Razak: My football career was predestined

Author: George Ernest Asare
Abdul Karim Razak

Abdul Karim Razak (Golden Boy) stood out as the most outstanding player during the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations held in Ghana. At 22, Golden Boy was not only in top form during the tournament, but also scored a classic goal during the semi-finals match against Tunisia.

 

The goal, described by sports journalists back in the day as a ‘Golden Goal,’ qualified Ghana to the final where they defeated Uganda 2-0 to win the continental trophy for keeps.


After the tournament, Razak was awarded the Best Player and rewarded with the Golden Ball.


Now a coach, Razak granted an exclusive interview with Graphic Sports' George Ernest Asare and revealed that his career as a footballer was predestined.

 

He took the Graphic Sports on his career journey from his juvenile days through his time with Kumasi Cornerstone, Asante Kotoko, Black Stars and playing professional football with New York Cosmos and Arab Contractors in Egypt among others.
Excerpts.

GS: Coach, The current generation of young men and women might have heard much about you but never saw you in action between 1972 and 1990 where you actively entertained football fans in Ghana and beyond. Tell us about your football journey when how it started to how it ended?

GB: Thank you very much. As you know, to play football, some start from a tender age. Some also start around age six by touching and kicking anything soft such as oranges, balls and plastic materials.

However, my involvement in football was divine, in that my father told me that before I was born, one of his best friends prophesied that my mother had been delivering only females, so her next child, whether male or female, would become very popular in Ghana and abroad.

According to my father, the man was not emphatic that the baby would play football but his emphasis was that child would be very popular

GS: Who was this man who prophesied about you?

GB: He was called Alhaji Abu. He used to sell cola nuts in large quantities and when I was born. The man repeated his message and implored my father, Alhaji Abdul Karimu, to take very good care of me. My father told me that at the early stages of my life, I was kicking anything that I saw, so they envisaged that I may be a footballer.

It was, therefore, not surprising that while in school, I started playing for the school team at a tender age and was selected to play for the Kumasi team at colts level.

GS: What school did you attend?

GB: I attended Saint Cyprians School, near Asem Boys, at Fante New Town in Kumasi.

GS: When were you born?

GB: I was born on September 5, 1961 in Kumasi. While some of my colleagues started playing active football at 15, I was playing at 10 years with boys far older than me and excelling in matches.

I remember my teachers complaining and refusing to release me to play in the all-Ashanti team at the colts level. Their fear was that at my age, I may get injured but the then coach of the Ashanti team, the late Ben Acheampong, who was a former Kotoko player , always fielded me and got results .

When my teachers realised that they could not stop me from playing active football against older colleagues, they gave me their blessings and encouraged me to continue enjoying the game, so I continued playing.

I was then selected with Opoku Afriyie to play in the all-Ashanti school team and was brought to Accra to compete in the regional competition at the colts level. So, in a nutshell, that is how it all started.

While playing in school, I was also playing in the colts team in Kumasi .

There were so many popular places where colts football was played at that time, but the most popular was Abby’s Park at Ashtown in Kumasi.

We also played at Ahenfie which was close to the King’s Palace at Manhyia. But during those days, we played by height, not by age. I played mostly in my height group and not age group.

The all-Ashanti schools had very good players and among the players I played with at that time was the late Opoku Afriyie. Many of the good players, however, did not make it to the top.

In those days, Opoku Afriyie was called Nana Aggrey because of his prolific goal scoring, but later he was named Businessman.

He was called Businessman because while playing, he was also dealing in business in Kumasi and scoring important goals as if he was doing serious business on the field of play, so the fans noticed his attitude and named him Businessman.

It was later that they added the Bayie (Wizard) accolade when he joined Kotoko and the Black Stars. In that generation, only Opoku Afriyie and I made it to the highest level of Ghana football.

In those days, players and coaches of Kotoko and Cornerstone came to watch us when playing at either Abbys Park or Ahenfie and some of us also got the chance to play at curtain raisers during league matches at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium.

GS: How did you start playing at the highest level?

GB: Moments after I completed Middle School, I was registered to play for Kumasi Cornerstone in 1972 . I was about 16 years at that time, and started playing for the regular team of Corners instead of the reserve side.

During my maiden training with Corners, the fans were impressed with my performance so they impressed on the management to keep me.

GS: Do you remember your maiden match for Corners and the team you played against?

GB: I remember my first match was against Abuakwa Susubiribi at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium and I scored. After playing for Corners for about four matches, I was invited to play for the Black Stars, so I joined my senior players in camp to prepare for the Olympic Games .

We camped at the Winneba Specialist Training College and among the players I met in camp in those days were Malik Jabir, John Eshun, Ben Owusu, John Wilson, Abukari Gariba, Osei Kofi, Kwasi Owusu, Oliver Acquah and Joe Ghartey, among others, who encouraged me much.

However, because of my age and late arrival in camp, Ayi Acquah of Hearts of Oak, Tetteh Goleku of Corners and I could not make the selection to participate in the Olympic Games so we were left to train with the Black Meteors at the Teshie Military Academy.

After their return from the Olympic Games we started training again.

GS: What was your first match you played for the Black Stars and against which country?

My first match was against Sierra Leone and I scored my first goal for Ghana. I remained in the team until I retired from active football. In all,I played  about 70 matches for Ghana and scored 25 goals.

GS: When did you finally call it quits for the Black Stars?

GB: I finally retired from the national team around 1987.

GS: What was the last match you played for Ghana ?

GB: My last match was against Cameroun who held us to a goalless draw at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi. But in course of the match, I got injured and was substituted.

My days with the Black Stars was truncated after we won the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations. This was because I was contacted to play for New York Cosmos after the tournament, so my interest to play professional football increased and was not keen to play for the Black Starts .

It was at Cosmos that I met Brazilian Pele for the first time. When I arrived, he had just retired from active football, but he was always there to motivate us to play.

However, I saw him playing actively when Ghana went to Brazil to prepare for the 1978 tournament. We were in camp for almost a year and went to Brazil on two occasions.

We played some friendly matches when we first went there but did not keep long. After we returned from Brazil, we played three international matches against Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Benin, Togo and defeated them all.

GS: Was the 1978 gold the only medal you won for Ghana during your time?

GB: We won other laurels, including the All Africa Games, the popular Ghana versus Nigeria festivals and other sub-regional competition. But the 1978 African Cup was the most significant laurel one in my career.

GS: How did you feel for winning that trophy for Ghana in 1978?

GB: I felt very elated for helping my country to conquer the rest of Africa at the age of 22. I was quite young but was in top form and competed among players at top level in Africa

However, I was disappointed about the failed promise by the state. We did not ask for anything during the tournament. It was the then Head of State, General Kutu Acheampong, who promised to provide estate houses to each of the players and technical team for winning the most prestigious tournament in Africa for good. But up to date, the promise has not been fulfilled.

When Gen Acheampong made the promise, it was a surprise to all of us, but we realised that our sacrifices eventually paid off.
In actual fact after a few months of winning the cup, Gen Acheampong’s government was overthrown in a palace coup by Gen F.W.K .Akuffo, but as a member of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) we felt he should have fulfilled the promise, considering that he was part of the decision to honour the players.

Other Presidents like J.J. Rawlings, Hilla Limann, John Agyekum Kufuor, John Evans Atta Mills, John Dramani Mahama and Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo have all not honoured that promise .

GS: Are you saying the state has not given you anything since then?

GB: It was during President Mahama’s time that he gave us some money but that cannot be compensation for the estate houses promised us. What you should appreciate is that we were not professionals. We played as full amateurs but did not get anything from the state, so what President Mahama gave us could not compensate for the estate houses promised us.

If the Houses had been given, I can point it out as something valuable by the state and my children can look at it with pride to appreciate my contributions to Ghana’s football. We were not happy for the money offered by President Mahama, but could not do anything about it.

GS: Since President Mahama gave you some money, couldn't you have used it to buy anything of your choice, including a house?

GB: I did not do that because the money could not even buy plot to develop a house.

GS: You could have invested it for some projects. Why didn’t you do that?

GB: I did not do that because it was not sufficient to make any meaningful investment . Before the tournament in Nigeria in 1980 and Libya 1982, they invited me to play for the Black Stars but I declined.

GS: Why did you decline to play for your nation?

GB: I did not honour the invitation because of what happened in 1978. I was in the US and they sent me a ticket but because of the 1978 episode, I felt very bad. I felt that I was securing something for my future and cannot come home to help my country at the expense of my future.

I therefore did not honour the 1980 and 1982 tournaments but I accepted to play in the 1984 Africa Cup of Nations.

GS: Why did you change your mind to play in the 1984 tournament after refusing to honour the previous ones?

GB: I accepted to play the 1984 tournament in Cote d’ Ivoire because at that time, I had secured something for myself by constructing two houses in Kumasi which I felt could help me in future when I retired from active football.

Many of my colleagues who did not play Professional football became paupers later in their lives. Salifu Fuseini of Kotoko was one of them who died a pauper. The late Emmanuel Quarshie was not bad in life because he played in the United Arab Emirates, where we played together before I left for Egypt to play for Arab Contractors and he later joined me there. Ofei Ansah is no more and Opoku Afriyie also died recently.

GS: Public perception is that what President Mahama gave you was sufficient to cater for your needs. How do you respond to this?

GB: Is that so? If they were in our shoes, they would have felt that doing something without being paid is not acceptable. It was an Estate House that the state promised us, but not money. The estate house was worth $18,000 at that time.

Now if you quantify the money President Mahama offered, you will see that it falls short of the cost of an estate house now. Such a house is more than GH¢500,000 now, so people should appreciate our concerns. We are very bitter for what happened to us so the state should honour the promise .

GS: You said you started playing for Corners in 1972, but when did you register to play for Kotoko?

GB: I played for Corners between 1972 and 1975 before switching to play for Kotoko. I played until 1979 before leaving to play professional football for New York Cosmos between 1979 and 1981 before returning to play for Kotoko again between 1981 and 1982.

I then left for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates between 1982 and 1983 before moving to Egypt to play for Arab Contractors between 1983 and 1985.

I returned to Kotoko between 1986 and 1988 and to Africa Sports in Cote d’Ivoire between 1988 and 1990 before hanging up my boots.

In Dubai, I was the top scorer at that time, even though I played in midfield. George Alhassan, Willie Klutse and Mohammed Polo were all forwards and also playing there, but I scored 15 goals to become the top scorer.

I was playing in the same team with Anas Seidu so we combined well to score prominent goals at that time.

With Arab Contractors, I won two Cup Winners Cup and for the first time, Arab Contractors won the League Cup in Egypt which had never happened in the club’s history before.

At that time, I won the Best Player award in Egypt on two consecutive occasions before returning to Ghana to play for Kotoko.

I left Egypt because they banned all foreign players from playing in Egypt . After playing for two more years for Kotoko between 1986 and 1988, I left for Africa Sports to play for two more years before hanging up my boots to start my coaching career.

Before playing for Cosmos, Africa Sports wanted me to play for them,but I refused the offer because I wanted to play in big time leagues. So after winding up my career, I contacted Africa Sports that I was ready for them. Their chairman then invited me so I signed to play for them before retiring.

And with Africa Sports, we won the league and FA Cup. I can, therefore, say that I won many trophies with different clubs in different countries.

GS: You could have played for more years before retiring in 1990. Why did you retire at that level?

GB: I retired because I felt I had played for many big time football clubs, including my national team and won all what I needed to win. I felt I had marketed myself enough and had nothing to prove again.

During my time, it seemed we were not serious to play at the FIFA World Cup as a country.

GS: Are you saying the players were not serious, or was it the state?

GB: It was not the players who were not prepared to play in the FIFA World Cup, but the FA did not make any meaningful input into our preparations for such a tournament.

Concentration was made only in the Nations Cup tournaments where Ghana was superior to other nations at that time.

It was only in recent times that the FA took it's preparations seriously and managed to qualify to play in the World Cup.

GS: How did you get into coaching after your retirement?

GB: After 1992, I decided that I should go into coaching. This was because during my days with the Black Stars, many of my coaches, including the late Sam Arday and Fred Osam-Duodu, encouraged me that I had the qualities for coaching so in camp, I was made to warm the players up to learn the techniques in coaching.
They told me that anytime I was playing, I was able to direct my teammates to play certain roles,so I had the abilities to be a big time coach. Sam Arday therefore called me one day in his office and gave me books on coaching to read and this encouraged me a lot to move into coaching.

To be continued