Charles Taylor :Playing for Hearts, Kotoko was an honour

Author: George Ernest Asare
Flashback:Charles Taylor (second right) celebrates with Kotoko teammates

This is the second and concluding part of an interview with Charles Asampong Taylor, considered as one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation who enjoyed the best time of his career at Hearts of Oak before a controversial move to rivals Asante Kotoko in his prime.

 

In an exclusive interview with Graphic Sports' George Ernest Asare, Taylor talks about why he abandoned Hearts for Kotoko and why he returned to play for Hearts before hanging his boots. Taylor also opens up on his calling as an ordained pastor and a future career as a coach.

Graphic Sports (GS): You were on top of your game at Hearts but made a shocking move to Kotoko. What made you switch to Hearts’ fiercest rivals?

Charles Taylor (CT): Many football fans have either misinterpreted or failed to understand what really took me to the camp of Kotoko, but in life it is very important to consider a lot of issues in order to progress and to realise your dreams.

Hearts management offered me the platform to develop as a top footballer and I am grateful to them.

Beside paying me monthly salary to support my family, some Hearts fans also gave me money in appreciation of my performance for the club.

However, since life is not static, one needs to weigh up things at a point in time to progress and this is exactly what I did during my time with Hearts.

However, there is one key issue that pushed me out of Hearts midstream and it happened when management refused to endorse my move to Brescia to pursue my professional career.

 I felt very bitter because it undermined my quest showcase my potentials at the professional level in Italy and anytime I reflect on the issue I feel very sad for the lost opportunity.

GS: What really happened such that after 17 years you are struggling to put it behind you?

CT: It was about impediments that management put in my way to play professional football so I decided that if they were not prepared to release me to play professional, then the only option was to part ways with them and join another local club that would help me realise my dreams.

Stephen Appiah, who was then playing for Juventus, arranged for me to play for Brescia in Italy.  During the justifier, Brescia management were so much impressed that they decided to sign me so they negotiated with Stephen and agreed to pay US$400,000.00 to Hearts as my transfer fee.

 As part of the contract, Brescia was to transfer me to Juventus if I impressed them, a situation which I appreciated so much because it would have galvanised me to strive hard to play in Juventus eventually. As part of the Juventus transfer, Hearts was to benefit from the transfer fee Juventus was to pay to Brescia and Stephen related all these to the management of Hearts  who agreed before I returned to Ghana after a three-week stay in Italy.

 The Management of Brescia was very happy about all the arrangements and saw me off hoping I would return in a week to begin my contract.

I got to Accra on a Thursday and five days later, I went to the then chairman of Hearts, Thomas Okin,e at Okaishie to bid him goodbye and see if he had something to offer me before I left for Italy the following Thursday.  Sadly, however, as soon as I delivered my message, he burst into laughter, which was difficult to explain. 

He later told me that I should forget about my desire to play in Italy because the Hearts management had decided against the move to Brescia.

GS: How did you react after he said the club did not endorse the Brescia deal?

CT: I missed a heart beat and was dumbfounded so I asked him if he was joking, but he said he was very serious about it and explained that Hearts had rather negotiated for a better deal worth $1 million with FC Zurich in Switzerland for me.

  I told him I did not believe in the offer from Switzerland, but he insisted that it was far better than the deal with Brescia.  My initial thought was that if Hearts was to get $1 million from my transfer, it would help the team financially so  I reluctantly agreed to abort the Brescia contract and turned to Switzerland.

I also felt they had told Stephen Appiah about their better deal in Switzerland so I did not contact Stephen on the issue.  They also told me it was a straight contract which only demanded my signature to begin my professional career in Switzerland.

GS: What team were you supposed to sign for in Switzerland?

CT: They told me I was to sign for FC Zurich. About a week afterwards Hearts offered me a ticket to travel to Switzerland to sign the contract . Ironically, I was not given any invitation from FC Zurich as had been the case when one is to play for a particular team in Europe.

I went with a certain lady who claimed to have arranged for the contract but it became a nightmare for me because instead of the so called contract I was to sign, she started moving me from one team to the other looking for a club for me in that country.

GS: So were you led on a wild goose chase in Switzerland?

CT: Yes. We went to Switzerland in November that year at a time that all teams had suspended their training sessions. I stayed until January but she had not done anything to show that she had arranged for me to sign any contract with FC Zurich.

I was kept at home eating and sleeping and sometimes going for sightseeing in parts of Switzerland as if I went there as a tourist.
After staying for three months, I felt she was just wasting my life so I decided to leave for Ghana.

GS: Does it mean Hearts did not conduct due diligence to check the authenticity of the so-called FC Zurich deal?

CT: They never did that and it strained the relationship between Hearts management and Stephen Appiah at that time. Since I had no means of contacting Stephen to explain any issue to him, I decided to leave Hearts for another team that had my interest at heart.

It was, therefore, in Switzerland that I contacted  Kennedy Agyepong (Kenpong) who was by then a management member of Kotoko to arrange for me to sign for the Kumasi based team.

While in Switzerland, my manager started negotiating with the management of Kotoko about my transfer so on my way, I knew I was  bound to play for  Kotoko.

My decision to play for Kotoko was that if the management of Hearts was not eager to allow me to play professional football, then I was not ready to play for the team again.

This was how I ended my career with Hearts in 2003. This was the main issue at stake at that time. I liked the team very much but the management pulled a fast one on me to prevent me from realising my dreams of playing professional football.

If I had stayed on, nothing would have motivated me to excel during competitive matches, so I ended my romance with the team.

GS: How did you relate with the players and coach when you joined Kotoko?


CT: The quality of players I met was such that we were simply unbeatable. We defeated almost  all teams we played against in 2003 and it was at that time that Kotoko won the Ghana Premier League after many years in the wilderness.

GS: Of the many matches you played for Kotoko, which of them as the most outstanding?

CT: It was our match against Brong Ahafo United in the 2003 league in Sunyani. I still remember it because before the match, supporters of BA United warned that they would destroy Kotoko in Sunyani with a cricket scoreline.

They  were very optimistic that Kotoko could never score any goal in Sunyani, let alone win the match. They also said I should not be selected to play because they would render me ineffective if I joined the team. However during the match, I dribbled past six of their players to score a goal to prove my worth as a potent striker.

I also proved that no amount of intimidation could prevent me from doing what I can do best on the field of play. Eventually, we beat them 3-0 in Sunyani and after the match, they accused me that I used juju to play football but I ignored them .


 It was a match that lifted my spirit very high because of the way I proved my worth as a striker in spite of the intimidation by the fans in Sunyani.

GS: How did the fans react before and during the match?

CT: Moments before we entered the field, they started hooting at me and casting insinuation that I would be rendered immobile.

GS: Were you singled out for attack by the fans?

CT: Because I had just joined Hearts from Kotoko and the aura surrounding my  previous performance in those days, I was singled out for intimidation. The fans of Hearts also teamed up with those of BA United to intimidate me but God was with me and helped me to showcase my potential in football. I thus succeeded in silencing the intimidating fans because I weaved the ball past six players before scoring a beautiful goal

GS: Is there a particular match you quickly want to forget?

CT:  It was that match against Kpando Heart of Lions at Kpando.  We lost to Lions by a lone goal. I was so downhearted that I never spoke to anyone during our return journey to Kumasi.

GS: How did you feel about the Confederation Cup final Kotoko lost to Hearts in Kumasi?

CT: It was the last match I played for Kotoko in those days and it affected me very much.

After playing a 1-1 draw in Accra during the first leg, I scored the first goal in Kumasi in the second leg. However, in the second half, the coach, Hans-Dieter Schmidt of Germany, substituted me in spite of doing very well in the game. 

When they called me out some of our players, including Nana Arhin Duah, told me to remain on the field because of the way I was tormenting the Hearts defenders. 

In a match there are players who are very dangerous on the ball so the opponents devise all means to mark him, This was what was happening in the match.

All the defenders of Hearts knew that speed was my key weapon and I could also dribble if given any little chance so they were conscious of marking me and refused to surge forward. 

During the match, Dan Quaye, Adjah Tetteh and Amankwah Mireku were telling me to stop playing and leave the field.

GS: Why were your opponents asking you to leave the field in such an important match?

CT:  They used it as a strategy to irritate me, which caused me and Dan Quaye to castigate each other so when Dieter Schmidt eventually substituted me, I was very worried. When I was leaving the field I saw Jones making the sign of the cross and urging his defenders to surge forward.

Moments afterwards, I heard shouts from the fans celebrating a goal and when I turned, I saw the jubilating fans were from Heats of Oak.

The match had almost ended when the goal was scored Hearts won the penalty shootout to lift the cup from Kumasi.

I was very devastated because if I had remained on the field, there was no way Hearts could have scored, let alone win against us in Kumasi. 

I can, therefore, say as a fact that it was Dieter Schmidt who gave the Confederation Cup to Heats in Kumasi on a silver platter. The match was lost from the bench.

 The following day, the coach apologised to me for a wrongly substituting me.

He told me he did not know why he did what he did but since he was the coach and was responsible for everything on the field, I told him that he should not worry about the situation. I also told him that if he had apologised for his actions, I had nothing against him.

GS: Was he the cause of Kotoko’s defeat ?

CT: I am saying this because Adjah Tetteh who scored the equaliser had remained in defence throughout the period I remained in the match.

This was because he knew what I could do if he left me behind him. Other defenders such as Dan Quaye and Amankwah Mireku had also never crossed the centre line, but as soon as I was substituted, they all surged forward, won a corner and Tetteh scored from the corner kick. 

As a coach you should always be tactical in your approach, because a match could be won and lost depending on a particular player. That explains why a good player is allowed in a match even if he is performing below average. 

Coaches keeps such players because they know that he can turn things around at the least opportunity and his absence give more room for their opponents to operate from different angles.

GS:  Which coaches impressed you much during your time?

CT: Jones Attuquayefio, Abdul Karim Razak, J.E. Sarpong and E.K. Afranie were my outstanding coaches.

They were outstanding because of adding human touch to their coaching and their style. You always give your best when playing under their guidance.

Some coaches are good but they always create confusion among their players by shouting at them at the least mistake. Playing under such coaches mostly affects performances no matter how good you are.

 Some coaches always motivate players and this brings out their best to win difficult matches. Coach J.E. Sarpong and Abdul Razak are some of these coaches because when playing under their guidance you don’t panic even if you commit errors in tension packed matches so they are my ideal coaches beside Jones. 

Some players are not courageous and easily become jittery when they come under intense pressure from their coaches.  A player can go completely off if  he is insulted on the pitch so coaches should know how to handle players, even in tension packed matches.

Ghana needs coaches who have the flair of nurturing and developing the potential of players and not those who habitually shout at players to dampen their spirits in tension packed matches. A coach directs players but does not shout at them.

Players are naturally gifted and need a little guidance, so any little pressure undetermined the quest of players to perform creditably.
 Players should always be motivated to bring out their inert potential for them to deliver on the field of play all the time.

GS:  You left Hearts out of bitterness and disappointment but you made a u-turn to the club. What accounted for that?

CT: I was injured and needed to undergo a major surgical operation to correct the defect on my legs, but we were playing in Africa by then so such an operation would have put me off the field for sometime.

I was, therefore, given an injection and allowed to play regularly and this eventually affected me so much.  At that time Jarvis Peprah was in charge of Kotoko so I told him that if he does not seek proper medical care for me, I would leave.

I, therefore, left for Accra and refused to return after persistent calls. Kotoko wanted to extend my contract, but I refused and told them I was seeking medical care.

I then went to Alhaji Hearts and informed him about my predicament and his response was that he could contact Herbert Mensah to contact his friends in South Africa to fix it for me.

His condition was that unless I returned to Hearts, he would not send me to South Africa to fix my injured leg. That explained why I returned to Hearts, but on my return, I was a bit afraid.

GS: Why were you afraid to train with Hearts again?

CT: It was because of the controversy surrounding my departure to Kotoko and the fact that I was not fully fit to play active football. However, in one of the matches I played for Hearts in Tema against the National U-20 side, I scored a superb goal for Hearts which won me the hearts of the fans again.

 It was after my return that I was called into the local Black Stars team during the CHAN tournament in Cote d’Ivoire where we won silver.

GS: How come that you excelled at club level but did not enjoy the same measure of success with the national teams?

CT: In the national team, the fans do not attach much interest in local players but I was doing well. This is because the fans want to see the professionals in action but not the local players.

I captained the Black Stars during our match against Sierra Leone. Against Rwanda I was the skipper and I excelled so much and in our match against  South Africa in 2006 and against Nigeria I performed so well.

GS: When did you start playing for the Black Stars?

CT:  I started in 2001 during the time of Coach Giuseppe Dossena, but I can’t remember the team I played against.

GS: How many matches did you play for the Black Stars?

CT: I played many matches but can’t quote the exact number.  I can say I scored about seven goals, because against Sierra Leone I scored two goals and against Rwanda, I scored a goal.
 Against Lesotho I also scored a goal.

GS:  How did your career in football eventually end?

CT:  Before my football career ended, I had an offer to play in Dubai. I can’t really recall the name of the team,  but before I went, I decided to seek the face of God  through some of our pastors.

I therefore contacted Awudu Issaka and confided in him about my contact in Dubai. I told him that I was experiencing periodic injuries,  so I needed a powerful spiritual leader to pray for me. He decided to take me to his church. He said he had stopped being a Muslim and was attending church in Accra  and mentioned Prophet Badu Kobi as his pastor.

I went with my wife and during the church service Prophet Badu Kobi invited me and told me many things about my life.  He revealed how my father sought spiritual help to heal me when I was a child.

When I contacted my father, he affirmed what the Prophet said and the town he sought for spiritual healing for me but indicated that he did not honour the promise he made to the man who healed me.

The town in question is Sankore in the Ahafo Region where I had stayed before. The Prophet also told me much about my parents  and invited them to pray for them.

Eventually, he told me that God had revealed to him that I should abandon my plans to play professional football in Dubai and rather join him to fish for the lost souls for Christ.

I was dumbfounded, because I did not even focus on my academic works so how could I join him and fish for the lost souls?  I told him I could not speak in public and read the Bible proficiently but he said  if I refused to obey his spiritual guidance, things would not work well for me.

 He gave me three days to ponder over the issue and after the three days I returned and agreed  to join him to do the work of God. That was the beginning of my association with the church and now I have been trained and anointed as a man of God at the Glorious Ways International Church at Sakumono.

GS: What role are you now playing as an anointed man of God in the church?


CT: I am in charge of the Akan service in the church.  Prophet Kobi is in charge of the English Service on Sundays.  God is, therefore, blessing me in diverse ways, but I am not leading an idle life as a man of God.

GS: How are you combining managing your calling in the church?

CT: Now it has become much easier to preach in the town to win souls for God. If you are ashamed to work for God, then you are not qualified to be His servant.

If I can dance in disco in those days, why can’t I do the same in the church to glorify God.?  Because of my record as a proficient footballer, the youth want to associate with me in the church and this is winning more souls for Christ. God is therefore blessing me in diverse ways.

GS  How long have you been winning souls for Christ?

CT: It has been about eight years now.

GS: You earlier said you have started coaching. When did you start coaching ?

CT: The team is called Plymouth Football Club. It was a friend who established it  and handed it to me. I started in 2017 and have been training the players at Atomic Junction since then.

GS: What is your vision for the team at the moment?  

CT: As a former footballer, I am desirous to impart some of my experience on the youth in football so they would be better than me.  If someone can be better than you, it is important to put them through a lot of training to nurture and develop their potential to blossom and yield fruitful results.

At the moment, one of the players I have trained is training with the junior side of Mubarak Wakasu’s current team. I know that gradually I will produce some players who will establish themselves as potent footballers in Ghana. At the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic has succeeded in stopping football operations, but it will come to pass for us to resume training. 

GS: It has been nice talking to you. Thanks so much for your time. Hope to keep in touch with you

CT: Thank you for visiting. My doors are always opened to you .