He was full of energy and always looked the next big hit for Ghana but the budding talent helplessly saw his career blighted by an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury in 2010. Forward Opoku Agyemang hasn’t played football for close to nine years as a result of a relapse of a knee setback he had suffered while playing for his then Qatari club Al-Sadd SC.
The 29-year-old was one of the few players who had to report to their club almost after the Black Stars returned from the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola where Ghana won silver.
Breaking a long silence since on this frustrating experience in an interview with Starr 103.5 FM, the former AshantiGold speedster revealed it was the very game he was being pressured to feature in that changed the story of his blossoming career.
An ACL tear in the Asian Champions League meant deals which came through from European sides Borussia Monchengladbach and FC Sochaux as a result of his performance at the Afcon got withdrawn. An attempt to play again one year after recovery at Bulgaria’s Levski Sofia was unsuccessful as a result of a relapse of the knee problem.
Opoku Agyemang, who played for various youth teams of Ghana before seizing the opportunity at the senior most level at Afcon 2010, lays bare how he has survived all these years, his hopes of returning, savings advice to young ones [below] in part one of the interview on Starr FM’s Extra Time show with Henry Asante on Saturday, April 20:
Starr Sports: How are you and where have you been Opoku?
Opoku Agyemang: I’m fine here in Qatar?
Starr Sports: So you’ve been playing and we’ve hardly heard of you?
Opoku Agyemang: I’m here having my rehabilitation after my knee injury. For a long time now, I have had a problem with my knee. I have had treatments yet it is still lingering.
Starr Sports: Is it the injury you suffered after the 2010 Nations Cup?
Opoku Agyemang: Yeah. I suffered the injury about two weeks after the Africa Cup of Nations. I had an ACL injury and it took me about a year to recover. But when I returned, I got a deal to Levski Sofia but the problem resurfaced in Bulgaria and had the contract cancelled. So I came back to Qatar again for another knee operation and rehab. But since then I’ve struggled to get back fit and playing again. Whenever I try to play, I feel too much pain and the leg gets swollen
Starr Sports: So how have you survived this financially and your upkeep as well?
Opoku Agyemang: Well though I have not enjoyed playing abroad for long despite, I was able to feature at all the national team levels from the U-17 to the senior side, Black Stars. I spent some time in Tunisia (CS Sfaxien) before coming to Qatar (Al-Sadd SC) and Levski Sofia who cancelled my contract after the injury relapsed. And by the grace of God, I managed to save some of my earnings from these spells. And being club-less meant I had to finance my recovery. So I’ve had to fall on my savings.
Starr Sports: So have these savings been enough throughout these years of rehab?
Opoku Agyemang: No, but I’ve had to make do with what I have because I’m not attached to any club. Naturally, I would have been catered for by club if I was still under contract. I had no choice that to fend for myself because I felt confident that I can come back fit again.
Starr Sports: So you still have belief of coming back playing?
Opoku Agyemang: Right now, I will be lying to say I don’t believe in coming back. I have not had that thought of ending my football career yet. I believe strongly I can play again. But you know age counts a lot in this game of football. And when you hit 30 – like I will be in June (2019) – though it is not old age but because one has been out for that long, when you speak to the agents shy away saying age is not on my side coupled with the fact that I have been out for over 8 years. And that makes it difficult for them to help. That is the common excuse from these agents.
But in all these, I’ve not given up on playing again. I still hope to return but when I finally feel there is no chance, I will surely announce the end of my playing career.
Starr Sports: So how have you coped with not playing for these many years?
Opoku Agyemang: Sometimes, I feel sad because football is my source of happiness. And I commit myself to working hard to get to the top. I always told myself I wanted to play this game for two reasons – one came to pass and the other didn’t. I wanted my parents to enjoy the fruit of their labour and that I have achieved. By the grace of God
Also growing up, I had dreams of playing to the highest level but this did not work out. Heading to 30 now, that dream is over for me. I have given up on that.
Sometimes I feel the pain. From the way I started my career – going to Tunisia then Qatar and getting to represent Ghana at Angola 2010 [Africa Cup of Nations]. By God’s grace, I had two offers on my table from Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) and FC Sochaux (France). I was happy with the personal terms because both were lucrative so the rest was in the hands of my club, All-Sadd
We [Black Stars] had received an invitation from the late president, John Evans Atta Mills after the Afcon 2010 when my club insisted I flew back immediately to Qatar for a crucial match (in the Asian Champions League vs Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia). So I left Ghana just a day after our arrival from Angola to honour club duties. Unfortunately, it was in this very game, that I suffered the injury which has kept me out this long. I get to feel sad after recounting all the effort I made into getting to the top. It feels like steadily climbing a tree and falling heavily after coming so close to the top. At a time I was presented with a chance to go to Europe and showcase my talent that was when the unfortunate injury set in…
Starr Sports: It’s a decade since you won the U-20 World Cup in Egypt. Are you still in touch with your mates?
Opoku Agyemang: Oh yes, we have a group platform where we use to keep in touch with each other and encourage ourselves in our various endeavours.
Starr Sports: Have you thought about life after your career?
Opoku Agyemang: When things were getting tougher in this recovery, I had such thoughts and I’ve already decided with my family what I will venture into should I finally hang my boots. That’s a personal decision and I would like to keep it till the time is right.
Starr Sports: From this experience will you encourage your child to play football in future?
Opoku Agyemang: My experience shouldn’t stop my talented child from playing football. When I have one who wants to play in future, I will surely encourage him or her. I believe there are hazards in all spheres of this life and me falling on the unfortunate side in football, it should discourage others.
My advice to the child will rather be to start saving at the early stage and not wait on hitting a jackpot first. Injuries could come at any point so you don’t wait to be signed by Real Madrid before you start saving.
I say this because if I hadn’t done so, how would I have catered myself in this journey of recovery?
Starr Sports: A 15-year investment fund was created for you after winning the U-20 World Cup. Do you keep track of it?
Opoku Agyemang: [Laughs]. Yeah, it is true. It was created for us by the late President [Atta Mills]. The issue was raised in our group chat and we followed up not long ago courtesy our colleagues who are currently in Ghana. We realized that in this 10th year of the investment, it has matured to about GHS 37,000.
Starr Sports: We’re heading for another Afcon. Do you follow the Black Stars at all?
Opoku Agyemang: Yes, I monitor the team. There is no way I won’t. I stop everything I’m doing here to watch the team play. I feel this year with some amount of luck and determination, the boys can win the Cup. I have been there before and I know once the team is very determined and the luck comes on top, they can achieve their target.
Watch out for the concluding part of this interview courtesy Starr Sports.