Razak : My football career was predestined

Author: George Ernest Asare
The 1978 Golden Ball awarded to 'Golden Boy' Abdul Karim Razak as the Best Player of Africa

This is the second and concluding part of an interview with former Black Stars and Kotoko legend, Abdul-Karim Razak. In the first part published in the last edition of Graphic Sports, the 1978 African Footballer of the Year took our reporter, George Ernest Asare, on a trip down memory lane on his playing career from Kumasi Cornerstone through to Asante Kotoko and the Black Stars, as well as professional stints abroad.
In the second part, the ‘Golden Boy’ throws more light on his playing career with New York Cosmos, Al Ain in Dubai, Arab Contractors in Egypt and Africa Sports. He talks also about his coaching career, the challenges along the line and his dream of guiding Ghana to a continental triumph if given the opportunity.

GS: How did you get to play for the famous Cosmos?

GB: Officials of Cosmos watched the 1978 Cup of Nations and decided to come for me so I directed them to see the Kotoko chairman which they did. At that time I was the skipper of Kotoko so when they came initially, the management refused to allow me to leave. It was later after Burkina Faso side, Kadiago, came to Kumasi to eliminate us from the Cup Winners Cup in 1979 that I was allowed to leave.

After the match, Cosmos officials came down with three tickets and we travelled to the USA to sign the contract so that started my professional career.

After Cosmos, I returned to Kotoko to play again between 1981 and 1982. I left for Dubai to play for Al Ain FC in 1983 before leaving for Egypt to play for Arab Contractors for two seasons. I then returned to Kotoko again to play between 1985 and 1988 before finally leaving for Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire.

GS: How did you get the Golden Boy accolade?

GB: That name was given to me by Harry Thompson [commentator at GBC] during an Africa Cup qualifier match against Mali in 1975. We played four matches in one month at that time, first against Liberia in Accra which we won 6-0, then we lost 1-3 to Mali away.

From Mali, we went to Liberia for the return leg before returning to Accra to play the Malians and I scored a brace as we beat Mali 4-0 in Accra. It was in the course of that match that Harry Thompson, who was running commentary, bestowed on me the Golden Boy accolade because of my golden performance.

The following day, Daily Graphic also picked the name in their write-up and published my picture with the Golden Boy accolade.

GS: What about the Golden Goal?


GB: It came during the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in the semi-final match against Tunisia. I scored the only goal in the match and Harry Thompson described the goal as a Golden Goal, adding that the Golden Boy has scored a Golden Goal.

GS: Now let’s shift gear. As a coach, how did Ben Koufie influence your coaching career?

GB: It was Ben Koufie who invited me into the Black Stars as a player and told me that I had potential to become a coach. He said anytime I was playing I issued  instructions to my teammates so he advised me to go into coaching when my career was over.

I have never regreted being a coach and I thank Uncle Ben for the encouragement he gave me. I started from club sides until I got the chance to be assistant Black Stars coach as deputy to coach Giuseppe Dossena. However, it has become cheap to get appointed a coach of the Black Stars.

GS: Why has it become cheap to be a coach of the Black Stars?

GB:  If I look at Ben Koufie, C.K. Gyamfi, Fred Osam-Duodu, Sam Arday, Emmanuel Afranie, Jones Attuquayefio and Asebi Boakye, among others, I realised that they became national coaches after gaining experience handling various first division clubs.

They also coached the junior national teams before being given opportunity to handle the senior team.

However, it looks as if in recent times, the trend has changed because coaches are given the senior team without going first through the mill.

 To some coaches, they will not handle any team beside the Black Stars and Kwasi Appiah is a typical example. Is Kwasi [Appiah] made for the Black Stars only?  The approach taken by Maxwell Konadu and Ibrahim Tanko is good because they have been with the Black Stars before and now coaching elsewhere .
 
 GS: Is it the FA to blamed for appointing such coaches?

GB: It is the FA because they just want to favour some key personalities which is quite unfair. The FA should know that appointing coaches who have gone through the mill puts them in a better position to deliver results when offered jobs at the highest level.

GS:  Would you prefer to handle the Black Stars  or you prefer a lower side?

GB: If given an opportunity, I would prefer to handle a junior side to prove my worth before taking up the senior team. With the team, I will bring up some players for the public to see the work I’ve done.  

GS:  Are there any offers lined up for you now that you are home after coaching in Togo?

GB: I am now home after resigning from Etoile Filante in Togo. With the COVID-19 epidemic now worldwide, all football operations have been grounded. But I’m hoping that the pandemic would be history to see if another opportunity comes my way.

GS: Over the years has the GFA approached you to handle any of the national teams?

GB: No. I have the credentials to manage some of the national teams, but since Kwasi Nyantakyi’s time, there has not been any offer to manage any of the junior teams. Personally, I do not know what I have done to deserve this. I am still waiting.

As a player, I did so much for clubs and the country. And as a coach, I achieved so much in Mali where I won four trophies with Stade Malien. In my first year I won the league without a defeat. 

During my days with Stade Malien we played Hearts of Oak and drew 1-1 in Accra and humiliated Hearts 3-0 in the second in Mali.

GS: What was your first team as a coach?

 GB: I started with ASFA Yennenga in Burkina Faso in 1994. Before then, I went to see Nana Brew-Butler [one time GFA chairman] to give me a team to handle, but he refused my request and told me to handle a club side to gain experience. So, when I had the opportunity to coach ASFA Yennenga I took it with both hands.

In my first year in Burkina Faso, we placed second on the league table and won the Eyadema Cup on two occasions before leaving for Togo to coach Etoile Filante.

.I subsequently went to Benin to coach Dragons de l'Ouémé where I won the league on two occasions. It was with Dragons that I was invited by the GFA to become the deputy to coach Dossena in 2001.  

We played our first match against Tanzania and defeated them at home and away to qualify for the group stage of the Africa Nations Cup qualifiers.

Our next match was against Sierra Leone in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier and we defeated them 5-1 in Accra. After that match the authorities pushed out Dossena from the Black Stars.

 GS: Was there any contract when you were assigned to Dossena as his deputy?

GB: There was no contract with the FA. I was just given the job and I accepted without signing any contract. In those days I was given GH¢200 [¢2 million then] as my salary, which was peanut but I still accepted it in the national interest.


 What I was being given in Benin was far bigger than what I was offered in Ghana but I accepted it as a contribution to the development of football in Ghana.

GS: What was your next job after your service with Black Stars?

GB: There was an offer from Stade Malian. It was Abedi Pele who negotiated it for me. They first wanted Abedi to get them a coach so he contacted me and invited me to Accra. In Accra, I negotiated for the job and left for Mali to take it up in 2002.  In my first year I won 20 matches and won the league.

In my second year, I won the league again but lost only one match before returning to Ghana to coach Kumasi Asante Kotoko in 2003.

GS: How did you get the Kotoko job?

GB: It was the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who gave me the job to coach Kotoko.  

GS: Were you under contract when you accepted to coach Kotoko?

GB: No. I signed one year contract so I had ended my contract in Mali.  That explains why I came down to Ghana. I was home when the late Mr Okyere Darko, who was a former Director of the Center for National Culture in Kumasi, hinted me that Otumfuo Osei Tutu II wanted to see me.  When I went he [Asantehene] told me that I should take up the coaching job of Kotoko.

At that time Ben Koufie was the FA boss and he also wanted me to be with the national side, but when I told him that Otumfuo Osei Tutu II had given me the Kotoko job, Uncle Ben gave me his blessing and encouraged me to take up the Kotoko job.

Moments after I accepted the job, Otumfuo directed me to meet the then Kotoko boss, Mr Sylvester Asare Owusu.

While in charge of Kotoko, we lost only to Kpando Heart of Lions and won the league hands down, as well as the SWAG Cup where we defeated Liberty Professionals home and away. We also won the Top 4 Cup and I won the Coach of the Year award.

However, after the football season, there was a problem in the club when Otumfuo met the playing body, the management and technical team at the Manhyia Palace. Otumfuo wanted the management to render accounts for their stewardship, but this action took the management by surprise.

In their quest to apportion blame for their failure to render proper accounts, the management said they bought matches during the league. How many matches could they have bought and at what cost?

As  a coach, there was no way that I would use my salary to buy matches so I was surprised to hear that claim in the presence of the Asantehene and his elders.
This issue would have landed Kotoko in hot waters if it had happened in another country

GS: As a coach, were you aware that the management allegedly bought matches for your opponents to play it soft in the 2003 league?

GB: Not at all.  Before God and man, it never happened. I can never lie to you and the nation, and so far as I was concerned, nothing of that sort happened when I was coach of Kotoko.

At that time there were a lot of seasoned players who had been recruited into Kotoko and they excelled and drew fans into the Baba Yara Sports Stadium to watch matches. The stadium was always filled to capacity because we were winning big time.

GS: Did the management tell Otumfuo Osei Tutu II that you won the league because they bought for you?

GB: I don’t know how they could have bought matches from Accra Hearts of Oak and in the Top 4 competition where each team wanted to win at all cost.

The issue was that when Otumfuo Osei Tutu II asked them to render accounts for their stewardship, they were caught pants down because they had nothing to show. 

 They never thought of it, so they thought the only way to pass the blame was to say they used the money to buy matches. It was not true, so Otumfuo did not accept their excuse and sacked them. I was asked to stay on so we could go to Burkina Faso to play a friendly match.

GS: How did the players take the news at the said meeting at the Manhyia Palace?

GB: They players were shocked to the marrow when they heard about it. How could the players have thought of it that they were playing matches of convenience? At Kpando, where we lost the only match, we had a penalty but failed to score, so how could we have bought matches?

During the league, the players took their training very seriously and were focused in the matches they featured. Players like Charles Taylor were sometimes benched because there was so much competition among the players for positions.

GS: Who were some of the players in those days?

GB: Among the players were George Owu, Louis Quainoo as goalkeepers,  Aziz Ansah, Godfried Yeboah (nicknamed TV3), Daniel Yeboah, Daniel Acquah and Joseph Hendricks in defence.

In midfield we had Kwame Adjaguah, Michael Asante, Yusif Chibsah, Edmund Owusu-Ansah and Stephen Oduro, while Charles Taylor, Michael Osei, Frank Osei, Shilla Alhassan and Nana Arhin-Duah were in attack. This team was a solid team and capable of beating any opponent, so alleging that we bought matches was very unfortunate.

GS: How did the players react after you left the palace?

GB: They laughed it over because it was never true and it can never be true. The players felt insulted for the events that occurred at the palace. This was because the management wanted to sacrifice us to keep their job, but Otumfuo saw their game plan and sacked them instead. Later, I left the job went back to Mali and won the league on two occasions.

Because of my credentials in Mali, I was invited when the country celebrated their 50th Independence anniversary alongside great players such as Papa Camara, Abdoulaye Traore, Laurent Pokou and others.

GS: What is the plan for the future?

GB: I have not finished as a coach because I still have much to offer. I don’t have a job for now but I have the credentials to deliver. For me, I have done it all as a player and a coach. I am available for the country but it seems foreign clubs give me the respect more than my countrymen. Perhaps, I need a Godfather to lobby for me, but that is what I cannot do in my life.

 GS: Did you ever apply for the job whenever it became vacant?

GB: I have applied on many occasions, but I have never been considered for reasons difficult to understand.  Players who have passed through my hands at club level can testify about my credentials as a coach.

All players of Kotoko that I coached in 2003 can testify about my credentials. Outside Ghana, players I handle at Stade Malien, Dragons, among others, can testify about me.
 
GS: What is your message to football authorities?

GB: My message is that they should not discard old players who helped to develop Ghana football. This is because the present generation will also grow old very soon and leave the field. Old players become discouraged when they realise that they have been totally abandoned by the authorities .

We still have something to contribute to the development of football at this stage in our lives.
My desire is to help the nation to win trophies at various levels, hence the need for the authorities to make use of some of us who still have something good to offer. I have already built a good legacy in football and  made an impact which cannot be brushed aside easily.