Soccer News of Saturday, 15 October 2016
It was early Tuesday morning at his plush Attram De-Visser Soccer Academy building at Sowutuom in Accra and the former Hatta Club player was in a relaxed mood after a three-hour rigorous training exercise with his boys when the Graphic Sports caught up with him for an exclusive interview.
The interview, which lasted for about an hour, saw the coach who doubles as a player for Accra Great Olympics reminiscing his playing days in the national junior teams before graduating to the senior national team, the Black Stars.
He also touched on his career with Great Olympics, his newly-formed academy, his strong ties with Coach Piet De-Visser and his family life, among others.
Godwin Nii Ashitey Attram, a former FC Smouha midfielder, who guided the wonder club to pick one of the three slots for the GN Bank Division One League to the Ghana Premier League for the 2016/2017 season, told Graphic Sports’ BEATRICE LARYEA that he would do everything within his power to ensure Olympics’ stay in the league, as well as winning the league trophy in the shortest possible time.
After his appointment as the head coach last April, Attram, who followed the steps of Roberto Carlos, Nicholas Anelka and Ryan Giggs who also played for their clubs while coaching, promised to return Olympics to the Premiership and went ahead to fulfil it. He also shed more light on the challenges he had faced in bringing the club this far. The following are excerpts:
Graphic Sports (GS): Congratulations, Coach Godwin Attram, on your current achievement.
Godwin Attram (GA): Thank you very much. I thank God for that. I believe this achievement is all by loyalty, determination and hard work. We are committed to whatever we are doing. I congratulate the boys, as well as the board of directors of the club who have been very supportive. Whenever I asked them of the needs of the boys they always understood me and did the right thing for them. That’s the main thing in football. Whenever the players get whatever they need, they give their best and work very hard towards the vision and the goal ahead of them.
GS: When you were appointed as the head coach of the club you promised to return the club to the premiership and you have lived up to expectation. How does it feel to be back?
GA: Well, I feel so great that all the promises I made to the fans, the board, the people of Ghana and my family have been fulfilled. When we came to head Great Olympics last year – myself, Dan Quaye, Osei Boateng and Richard Kingson – we had 40 points which had never happened before, yet we were relegated. So I told them we have to fight to bring Olympics back to the Premier League and here we are. With all the commitment, focus, discipline and determination we have been able to help the boys to return to the premiership.
GS: I heard you mentioning Dan Quaye’s name several times and I remember he showered praises on you after your coronation match against Istanbul. Why do you think he did that?
GA: Dan Quaye has been my childhood friend not just in football. We both started playing from colts (mo nkye ndi) in the past. So during Ade Coker’s time when Olympics wanted me I told them I had my brothers and I wanted him to sign all of them on before I would play for Olympics and he agreed. So I have always been like a leader to them. Dan Quaye and the others know my calibre when it comes to these things. When he returned to Ghana after his contract ended in China, I took him like a brother and he joined my academy where he trained every single day. I later took him to Bechem United and they didn’t believe that he could play and even at Olympics they said he was too old and could not play.
GS: What strategy ensured your quick return to the Premier League?
GA: A whole lot of strategies. Managerial, technical and psychological strategies to help the boys on the field of play. I introduced a whole lot of things when I was made the head coach. One was how to psyche them up and motivate them when they were down. I thought them a whole lot of things on the pitch that they didn’t know. Teaching is the key in football so you must have players who can listen to the coach. Luckily, the boys believed in me. I told them they needed to listen to me and that was the only way we would success. They followed all the thing I initiated perfectly and they worked.
GS: Talking about your campaign, what was your most difficult match last season and why?
GA: Trust me my sister…all the matches were difficult. In the Division One League I call it hell because all the clubs, whenever they are playing at home, feel they must win at all cost even if the team is not good. And there were a whole lot of controversies in the league so if you as a coach don’t stand well and strategise in what you are doing, you will not make it. So whenever we played away, since I had Dan Quaye as my backbone defender and the most experienced player in the team, I decided to mount two players who were young to defend as stoppers while he (Dan Quaye) stayed behind them to pick the loose balls. But whenever we are playing home, I sacrifice one defender and multiply the midfield and the striking department.
GS: Was combining playing and coaching at the same time your biggest career task?
GA: It is not a big deal at all for me because I’ve been doing this since I was a child. When someone is born a leader, he is a leader no matter what you do. People may try to take certain things from me but you can’t take the talent that God has given to me. During my professional career, coaches even instruct me to speak to the boys and I command a lot of respect so it’s nothing new to me. My players are also aware and they normally put their trust in me because I talk to them whenever they are down.
GS: It is no longer news that Accra Great Olympics keeps coming and going out of the Ghana Premier League. Will the story be different next season?
GA: I promise you that with the Almighty God, with good health and life, the spirit of great Olympics will resonate and our story will be different because I’m here to do my best to help Oly stay but not to come and go like everyone is saying that we always come and go. If that is the case then it was because of certain things but I believe that the board is ready for the task. I don’t think they are going to let that happen again looking at howwe suffered to come this far and how they have spents money.
GS: Will you recruit more players and how many?
GA: I will recruit but I will look for where we are lacking and fill those departments. Not more than five.
GS: Some people have all kinds of targets for next season but as the head coach of the team what is your personal target?
GA: My target is first to see how Great Olympics are going to maintain their stay in the league and then as the league progresses when I see that this is the time to push to fourth, third, second or first position then I will do it.
GS: You were reported to have said you wanted to run Olympics the professional way. How do you mean?
GA: Hahaha…professional way means a whole lot. The way we do our things here in our football is different and whenever I speak people tell me this is Ghana and this is Africa. If we always put this in our heads we will not go far. Certain things need to be changed; the way we talk to the players, the manner in which people talk to coaches and the way we support certain issues in Ghana football must change. Also, the facilities the boys use to train must change. These are the professional things I was talking about.
GS: Talking about the players, what is your relationship with them, especially where you are working both as their teammate and head coach?
GA: We have a very strong relationship. We have a very transparent relationship because that’s the only way the players will believe in you and do the job for you. It’s not about me all the time but about the players because they are going to do the job. For instance, if you assemble 30 players and some are not happy in the team you will suffer because you need all the players at a point. So if a coach puts a lot of emotions into the team by liking some and hating others, the next minute when the one you like suffers injury, how are you going to get the one you don’t like to play for you. I don’t coach like that. I like all my players and I treat them equally. We don’t have secrets.
GS: What do you hope to achieve for Accra Great Olympics before you retire from active football?
GA: Olympics have been one of the traditional clubs in Ghana. If you mention Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko I think Olympics comes third but there are a whole lot of problems in Olympics, including politics and managerial problems, so we are far behind. I am pleading that they come together so that we the coaches and players can do our best for the club. I must by God’s grace win a league trophy for Great Olympics before I hang my boots. If I was not able to win the league as a player, I must win it as a coach and then move ahead to pursue professional coaching.
GS: Now let’s talk about your soccer academy. When was it formed?
GA: Oooooh the academy has been in existence for some time now because whenever I returned from abroad, I gathered the boys to play so I started grooming the young ones and then later while I was in Qatar my Godfather, Piet De Visser called me and said it was time for me to go back home and start an academy.
GS: Which year was that?
GA: I think that was three or four years ago. He said I should go back to Ghana and form an academy so that he will support me. I told him I only wanted to do my coaching course but he insisted that I go home to form the academy. By then, I’ve already selected the boys so it wasn’t difficult but the only left was to put a building where the boys can sleep, eat and train. I had already bought this land so I asked him to come down and when he came he said I could use this place to start the project. That was how it started and by God’s grace you can see that we have completed the building and the boys are comfortable now.
GS: What inspired you to form it?
GA: Well the idea was to select talents in society who really needed help and want to play football so after assembling them those who are ready to play football we let them go to Europe but those that can play in the local league we push them there. As you can see they don’t pay anything. They are all colt boys so I just selected them and took their cards from their coaches and I have been training them for the past three to four years now. People say we don’t have talent in Ghana but I say the talents are here. The only thing we need here are facilities to train the boys. If the facilities are there we will make it in Ghana.
GS: Your academy placed fourth at the last NextGen tournament hosted by Ajax Amsterdam in Holland. How many teams participated in the competition?
GA: Yes we placed fourth. Actually it was our first tournament abroad since we started this academy. As you know we are affiliated to Forza Football Association in Holland and my father De-Visser is a chief scout for Chelsea FC in England we registered the academy in Holland so they were able to get this tournament for us. It is played every year in Holland and we have booked our place now because when we went there and showed a great performance. They were eight teams including Barcelona, Galata Sari, PSG Norvin, Tottenham Hotspurs Ajax Cape Town, Ajax Amsterdam, and we reached the semi- finals but we lost to Ajax Cape Town, who won the title.
GS: Last May, it was reported that your Academy secured a two-year partnership deal with Dutch football agency, Forza Football Association, to develop talents. Please tell us more about the deal.
GA: The Forza Group is a very big FIFA affiliated company and they have a whole lot of players in Europe so when my father De-Visser brought them to me to sign a contract with them I accepted because I believe that the academy needs a strong background. They have already taken four of our boys on trial and that will give them exposure. I believe that if they go for trials for second and third time they will get clubs to play for. It is only two years contract so as time goes on if they are equal to the task we can sign more years.
GS: You keep talking about Coach Piet De-Visser and you seem to have strong ties with him.What is the relationship between you two?
GA: Father and son relationship. He took me PSV Eindhoven when I was 16 and he didn’t leave me afterwards. He and his wife called Janet De-Visser, took very good care of me when I was in Holland. She died two years ago and I went to the funeral. So they took very good care of me as a son when I was young and I showed a good character and not just playing the football. It is means a lot for a human being to be good because you may be someone today but tomorrow things can happen so if you have shown people a great character, you will always have people who will back you anytime. They never had a child but they took me as a son and they love football and they saw me with great talent so they put their everything in me because I showed them that I was a good boy and it motivated them. He scouted a lot of players in the world but ask yourself that why is he still with me Attram?
GS: You have played in the national teams before. You were Ghana’s 1997 and 1999 captain for the U-17 and U-20 teams. How do you see the current crop of Black Stars players?
GA: Well believe me that if I tell you that we don’t have a team then I am lying. We have a team but the only problem is that the Black Stars team that we have now whenever a player comes to play one game he feels he is a senior. These things would have to change. During our time before you play in the senior national team you will start from the junior teams before you graduate to the Black Stars. So when you come you already knew that these are my senior men because they came before me. But right now when a playing is playing in Europe then people will say oh he can play Black Stars then they bring him. All these things I think are not helping. The support that they are getting now the old people didn’t get it. They have serious exposure and I believe that they can do a lot. I always advise them, especially captain Asamoah Gyan, who was once my boy and I tell him the best thing you can do for Ghana football is to win a cup. They have done everything but winning a cup for Ghana in any of the tournaments they play is very crucial and it all depends on him because he can do it with the exposure that he has gotten for more than six years now. All they need to do is to be determined as a team and be focused and forget about all the issues going round and they will bring a cup to Ghana
GS: Do you still yearn to play for Ghana?
GA: No…No. It’s not in my plans because there is time for everything and I think my time is past.
GS: What will be your reaction if you are given a call up to the senior national team the Black Stars?
GA: It is my nation so there is nothing I can do. Whenever your nation call you for an assignment you have to show up. I cannot say no to that because may be they have seen something in me that they think I can offer the nation even if it’s in one or two minutes so I have to accept. I don’t have the strength like the young ones to fight for a ball and do certain things but maybe there are some things that I can do for the nation so even if you are 50 years they can call you to come and do it. You cannot say no to your country.
GS: Do you see yourself working as a coach for any of the national things in the future?
GA: I am not the one to say it. The reality will say that. The work will say it. Whatever that I am doing now if in the future the people think that I can do something for the nation why not?
GS: You have played football in Europe for so many years. What is your perception or impression of the local football scene as compared to playing abroad?
GA: There are a lot of differences. Far different my sister and I always say it. Facilities make the difference, organisation makes the difference and professionalism makes the difference. If we bridge the gap concerning these three things then we can compare ourselves to the Europeans.
GS: What has been your biggest challenge as a footballer and now as a coach?
GA: A whole lot but coaching is the most challenging because you feel that you have played football before and you are training someone but you cannot do it the same way you played in the past. So it’s very difficult to coach a team. For football you are on the field so you know what to do but with coaching you are not on the field but you feel they must do the same thing you taught them.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
GS: Tell us about your family.
GA: Well I am married to Mrs. Evelyn Attram and we have three children – one boy and two girls. We went to the same school i.e. Holy Trinity Senior Secondary School popular known as Hotcass. She was with me when I was a nobody until I became someone so I married her.
GS: What about education?
GA: I completed Holy Trinity but I didn’t continue because of football when national Under-20 team assembled us at Winneba Sports College and from there I didn’t go back to school.
GS: And region. Where do you fellowship?
GA: I’m a Christian and an Anglican.
GS: Tell us something about yourself that we don’t know.
GA: Hahahahahaaa…I think people know everything about me when it comes to football but what they don’t know about me is that I don’t speak much and I think that it’s good to be loyal to people, be calm and know how to talk to people whenever you are outside. People who know me know that I am not a difficult person to live with and I fun whenever it is convenient because I love music.
GS: What inspires you in life?
GA: Well…errrm my character. Whenever I set my mind to do something I always do it.
GS: How do you spend your leisure time if you have one considering your busy schedules?
GA: I am a busy person but whenever I am free I play music in my car. When I play football and things go bad I go to hide somewhere and listen to music. I am a fan of music.
GS: Coach we wish you well in your career especially at Great Olympics.
GA: Thank you very much.