The goal machine talks about his anger at losing the captaincy of the Black Stars before a major final and his problems with coaches at the peak of his career
Sometimes the enigma of Anthony Yeboah lies in the fact that someway, somehow he is deemed to have been poor at international level, that technically as a footballer he was not good enough and that those who throw up his name at the least opportunity during conversations on individual greatness are dabbling in nostalgic nonsense.
A lot of that is his own doing. Superb on the football field, Yeboah was a nightmare off it for journalists and anyone set with the task of managing his public image. He didn’t particularly like interviews and even when footballers are more open after their playing careers, he has stayed a closed, curious case.
Occasionally he opens up but mostly he spends his time on the golf course in Kumasi and around the country honing his skills, enjoying his newfound love and minding his own business.
“I have become addicted now,” he says about his newfound love. “Sometimes I play every day a week. Back at Leeds, Gary McCallister used to encourage me to come along but I used to brush it aside and call it old men’s game but now I enjoy it. Now I find it very difficult to train but this is useful for me.”
The time spent on the golf course has become even more after he ventured into football and ventured out quickly because he claimed he could not stand the machinations required to be successful as a club owner. He has stayed in the hotel business, divided his time between Accra and Kumasi and as we say in Ghana been simply minding his own business.
But there are a few journalists Yeboah opens up to. Top of that small list is his namesake Kwabena Yeboah, who constantly screamed his moniker YEGOALA so much it became nationally adopted. The two of them sat down again on GTV’s Sports Highlights last week to discuss some of the controversial issues Tony barely opens up about.
And inevitably it is that period that many think defined his international career that comes up. Then captain of Eintrach Franfurt, he arrived at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations competition as part of a team that also included Abedi Pele, in immaculate form for Olympique Marseille himself. They were supported by a cast that included members of the 1991 World U-17 winning team and some of the best players the local scene has produced. So just why did they not win?
Yeboah feels Abedi’s absence for a second yellow card was one. And he is no doubt the way his absence was handled including the replacement for him against Ivory Coast was an even bigger problem especially after he was overlooked for the captaincy.
“To be honest I was very surprised and at the same time, the Kumasi group was shocked so It was affecting us during the game. They knew I was assistant captain. That time Tony Baffoe was new in the national team and shouldn’t have been captain. I think this situation affected us a lot. Before the game Otto Pfister told us that we have a letter from Ghana that Tony Baffoe should be captain. Everybody was shocked and it affected the team,” he said.
Reports of a stormy team meeting before the final when Yeboah left Pfister in no doubt about how he felt have consistently made the rounds and Yeboah freely admits that captaincy row “definitely on my mind.”
“I was a little bit angry. I will try to score, I hit the bar, it wasn’t working and we lost the final,” he adds.
For Yeboah, that whole Senegal ’92 experience and the general mood in the team ruined everything. He thinks it has pretty much become characteristic of Ghana at international level since.
He says: “Every tournament, we seem to have a little problem and football doesn’t work like that. The team has to be together, you need unity. Since we didn’t win in 1992, you can see there is a problem either with captaincy, money or something. We have fantastic players but these things affect us.”
That said, Yeboah is convinced the regularity with which Ghana appears in the later stages of the Africa Cup of Nations suggest the trophy is only a matter of time away even though he insist without wholesale backing for new boss C.K Akunnor, nothing will change.
“I always call C.K Slim Macho. He is a tough person but it will not be about his pedigree. C.K needs support, he can’t do it alone. Everyone has to support him and give him a chance. Without that, C.K can’t do it alone because without support, he can’t do anything.”
Yeboah still hurts about not playing at the World Cup which he claims was down to “petty mistakes” by everyone involved including the players but he did have an amazing career and he knows it. It is a path that is littered with great stories, missed opportunities, a few regrets but ultimately one that has left him a fulfilled man.
“Now I take everything cool. Now I know I have to enjoy my life. I have some companies, hotels working for me and I make sure I take good care of my family.”
That financial stability comes from deciding reluctantly to go to Germany when he truly felt like a local champion in Ghana. He had burst on the the scene in the late 80s and overcome initial rejection by Kumasi Asante Kotoko to become a star at Okwahu United. He freely admits when Kotoko came knocking again at some point, he didn’t trust that he could deal with the quality of the competition there. It proved a smart move.
He scored for fun in two years at Okwahu United before the chance to go to Germany came.
“I didn’t exactly want to leave because I was enjoying Ghana. Those times after a game for Okawhu United I would walk through Kantamanto and get money from people so I was very proud of myself at the club and didn’t want to go to Germany but Abrah Appiah thought it was a very big opportunity for me.”
There were trials and rejection at Dortmund, Kaiserslautern and other top Germany clubs as Tony looked to break into the top flight there. In addition, he had other problems to deal with.
“It was very, very difficult to be honest. Everything was very, very difficult for me. The diet, language, weather especially because it was in winter. I found it very, very difficult.”
But once he settled, that glorious left foot, the natural athleticism and a burning desire, he says to make it took over. His goals for Saarbrucken (26 in 65 games) who had taken a chance on him in the German lower division took them to a play-off against Frankfurt and again he grabbed his moment.
“My club was involved in a play-off with Frankfurt and I played very, very well. They took us out on goal difference and afterwards Frankfurt decided I was good enough to play for them.
“In that game against Frankfurt while I was at Saarbrucken I was racially taunted by the Frankfurt fans a lot. When I joined, that turned into they chanting my name Y-E-B-O-A-H a lot. It was very interesting and I had a great relationship with the fans afterwards.”
That’s where the Yegoala came to life. He was joint top scorer twice, the fans sang his name and there is still a mural in central Frankfurt of a fan with his body tattooed with an image of the Ghanaian goal scorer. The love was always not that deep. He struggled at times with the racism in German football back then and despairs at what he considers the weakness of FIFA dealing with the problem.
What changed things though was the arrival of the former Real Madrid coach Jupp Heynckes at the club. Yeboah claims he picked on black players. The German great was concerned about work rate and a prima donna attitude. Not long after his arrival, Frankfurt agreed it was time for Yeboah to move on but they didn’t want him to go to another Germany club, he says, something that denied him a move to Bayern Munich.
“Normally I should have gone to Bayern Munich but Frankfurt would not allow because the fans would kill them so they said no: we are not allowing you to go even though Bayern was 100% interested,” Yeboah claims.
“I didn’t know Leeds but when the offer came I said why not? Then I had a problem with the coach at Frankfurt so I decided I want to play football, I want my peace.“
He found that peace, fan adulation and a new set of fans in Yorkshire. Every Ghanaian who has been in the Leeds area since the time Yeboah was there has their favourite story of how just being Ghanaian got them that extra attention but he says convincing he was the real deal was work at Leeds.
“Initially the trust from Leeds was not there so they loaned me for the first six months and had the option for another two years.”
Once the trust was sorted out, he would go on to win hearts there, within the Premier League and among it’s incredible global fan base. His goals constantly features among the top goals in the history of the league whether it is the smashing volley against Wimbledon or that control and smash volley finish against Liverpool.
“Any time I am in England, I am asked about my goals and I always choose the goal against Liverpool because I am a Liverpool fan so it was special to score against them. And it was a long time that Leeds had not beaten Liverpool. I met Ian Rush, Barnes, players I had liked from a distance and said; this one I have to show something.”
Yeboah says the reason he took to English football so easily was because his attributes was suited to the physical nature of the league.
“I was fit and it didn’t take me too long to adjust to English football,” he says.
Then it all changed again. Former Arsenal boss arrived at the club and the gains went downhill, coming to a head in a game at Tottenham when he was taken off for a young rising defender Ian Harte.
“With George Graham I think it was all about racism. I do everything from my heart. All the players were behind me because they know. I was fully committed to Leeds but Graham came and was determined to let me know I am a nobody. It became so difficult. If it was not racism, then it was a miscommunication because before he came I was advised to be careful so I was ready for him.”
Yeboah had huge regrets about how he demonstrated his frustration at Leeds though and insists he realizes it was a mistake to take off his shirt and throw to the ground after that substitution.
“The player was a defender, we were trailing and he changed me and brought a defender. After that I knew I made mistake. I am not supposed to do that but sometimes you become was so angry and then do silly things.”
If Frankfurt made him, it is fair to say Leeds expanded Yeboah’s global appeal. He knows he truly made his bones though.
“In Frankfurt I did a lot. Twice top goal scorer. Germany football is not easy so when you become top goal scorer twice and captain of the team, you become very successful.”
Statistics, we are often told doesn’t say much but Yeboah’s numbers paints a good picture. Per the website www.transfemarkt.com, he scored 26 goals in 59 games for Ghana. At Frankfurt, he scored 89 goals and laid on 29 assists. His final years in Germany during his time at Hamburg, he scored 35 goals for Hamburg in 121 games. That includes the two goals he scored for the club in six European Champions League games against Juventus. Then for Leeds United, he scored 29 goals in 56 games. With the Black Stars for whom he is so often maligned, he scored 29 goals in 59 games.
For Frankfurt, he scored 9 in 17 games in the German Cup, the DFB Pokal. In the UEFA Cup, he bagged 12 goals in 16 games. In all, in that competition, he scored 15 goals in 21 games. For Frankfurt too, had a rate of more than a goal every two games in the Bundesliga with the breakdown at 68 goals in 123 games. That rate had dropped to 28 in 100 games by the time he returned for his final four seasons before he decided to look for retirement money.
“I wanted to retire after Leeds but one coach from Germany convinced me out of it and then I went to Hamburg. I lasted four seasons at Hamburg then I moved to Qatar. That was the pension move. That league is nothing so we just went there and finished our career,” he said.
It’s that sort of candidness that has caused him problems occasionally but he doesn’t mind. And he saves one punchline for the end.
“This generation knows that there were so many players who served the country but after football have nothing to eat so these young boys know. They have to take good care of their money. When it is penny they have to collect it and invest it very well that is why you don’t give small money chance because one day you will be old and have to take care of the family,” he ends.
Those houses in Cantonments, the long hours on the golf course, the relative calm he enjoys suggest he has done that well. Ultimately, we would remember him as Yegoala, the originator of great goals.
By Michael Oti Adjei