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The transfer chronicles

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Diego reprsents the great transfer conundrum

For every hard-core football fan the summer months can be long and arduous. League season in Europe winds down with the Champions League final in May and unless you are an aficionado of the Icelandic or Russian leagues, June-August will most likely be spent in a state of hope/despair, depending on the performance of your chosen team in the corresponding season.

Of course, every two years, you have either the European Championship or the World Cup to keep you busy, but often even these heady tournaments take a back-seat to the single most important activity for the summer; transfers.

Transfers are a unique activity and it would not be wrong to say that they are almost football’s lifeblood. People talk about them, the press jump on them and the clubs see it as a way of improving their playing staff while at the same time appeasing their demanding fans.

The blood-thirsty nature of transfers mean, that every off-season (and for a short while in January) fans are baying for new blood. Newspapers are abound with rumours of fresh recruitments by big clubs and all this means that the clubs are always under undue pressure to sign up the next big star name to their books. The short time span, lack of proper planning, and high competition mean that more often than not a lot of transfers turn into busts.

Take the case of AC Milan for example. In the early 1980’s, a Milan scout spotted a feisty young black forward playing for English upstarts Watford. Rumour has it, that the player was John Barnes. But the poor scout, suffered from a case of mistaken identity and instead roped in the hapless Luther Blissett for the princely sum of 1 million pounds. Suffice to say, Blissett’s time at the San Siro was acrimonious, and his name is now synonymous with anarchy, in the fashion capital of Milan.

But those were the halcyon days of the 80’s. As football gained more professionalism and as scouts were increasingly fed with information gleaned from every corner of the globe, you would expect transfer activity to have been perfected to an almost exact science. Right? Wrong.

The truth is, clubs continue to rope in players with hardly any thought to proper planning. Small wonder then, that a high percentage of transfers end up being expensive failures. For a more recent example, one only has to look at the supposedly infallible Sir Alex Ferguson. After the World Cup in 2002, much was made of the decision of the Scot to rope in Brazilian midfielder Kleberson. The previously unheard of midfielder had, according to Ferguson, won Brazil the World Cup. Many were shocked, since Kleberson had played in only a few games in the finals. But Ferguson was convinced, and Kleberson it was, who strutted his stuff in the Theatre of Dreams for two seasons; with understandably tragic results.

For an even more recent example, one only has to look at the case of the Portuguese starlet Bebe, signed this season by United. A former homeless World Cup player, Bebe was secured by Ferguson for the princely sum of 7.5 million pounds. So far, he has even failed to crack the reserve team, with his control and touch apparently not good enough. Ferguson admitted, he had never seen Bebe play and this is astonishing for someone who splashed that kind of cash on a player. Yet, Ferguson is not the only example. Clubs often splash out on unknown talent and are left with egg on their faces.

Yet, paradoxically, it is this inefficiency (and in some cases wanton disregard) that makes the transfer market and the buying and selling of players so interesting.

It’s important to remember that in football, there are two crucial “markets” “the wage market” and “the transfer market.” Wages are generally considered to be an efficient marker of a player’s ability, i.e, the better a player the better he will be paid.

A recent study conducted on the league position of English clubs (in the Premier League and the Championship) through the 1998-2007 period showed that spending on salaries by clubs explained their league position to a variation of 89%. Stripped of statistical jargon, what this means is that the higher you pay your players, the higher you generally finish. In the period sampled, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were the top three clubs in terms of salaries paid. Compare that to their average league positions over the same period and it doesn’t take a genius to understand the link.

Hence, we can come to the general conclusion, that the market for wages is quite efficient.

Thus, if you are paying Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard and Cesc Fabregas big bucks, you can be certain you won’t finish far from top spot.

The market for transfers though, is an entirely different story.

Take the case of the second most expensive player in history; Kaka. The Brazilian’s first season at the Santiago Bernabeu has been insipid by his own lofty standards. And now, with a new coach at the helm it seems that his opportunities may well be very limited and that he may even be forced out of the club. It seems like a classic case of overpaying for a player past his peak. And Kaka is just one glitzy example of an overall inefficient transfer market.

The truth is that often clubs buy just the wrong players. Many often raid the South American and African leagues to find the next uncut diamond. Players are bought at an increasingly young age and often never mature. Prima donnas often never settle into the club they were bought in to.

But herein is the paradox. Since the transfer market is inefficient, it automatically means that some clubs are underperforming while others are over-performing. In most cases, clubs that fall into the latter category are smaller clubs than your Real Madrids or your Manchester Uniteds.

And for the sake of competition it is vital that these small clubs over-perform, because otherwise, they would never be able to compete against the giants of the game.

But, why not?

Because the truth is that at the end of it all, football is actually an unfair game. The bigger clubs have massive budgets and mega wage structures. Their stadiums are generally bigger and their fan bases are also larger and more global. Yet, they are all competing in a single league with other smaller counterparts, and all for one single prize.

For big clubs, it is the equivalent of playing Monopoly with Fleet Street and Mayfair already in the bag; there are only very few ways in which a small club can compete with that.

And one of those ways is by mastering an inefficient transfer market.

Bing and a bust. Ronaldo's a hit, while Kaka has struggled at the Bernabeu

It is not really rocket science, and a lot of small clubs have already jumped on this and become masters at manipulating the market to secure the best deals. These small clubs cannot afford to pay their players to success, so they choose the route of transfers.

The best example is serial French champions Olympique Lyon, but more on that later. First, let us run through some of the more obvious inefficiencies in the transfer market, that these clubs have been able to spot.

Honestly, it really does not take someone like Lyon general manger Jean-Michel Aulas or Arsene Wenger to figure these kinks out, but they still exist, mostly due to the conventional belief held by clubs to stick to the tried and trusted ways of doing things. In short, traditionalists are held in high stead and reformists frowned upon in the general structure of club football.

More importantly, though, what are these obvious inefficiencies?

The first is that tournament (World Cup or European Championship) stars are almost always overvalued. It is fitting to start with this since the World Cup has just concluded. And the first name that would jump off the block is Mesut Oezil.

Now, Oezil is a supremely talented player and has been one for quite a few seasons now. But the fact of the matter is that with a single year of his contract remaining, Werder Bremen (more on them later) would have been lucky to get into the two-digit millions for him. As it happened though, Oezil cost Real Madrid as estimated 16 million pounds, with the figure expected to rise into the early 20 million range.

Now at the end of it all, Oezil might turn into a huge success, and people will not be complaining. After all, Real have enough cash to burn. But the fact remains that Oezil’s value peaked and only peaked so much since he was a star of the World Cup.

Diouf is the classic case of World Cup overkill

Another classic example is that of El Hadji Diouf. The Senegal star rose to prominence on the back of a stellar World Cup in 2002, when they famously beat France. This forced through a dream move to Liverpool and Diouf was expected to light up the Premiership. Eight years later, he remains a decent, yet journeyman striker, with dreams of dominance long over.

The fact is that as a mark of a player’s ability, the World Cup is a frighteningly short sample size to draw from. Seven games if you make it to the final and many players can look very good in seven games. But ask them to maintain that consistency over a league season for a number of seasons and many will fail the test.

Secondly, centre-forwards or attacking players in general are almost always overvalued. This is surprising because any manager worth his salt will tell you that strong defences are what usually win you championships. There is a famous mantra, “offence wins games, defence wins championships” and often you will see that the team who wins the league has the best defensive record. In spite of this, forwards or attacking players are always overvalued. Nemanja Vidic was arguably as important as Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United’s Champions League win in 2008, but put them side by side on transfer value and Vidic will cost only a fraction of what Ronaldo would.

In the infamous, Galactico era, Real Madrid had players of the like of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo adorn the same pitch. But the brilliance of Iker Casillas is what often kept them in games. Yet, in terms of transfer value a goal-keeper is valued far lower than a forward, despite having more longevity and playing in a more demanding position.

Thirdly, certain players, Brazilian or Dutch for example, are in vogue in the transfer market and are considered, for want of a better term, brands. Both the nationalities are traditionally associated with attractive football and clubs end up dishing out far more on them, than their talent deserves. Take the case of the Dutchman Giovani van Bronckhorst or the Brazilian Sylvinho. Both players were considered failures at Arsenal after joining from smaller clubs. Yet their next big moves, ended up being to Barcelona, arguably a bigger and better club than the Gunners! Brazilians evoke a sense of mystique. Clubs reckon that having a Brazilian in the team is fancier than say a Belarussian of equal talent, only because of the positive connotations attached with having the former in the squad. Or how else do you explain, Real Madrid being reluctant to buy the brilliant Serbian Aleksandr Kolarov for a trifle more than they used to buy the error-prone Brazilian Marcelo?

Both Robinho and Tevez have moved around their fair share in the last few years

Finally, new managers often always waste a lot of money buying up players who understand his system or he is familiar with. This is almost always easily avoidable, and to be honest, a manager is often a very poor judge of a club’s long-term needs. Managers come and go, but clubs remain. Hence, many managers have roped in expensive stars only to be fired few months later. The new man, then again, wants his own players and all this means that there is often a question of expensive turnover, which is hardly beneficial for the club.

These are some of the most common asymmetries that are prevalent in the market and this is what makes it possible for some smaller clubs to succeed. As aforementioned, the likes of Lyon and Werder Bremen are the perfect examples of how clubs have identified these inefficiencies and manipulated the transfer market to carve out an existence in a highly competitive game.

Lyon first, since their success is one that every small club should look to model.

Even a decade ago, Lyon was a small club in a fashionable city where football was not the rage. Their neighbours St Etienne were once the biggest clubs in the land and Lyon was never more than a satellite to their planet. However, in less than ten years Lyon have emerged as the biggest force in France and won seven consecutive titles. How?

Much of the credit should rest with Jean-Michel Aulas.

Aulas, who took the club over in 1987 has a simple theme; over time the more money a club makes, the more matches it will win, and the more matches it wins, the more money it will make.

Aulas has almost perfectly abstracted the time factor. Short-term losses mean little to him because Aulas reckons that in the long-term there is rationality, even to football.

His rationale is simple. If you buy good players for less than they are worth, you will win more games. You will then have more money to buy better players for less than what they are worth. The better players will then win you bigger games and so on.

Of course all this is easier said than done, but Lyon’s track record is impeccable. They continue to triumph based on these principles.

Aulas is the shrewdest man in the business

Lyon hardly overpays for players and instead is known as the best wheeler-dealers in the business. They know when to buy a player and when to sell him. And often most of the players they sell are not as successful in their next clubs, because they also sell at the right time. Michael Essien and Eric Abidal are examples of the former and Mahmadou Diarra and Karim Benzema examples of the latter. Essien and Abidal were sold at massive profits to Chelsea and Barcelona respectively, and both have shone. Diarra and Benzema on the other hand have struggled to replicate their form for Lyon at Madrid.

Considering the profile of the players that Lyon has sold over the last decade, you would think they would be languishing in the bottom echelons.

But Aulas always has a ready-made replacement and this past season, for the first time, they even cracked the Champions League semifinal. It is easy to put this down to a manager but Lyon have had four to five in the last decade and their results have been roughly similar.

It is almost always Aulas’ superior dealings that make the difference.

In Germany, Werder Bremen is quite similar, but maybe not as successful. Their general manager Klaus Allofs is a master at manipulating talent and finding players at the right time. The Brazilian Diego is a good example. A burgeoning talent, Diego was struggling in his first stint at Europe as a teenager. Porto had relegated him to their B team and his talent was rotting. But Allofs stepped in, buying him for about 4 million pounds. A German Cup title and a UEFA Cup final later, Bremen sold him on to Juventus for 18 million pounds.

Both Lyon and Bremen work under similar premises and avoid the pitfalls mentioned earlier. They never overpay for a player or buy him on the basis of success at a big tournament. New managers hardly have a say in transfer dealings, in Lyon’s case, while Bremen have had the same manager for more than a decade. They hardly ever buy players in vogue and even when they do; it’s almost always one who is undervalued. Juninho Pernambucano is a Brazilian and a Lyon legend, but he was picked up at a pittance, similar to Diego and served the club very well.

But most importantly both clubs always know exactly the right time to sell a player. Mesut Oezil arrived from Schalke for about 3 million pounds and was sold for five times that. Next season he would have left for free and Bremen’s model might then have been adversely affected. Some might say, that Oezil would have been worth it, but Bremen thought only of their long term growth.

In the end though, it is worth remembering that clubs like Bremen and Lyon can only exist under such a system because their supporters are more understanding than your usual Madrid or Manchester lot.

But suffice to say, we need more clubs like this, because otherwise, football would be a boring game restricted to a group of elitists.

And no one wants that fate for the beautiful game.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

September 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm

The Tigers of London

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It’s a freezing January night in north London. The starry sky is cloudless and the floodlights illuminate the action unfolding at the London Colney ground in Hertfordshire. Arsenal train here sometimes, but tonight, it’s all about non-league football.
It’s London Tigers up against Colney Heath.
The field is sprinkled with family and friends of the players on show, but a few fanatics have turned up, even on a night like this, cheering on the players. I marvel at their dedication but the cold stops me from empathizing.
“That jacket is not going to keep you warm,” says an old-timer. His prediction is prophetic. He is twice my size and seems padded up sensibly. In retrospect, my decision to go for cotton layers looks foolish. I crave my warm woolen jacket.
Out on the pitch though, only the gloves and steamy breath betray the perfectly kitted out players. London Tigers are in yellow, Colney are in blue. As we watch, the Colney left-winger streaks down the by-line. I feel like being out there for a second, but only a second. Because that’s how long it takes for the Tigers right back to come sliding in, taking both ball and man and crashing into the mesh beyond the touchline. I squirm. The pace is fast, typically English.
“…and we thought we could give these guys a game?” says my friend, who too has battled the cold this evening. Just beyond the field lies the club house and the promise of elusive warmth. It doesn’t help that the Mancunian derby is taking place. I catch fleeting glimpses of the game on the TV. Carlos Tevez scores and a murmur of approval goes around the ground. In these parts, the Red Devils are the common enemy.
“So you think these guys can play professionally in Bangladesh?” asks Mesba Ahmed. He is chief executive of the London Tigers and the reason we are here this evening. I am circumspect; these guys are semi-pros. But just then, the Tigers’ number ten, turns his man, skips by one challenge and fires just wide from the edge of the area. I am forced to reconsider.
“That guy used to be an Angolan national team player. He has played in the African Cup of Nations. Nobody thought we could get him. But signing him was a big coup,” says Mesba. But then again, this is a man who has made a career out of doing what most said he couldn’t.
Mesba is the brainchild behind the formation of the London Tigers and one of the main reasons why it has gained such popularity across the years. The Tigers started as an amateur football team in 1986. Today they are a social community club with bases in Westminster, Brent, Camden, Tower Hamlets and Chelsea. London mayor Boris Johnson is an honourable patron and Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently stated that London Tigers are “at the forefront of grassroots sports development across the UK.”
“We [London Tigers] focus on sports coaching, training and competitive game play as a gateway to sporting excellence and talent development,” says Mesba as the half-time whistle sounds. The players trudge back. It’s 0-0 at the break.
“Our ultimate focus is on community development. We develop projects that take social exclusion using sport as a tool. Our target is towards, hard to reach groups such as the Black, Asian, Bangladeshi and other similar communities,” says Mesba as his team’s manager barks out words of encouragement to the players.
With the action subsiding, the cold seems all-encompassing. I am glad when Mesba invites us inside for a hot drink.
London Tigers works in two ways, he tells me. “We use sport coaching, volunteering and training as a means to help local residents progress towards either employment or healthy lifestyle choices.”
But most of the players on show today, don’t seem to be Asians. “No,” he agrees. But this is the other end of the spectrum. “We take our semi-professional side quite seriously. These guys train 5 times a week. A lot of the minority communities are not willing or able to make that sacrifice.”
Or are they just not talented enough, I ask?
Mesba refuses instantly. “No, a lot of our minorities are still pigeonholed into specific career choices and they value other things more than sport. It’s a changing process and now we do have a few [Asians] in our team, as opposed to a few years ago.”
Mesba is confident, but for a guy who has been arranging and focusing on sport for the last twenty something years, he has a right to be. The key, he says is to just start playing and continue onwards. Everything else moves onwards from that.
Our thoughts turn to Bangladesh, just as the whistle sounds for the second half.
Mesba is very interested in Bangladesh football. Especially, as the team is finally showing signs of life. He bemoans the fact that Bangladesh does not have a solid club or youth structure.
“London Tigers has 22 football teams ranging from Under 8s to the adults,” he says. “Every football club in Bangladesh should aim to develop that,” he says.
But the first step, he argues is to have a conduit to channel players who are interested to play the game towards the clubs. And the only way to do this is to make sure a lot of football is played.
“It’s simple really, just get a field and start playing. Make sure tournaments are on, whole year around, rain or shine. Have clubs scout these tournaments and players will come,” he says. His frustration is evident. He has tried pitching the idea to football high-ups. In most cases the response has been lukewarm. Most only seem interested in the formation of an academy.
“But that is so much in the future,” says Mesba. Just then, a cheer goes around the ground. It’s bad news. Colney have taken the lead.
But Mesba continues unabated. He is interested to be involved in developing sport in Bangladesh in much the same way London Tigers have proved a productive outlet for British Bangladeshis.
“We have a lot of technical expertise and training facilities. And our model has already proved successful. We can replicate that in Bangladesh, if people are willing. Trust me, it will only lead to a more successful football team.”
An audible groan permeates our discussion. Mesba is smiling. The Tigers have equalized late. Since this is a Cup game, it’s on to penalties.
We brave the cold to catch the drama. The teams trade the first three spot kicks, until the Tigers miss. It seems all over, but their goalkeeper pulls out two saves and they score. From the dead, the Tigers emerge victorious. Mesba is all smiles.
“It’s a big win,” he says. “We are into the quarterfinals now.”
Buoyed on by the success, Mesba seems somewhat more optimistic. He is eager to help out in Bangladesh and the feeling in his arguments showcase just how much he wants to help out sports development in his homeland.
“London Tigers is a success story that I am very proud of. It’s something that has been built from scratch and now holds an esteemed position in England.
“With just a little more effort, Bangladesh can have something similar.” But for that to succeed there needs to be less of bureaucracy and more fluidity in decision making processes, by the people in the position to make such decisions.
The changes are not major, but they are integral. Grassroots sport development has the opportunity to kick-off big in Bangladesh.
And when it does, London Tigers will be there to lead from the forefront, assures Mesba.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

April 29, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Football’s most evocative tale

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He was the natural successor to Pele. Even the great Brazilian himself said so, upon watching a then 15-year old gangly boy from Ghana terrorise defences in the U-16 World Cup in 1989. “He is my natural successor,” said Pele, a comparison not usually forthcoming from one of football’s legends. Within two years, the boy was on the verge of proving him right. He was best player in the U-17 World Cup in 1991, made his debut for his national side aged 15, had 38 caps by the age of 21, tore it up in his first season in Europe at Anderlecht and continued it as top scorer for PSV Eindhoven – a club where another famous Brazilian would soon make it big. But then it all went wrong. At the age of 21, Nii Lamptey had it all. Now, few even know about him. Along the way he has chartered perhaps the most enduring football tale in existence. A tale of hope, greed, dreams, sorrows and corrupt agents. This is his story.

The story of Nii Lamptey begins in the streets of Accra, the capital of Ghana. As a child growing up amidst poverty, the only atypical part of Lamptey’s childhood was the regular abuse he suffered from both his parents. His alcoholic father’s regular beatings and his mother’s marked indifference meant that the young Lamptey spent most of his time sleeping in the streets to stay out of their way.

Football was his only refuge, and he played often on the streets.

At the age of eight, Lamptey was effectively thrown out of the house as his parents divorced and both subsequently remarried. Having no place to stay he moved in to camp with a Muslim football club who offered him a haven if he converted to Islam, something the young boy gladly did.

Learning his ropes in the barren fields, Lamptey soon caught the eye and was drafted into the Black Startlets team for the U-16 1989 WC. It was here where his pace, trickery and exquisite balance led Pele to say that he would be his natural successor.

And Lamptey didn’t disappoint. Following his success, he caught the eye of Anderlecht’s Dutch coach Aad de Mos, who bought him to Belgium as a 15 year old in 1989.

With so much hype surrounding the move Belgium football laws in place where changed to allow him to make his debut for the club aged 16 and he wowed fans with the sheer breadth of his talent.

His first season in Belgium was only a teaser and being picked to represent Ghana at U-17 level in the 1991 World Cup, he finally showed the world how good he really was.

Ghana won the tournament, thanks wholly to Lamptey and his fellow starlets but the spotlight was firmly on the star from Belgium.

For his exquisite play, Lamptey was voted the winner of the Golden Ball beating off competition from other rising stars chief among who were the little-known Argentine Juan Sebastian Veron and the Italian Alessandro del Piero.

He returned to Anderlecht and repaid their faith in him with a series of sterling performances which led to his first contract at the age of 16.

And that is where the seeds of the precarious future were sown. His registration, he later found, was then not owned by Anderlecht but by his agent Antonio Caliendo, who at that time also represented Dunga and Roberto Baggio. It was to be a fatal move.

Lamptey however was more interested in the football.

And rightly so.

After two fabulous seasons at Anderlecht, he was loaned by PSV Eindhoven and given the task of filling the shoes of one Romario.

It was 1993 and Lamptey was 19, but took to the task with aplomb. He netted ten times but it was his visionary play as a second striker that really caught the eye and forced a near two million pound bid from Aston Villa.

Even the notoriously fickle Doug Ellis knew what he was doing. Or so he thought.

Lamptey was by that time a major part of the Ghanaian African Nations Cup Final team, top scorer in his first season at PSV Eindhoven, and while at Anderlecht had become the youngest marksman in any major European Competition. But the writing was on the wall.

PSV were at that time a much higher-profile club than Villa and it was a shock that one of their stars would move at such a pittance.

But since his registration was owned by his agent Caliendo, the Italian could auction him off anywhere and pocket a 25% commission. And that is exactly what he did.

In his first game at Villa, Lamptey who was blissfully unaware of such facts scored a superb goal.

Hopes were raised even further but after only ten games and two starts during which he truly did not impress, Lamptey was pedalled off to Coventry City.

Another seven games and a year later it was to the relative obscurity of Venezia in the Serie B, where according to his agent, his career needed ‘resurrecting.’

Lamptey was still only 22 and things had begun to unravel.

After a year at Italy, Caliendo convinced Lamptey that his dream of playing for Boca Juniors – the club of his idol Diego Maradona – would come true.

He secured a move but Boca had too many foreigners and he was loaned to Union de Santa Fe.

At this time personal tragedy struck and his son Diego named after Maradona passed away.

The grieving Lamptey was still offered no respite as Turkey was to prove his next destination.

By this time his career for the Black Stars also seemed to be over after he was sent-off in the African Nations Cup semifinal of 1996 against South Africa. He had roundly criticized his teammates for lacking heart and was promptly cut from the squad. He was only 21 at that time.

Turkey proved another failure, a huge culture shock but there was to be no respite. The very next year he found himself in Portugal turning up for Leiria and even before he could settle there, Caliendo had sold him off to Gruether Furth in Germany.

Two seasons in Germany were not entirely unsuccessful but he suffered racism and also lost another daughter.

But it was not an altogether lost cause as Lamptey finally managed to rid himself off Caliendo and agents for good.

It was 2001, and he was only 26. As far as his football career was concerned it was not impossible to re-ignite, albeit without the heady comparisons.

But Nii Lamptey, the man who was once going to be the new Pele, chose life over football.

Refusing the lure of numerous second-tier clubs in Europe, the country where he had first travelled to on the basis of a dream and with a fake passport, Lamptey turned his back on his football career and decided to live for his family.

But football was still the only thing he knew how to do. Having been cheated out of vast sums of money due to his lack of education, Lamptey was not a rich man.

So the offer to be a marquee player in the humble Chinese side of Shandong Luneng was too hard to ignore.

He and his family relocated to Asia and at Shandong he received the adulation that was his due. Subsequent moves saw him transfer to Al-Nassr and Asante Kokoto finally earning the man some semblance of peace and a grain of the fortune his talent was worth.

In 2006, at the age of 33, while Ghana’s Michael Essien and company spearheaded the team into the finals of the African Cup of Nations 2008, Nii Lamptey was watching on TV and busy tending his sheep in his farm.

Or watching over his pupils in the Glow-Lamp junior school in Accra – a school he founded to provide kids with the education he never had.

For a man who had once rubbed shoulders with and stood above heady names such as Alessandro del Piero and Juan Veron, and for a man who was said to be next Pele by Pele himself – it was a heart-wrenching fortune.

Nii Lamptey may have regrets, his lack of education being chief, but with his wife and two kids and a school that now houses 400, it is indeed a far cry from the early days in Accra, when he would sleep in kiosks to escape his family.

The man who was once labelled a wonderkid, the man whose dreams forced him to skip three borders hidden in the boot of a taxi-cab, the man who regaled the world all to briefly with his breathtaking talent and the man who was supposed to be the greatest – instead became one of the most travelled.

The journeyman’s career has drawn to a close but with his family, his school and his two surviving children living in the very city where his dream began, Lamptey has finally been able to achieve the acceptance and belonging that he never had.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

March 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Ronaldo and the edge of reason

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Mention the name of Ronaldo and every football youth in the country will probably instantly draw up a vision of an image-conscious Portuguese, with flash looks and even flashier skills decked out in the red of a famous Mancunian team. Or they might even think of a logic-bending dipping free-kick that left Portsmouth ‘keeper David ‘Calamity” James wondering what he had done wrong.

It would be then and only then that they would perhaps think of the other Ronaldo – the dour, ponderous, injury-prone Brazilian currently plying his trade in the fashion capital of Milan in the immortal Rossoneri (Red and Black) colours of AC Milan.

But for me that Brazilian has always been the real Ronaldo.

The true greatness of Ronaldo Luiz Nazário de Lima can be encapsulated in one particular incident. The year was 1996, the date was October 12th, the location was the aptly named Santiago de Compostela, which translates to English as the ‘field of stars’.

The buck-toothed Ronaldo, leaner, meaner and fitter than we know him now, was in the colours of the Catalans of Barcelona.

Picking up the ball near the half-way line the Brazilian suddenly decided he wanted to do a Maradona (aka 1986 v England). He started accelerating whereupon he found himself tripped from behind and tugged by a Compostela defender. Keeping his feet and shaking himself free with all the vigour of a caught eel, Ronaldo proceeded to accelerate past his man before making any skier jealous with an unbelievable slalom past four defenders.He was so quick that by the time he reached the edge of the box, he had left the ball behind him.

Game over you think?

Not a chance.

Showing a resilience that would mark his later career, Ronaldo recovered the lost cause, wheeling around and blasting the ball past the keeper in unfathomable fashion.

And all done in less time than it took you to read it. 12 seconds, 55 yards and a goal that was as immortal as time itself.It was as if, in the field of the stars, the sun had arrived.

But bigger still was the highlight of the manifold double takes by Spanish TV of the fallout from that incident. It was the image of then Barca manager, Sir Bobby Robson – all English gentlemanly manners forgotten ejecting himself from his seat and doing his best Rodregio Tardelli impression – eyes wide with disbelief, mouth an O of utter shock muttering ‘oh my God’ to the unseen cameras.

The scene was nothing if not divine. Robson, the raucous Compostela faithful, the entire Barca team and anyone lucky enough to watch knew then and there – Ronaldo was something special.

On Wednesday the 13th of February, 2008 in a match against Serie A upstarts Livorno, the 31 year old Ronaldo came on as a second half substitute and going up to head a ball landed badly on his left knee rupturing the knee tendons and severing his knee-cap. It is an injury that will rule him out for nine months at least and being the third in a long line of long layoffs might spell the end of what has been an unfulfilled career.

Yes, unfulfilled despite lifting the World Cup in the warm summer rain of Yokohama in 2002. Unfulfilled despite being the highest goalscorer in World Cup history in 2006 in Germany. Unfulfilled in spite of the La Liga, UEFA Cup and Serie A titles. And unfulfilled not because of the Champions League missing from his trophy cabinet. Unfulfilled because for a man who pushed the levels of extremity beyond the borders of mere mortals, Ronaldo will be remembered forever more as a great but not the great. He will be second to the Peles, the Maradonas the Beckenbauers and even the Zidanes of this world.

And for the man who drove us and Sir Bobby Robson to the edge of reason and then over on that night in Compostela – it is indeed an unjust reward.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

February 29, 2008 at 6:24 pm