew up in Germany, how close is your relationship to Ghana?
“Very close. A large part of my family lives there, and as a child I travelled to Ghana almost every year with my mother and sister. We usually spent six weeks there during summer vacations, went to kindergarten and school, made friends and learned the language. And later I played for Ghana myself.”
There are many players in the national team who have a similar biography, who grew up in Europe and have a completely different life story than the players who grew up in Africa. Is it like two worlds colliding within the team?
“No, I wouldn’t say that. A lot has changed in Ghana in the past 20 years. There’s still a lot of poverty there, but there are also many places where you think: ‘This is almost like Europe’. And all the players who grew up in Europe have a connection to Ghana, all of them are very aware of their Ghanaian roots. There are many things that connect the guys, even if they spent their youth in different countries, music for example. You can feel that when the team meets.”
Around the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, many observers thought it wouldn’t be long before there was an African world champion. This rise has stalled a bit, hasn’t it?
“I have a different impression. Things are very clearly going uphill. For example, we used to have almost only academies set-up by foreign clubs in Africa. Now there are many of our own training centres, created by people who live in Africa and who train very, very many players. Especially in Mali or in Senegal. That’s really good. Also, we have a lot of players who choose their mother’s or father’s nation, even though they were born in England, France or somewhere else. The quality has a different dimension than 10 years ago, and the processes continue, which you can see that in the goalkeeping game: There are more and more very good African goalkeepers, it was different 20 years ago.”
Among other things, you are preparing for the group match against Uruguay, which has an explosive history: In 2010, Luis Suarez prevented Ghana’s almost certain winning goal in the last minute of extra time with a handball on the goal line. He saw red but was treated as a hero because Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty kick and Uruguay won on penalties. Will your team be out for revenge in Qatar?
“That game is a bit of an issue. At the time, we would have been the first and still the only African nation in a World Cup semi-final. Many people talk about a certain symbolism and dream of revenge. But for me that’s not an issue at all, they’re simply two different games.”
André and Jordan Ayew, who belong to a soccer dynasty, will play an important role for you. Their father is Abedi Pele who won several titles with Marseille and is an icon across the continent. What role does this family play in Ghanaian soccer?
“Abedi has become more and more reclusive, but his sons have long played an important role in the team. They are the only two players in the squad who have played in a World Cup. André is our captain, he has scored many goals, including crucial ones, and he plays for a club in Qatar. So he could give us some tips about the country. But the Ayews are also judged on performance like any other players.”
How do you rate the other African participants? Can any nation reach the semi-finals?
“Yes, Senegal is very strong, even without Sadio Mané. They won the AFCON this year, for example, a tournament where the team were the clear favourite in most matches. It’s a completely different situation now, I think they’ll be even stronger here. But as to whether Senegal will get further than Morocco, Cameroon, Tunisia or Ghana, I don’t know. It’s good for the African teams that they are always a bit underestimated by the Europeans and South Americans. I’m very excited about the tournament.”
An old issue in African football is that African coaches are not always so respected, especially by players who play for European clubs. Is that still true today?
“In part. When I played myself, it was often a novelty to see an African on the pitch in a Bundesliga match. Today, every club has Africans in its squad, there are good coaches, better and better goalkeepers – you get opportunities today. And yet it remains the case that in the world you still get many more chances with a white rather than with a dark skin colour.”
Thank you, wishing the best of luck ahead for the tournament and the Black Stars.
Translation by Ben McFadyean