Believe it or not, Black Stars coach Kwasi Appiah says growing up, football was not his strongest passion and never dreamt of taking it up as a full time career.
Rather, if he had followed his dream or gone by his father’s wishes, the former national team captain, now head coach, would have become a chartered accountant.
However, having had that golden opportunity placed in his way, he wants to make the most of it and be the best that he can be in that field.
Already, he has achieved an enviable success, placing him among the history makers of Ghana as the first indigenous coach to lead Ghana’s Black Stars to the World Cup after two Serbians, Ratomir Djokovic (2006) and Milovan Rajevac (2010) had made the World Cup appearance a reality for Ghana after so many misses.
Indeed, football has not just become part of his life, it has brought him honour and fame that he could only dream of. He started as a member of a school team, went on to play and captain one of the biggest clubs in Ghana, Kumasi Asante Kotoko, and then became the captain of the senior national team, the Black Stars. Many footballers would kill for this success.
“Yes, I was an all-round sportsman while I was in school, my favourite sport was hockey. I was a regular in the school team and while in school, I was only thinking of becoming a chartered accountant because I like to do calculations. I dreamt of being in my well-cut suits and carrying my brief case to the office just as I had seen many chartered accountants and others in the white collar job do. But here I am today, deeply involved in something that I considered a pastime,” Coach Appiah revealed in a chat with The Mirror.
“I’m someone with a quiet disposition who does not like to draw attention to myself. I prefer not to be seen or heard in whatever I do. So really, all I really wanted to do when I was growing up was to take up a job that will take me off any kind of attention. But here I am now, having to lead a brand that attracts as much attention and enjoys such overwhelming support .
“ I guess like the Biblical saying, Man proposes, God disposes, I wanted to be something else and God had his own plans. He blessed me with a talent that I took for granted but He had his way of making it the cornerstone. It was never part of my bigger picture, but see where it has brought me.”
“Whatever happens at the World Cup, I count myself blessed because I recognise the fact that not all successful footballers ended up as successful coaches. I’ve worked hard but I also believe it was the will of God.”
World Cup dream/expectation
Aware of the huge expectation from the teeming supporters of the Black Stars, Coach Appiah is also eager to prove his mettle when he leads the Stars to the Brazil fiesta.
He said from their performances of their previous participation in 2006 and 2010, where the team shone as Africa’s brightest, most people would be out to see what will happen to the team in Brazil, not so much because they always excel, but because they will be led by a local coach.
“I understand the huge expectation and sometimes even the pessimism in certain areas, particularly after the Stars were drawn in Group G alongside Germany, Portugal and the United States of America.
“ Most people are wondering if we can make it and I confidently say, yes we can and we will. I don’t look at my leading the team to Brazil 2014 as an opportunity to prove any point or build a CV for myself. Many other local coaches had achieved some greatness before me so far as excelling internationally is concerned, even though one may consider the World Cup as the ultimate. I rather see it as a golden chance to let the Stars shine even brighter.
“After all, we can take pride in that achievement as Ghanaians. When the Stars excel, every true-loving Ghanaian is happy and I count myself among the lot. The only difference will be that I will be the one leading the team to that achievement.”
How it all started
Though he was blessed with the talent, Coach Appiah credits ‘Coachhene’, Emmanuel Kwasi Afranie, for spotting that talent and helping him nurture it.
“He talked to me and told me I could become a very good footballer and when I told him I didn’t want to be a footballer but had my own dream, Coach Afranie said, it was never too late to go to school if only I believed. I could play football, make enough money and then become whatever I wanted to become when my playing days were over.”
“I guess I believed what he said and went along with it.”
And when posed with the question if he would still follow his childhood dream and go back to school, Appiah gave one of his rare laughs and said: Of course, I went back to school but not to become a chartered accountant but to become a coach. I still take up courses to improve myself technically and academically.I guess what I dreamt of was never my calling.”
Unlike these days when young children already dream of being superstars once they can kick a football, Coach Appiah, christened James Kwasi Appiah, like any young boy in the 1970s, enjoyed playing football as a pastime.
Sports was compulsory at Opoku Ware Senior High School in Kumasi where he had enrolled for his secondary education. He actively represented his house and school in hockey, athletics and sometimes football.
Featuring for the school team, he caught the eyes of Coach Afranie who monitored him for a long period of time.
Coach Appiah’s father, Mr Yaw Appiah, an auctioneer, was not enthused that his son was being encouraged to be an active sportsman, and would every now and then caution him. Thankfully, he was also good academically so there was very little his father could do to stop him.
“ During those times, the tutors took special interest in helping us to catch up with class work anytime we went for competitions, and because I didn’t want my father to be upset and thus stop me from playing football or hockey, I made sure my grades were also very good,” he recollected.
After his GCE O’Levels, Coach Afranie managed to convince Appiah’s dad to allow him to take him to Mine Stars at Tarkwa. From there, he earned a place in the national Under-23 team, the Black Meteors and then his rise to stardom gradually built up.
Convinced about his skills and talent and discipline, Coach Afranie took Appiah to any team he handled and thus when he joined Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Afranie took Appiah along, and again, due to his discipline, dedication and commitment, Appiah excelled, rose to lead the team as a captain, chalking many successes with the team.
Coach Afranie, in an interview, described Appiah as the ‘silent terminator’ who could be relied on to get any job done at the back if that was what would make the team win.
“Appiah, though very quiet, was efficient and reliable. He was a player any coach would love to have in his team. He hardly committed any fouls and was decent both on and off the pitch. Trust him to carry out a duty without being penalised. He had a quiet disposition but once on the pitch and on duty, he had full adrenalin running through him.”
It was such passion that saw him play for Kotoko for over 10 years (1983 to 1994) and the Black Stars from 1987 to 1992, retiring from active play in 1994.
On retirement, he was convinced football would play a big part in his future but was not very sure of exactly what he would do. After discussions with trusted friends, he settled for coaching and moved to London to train.
Love and family life
A proud Okatakyie (name given to old students of Opoku Ware SHS), Appiah said one of the cardinal lessons picked from school was being faithful and trustworthy.
“In school, we were groomed to be faithful to our faith, as well as being trustworthy, so I guess going by that principle, I was not enthused about ‘playing around’ as most people think sportsmen and women do.
“Don’t get it wrong. There were overtures, especially during our time at Kotoko, but I chose to be principled about certain things in life and choosing and staying with one partner was one of them,” he revealed.
A man of few words, Appiah shun the flamboyant and star-status life associated with sportsmen and maintained his quiet, unassuming life.
The woman who caught his attention, Angela also won his heart and has remained his soul mate for the past 28 years.
Together, they have built a wonderful family, having three beautiful daughters Peggy, Audrey and Mary Pearl and now a granddaughter.
Though very loving and responsible and the man of every woman’s dream, Coach Appiah admits he has one flaw: he’s not romantic and he blames it on having to play the tough guy in football.
“ My wife has always said I’m not romantic. I guess it’s because I always had to play the tough role in football. At least, I gathered courage and proposed and married her, so she should give me some credit,” he said with a smile.
However, he believes his daughters have made him softened up a bit and now does things he didn’t do in the past.
“I think I’ve improved upon that aspect. The ladies have helped me improve upon that. But there is no doubt how I feel about my wife and children.”
With the football legacy being handed over to generations, Appiah does not have a son who could have taken after him, but the women in his life make up for that loss: “They are my number one fans and critics. They try to watch every match we play and would give me their candid assessment of our performances afterwards. I trust them because they do that genuinely,” he says of the women in his life.
Dreaming of having a grandson to take after him? Maybe, but for now, he is dotting on yet another adorable girl, his granddaughter who turns three this year.
“She is adorable and already has a mind of her own. She has requested for a football as part of her third birthday present. Maybe, she would be playing football. It will be good to have some guys around the house as grandchildren, but I don’t think I’d be so disappointed if that did not happen as God knows best,” he says of his expectation of his future generation.
A staunch Catholic, Coach Appiah believes everything that happens does so for a purpose and sees God as having the final say in whatever he does.
As a true Asante man, Coach Appiah’s day is complete with a bowl of plantain fufu and bush meat light soup.
One would think he would do something else for a hobby when he is not at his job. That, however, is not so as he enjoys watching football when he has time to spare and on demand, would watch movies with the family.
His guiding principle in life? “Whatever you do, do it so well as if your live depended on it, you may never know when that will be the cornerstone of your life.”