The identify Pelé usually conjures a way of wonderment – photographs of goalscoring exploits and breathtaking talent that rival even the greats of footballing historical past. For Nii Odartey Lamptey, it conjures an aching unhappiness – the identify was a curse which had come to inhibit his profession like a illness.
In fact, this was not Pelé’s intention when he recommended that Lamptey was his “natural successor”. After watching the teenager play in 1989, he was merely acknowledging the plain expertise of the Ghanaian. But, inadvertently, Pelé had sown the seeds of expectancy which might come to hang-out Lamptey for years to return.
These days, there’s a distinct sense of apprehension each time a teenager is touted for greatness. Certainly, Lamptey’s case stays a stark lesson in the antagonistic results strain can have on potential. But to attribute his failure as a footballer solely to Pelé’s misguided prediction can be an injustice; his story is seldom informed, however it’s under no circumstances a simplistic one – it stays to this present day as related and needed as ever.
Lamptey’s early life was one among incessant ache. Born in Tema, Ghana’s largest seaport (though he grew up in the two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi), he shortly developed a reliance on soccer. In an interview with The Unbiased, he defined: “I would go and play football and coming home I would be beaten, or sent to go and fetch water before they [his parents] would give me food. Some nights I would sleep under a car or a kiosk, and the next day start my life again.”
Lamptey’s mother and father divorced when he was eight, leaving him to comply with his father to Kumasi. It was right here that he sought refuge with a Muslim soccer membership, Kaloum Stars. His devotion to the group was such that he transformed to Islam with a view to be accepted into their ranks; this naturally exacerbated battle together with his Christian father. Younger Lamptey was not fazed; soccer was secondary to nothing.
Learn | Freddy Adu: in consideration of a human being
It was at the Underneath-16 World Championships in Scotland that he rose to prominence. Lamptey was a shining beacon for Ghana, weaving out and in of gamers with obvious ease in the event opener towards the hosts (although the recreation completed Zero-Zero), and prompting Pelé’s fabled prediction. The world turned its cruel gaze on to Lamptey. Rapidly the teenager was a prized asset with quite a few suitors, amongst them Anderlecht.
Lamptey was 14 when one thing inside him snapped. It appeared a traditional day – or ‘normal’ in Lamptey’s sense of the time period. His father had invariably crushed him, or maybe burnt him with a cigarette if he was feeling notably malicious – by now, the younger Lamptey was numb to such brutality. His solely escape was in soccer. On this seemingly regular day, a plan had hatched in Lamptey’s thoughts – a literal escape from the repressive life he had come to know.
It was 15 August 1989. Gathering his meagre provides, Lamptey headed in the direction of the bus station in full secrecy, the place he begged a driver to take him to Nigeria, providing him the small sum of money he owned. Lamptey defined: “I didn’t have a passport but wanted to go to Lagos. He [the driver] said if I could pay him he’d take me and pretend I was his son.”
One might be forgiven for assuming that is an journey from fiction. Certainly, the journey was a harmful one for Lamptey, crossing by way of three borders illegally – since the Ghanaian FA held his passport – earlier than reaching Lagos. Lamptey would cover behind the driver’s seat at these border crossings, praying that he was not detected. Such a determined ploy betrayed his reckless motivation to start out a brand new life.
Stepping out of the automotive onto Lagos soil for the first time, a younger Lamptey felt the heavy chains of restraint fall from his limbs. Free eventually – or so he thought. Now in Nigeria, Lamptey sought out Stephen Keshi, a towering centre-back for Anderlecht who had inspired the teenager to hitch him in Belgium. Posing as Keshi’s son, Lamptey took a flight, thus starting an epic journey that might take him throughout 4 continents in a profession that promised a lot, but delivered so little.
His impression at Anderlecht was instantaneous and memorable. The enjoying age restrict was lowered in Belgium on his arrival, and aged solely 16 he made his senior debut. The dazzling teenager would rating in every of his first 5 video games, whereas the tag he was assigned as the youngest ever participant in the Belgian league did little to stifle his explosiveness.
Learn | David Bentley and the unforgiving world of soccer
After two sensational seasons beneath the stewardship of Aad de Mos, Lamptey was doing little to disprove Pelé’s prediction. His next cease was at PSV Eindhoven the place he continued his distinctive type, scoring 10 objectives and ending as the membership’s prime scorer.
If his membership profession appeared to be erupting into life, then his worldwide one was positively thriving. At the Beneath-17 World Championship in 1991, younger gamers like Alessandro Del Piero and Juan Sebastián Verón watched on forlornly, surprised by the majestic prowess of Lamptey. The standard boy from Tema was dwarfing giants of the recreation who might solely dream of such expertise. Ghana gained the event in trendy style, beating Spain 1-Zero in the remaining, although Lamptey took all the private accolades.
A senior debut quickly adopted towards Togo, a match through which he scored. Aged solely 16, Lamptey instantly cemented his position as a key element in an attacking trio comprising himself, Tony Yeboah and the paradoxically named Abedi Pele.
But, whereas all appeared rosy on the exterior, darkish forces have been starting to conspire towards Lamptey, or so it appeared. Firstly, a merciless act of exploitation left him at the mercy of his agent, Antonio Caliendo. As the then-Ghana Underneath-17s supervisor Otto Pfister defined, Lamptey was “treated like a piece of meat” by the money-men of the recreation. Caliendo, conscious of Lamptey’s appalling lack of schooling, included a key caveat in the contract drawn up at Anderlecht – the Ghanaian’s registration would belong to the agent, or in easier phrases, Lamptey’s profession can be managed solely at Caliendo’s discretion, a person who sought solely to maximise his personal private achieve. Possession had not eluded Lamptey for lengthy.
Nevertheless, Lamptey’s issues weren’t solely confined to the monetary. On the pitch, he started to stagnate. Underneath the management of Caliendo, he was loaned to Aston Villa, the place the physicality of the English recreation was like a high-velocity punch in the face. The strain that Pelé had helped manufacture some 5 years prior did little to assist issues. Lamptey described these unrealistic expectations in FourFourTwo. “To get such high praise from him [Pelé] was wonderful but it had its negative side – everywhere I went I was supposed to live up to very high standards. Once I couldn’t meet people’s expectations I was considered a failure.”
Learn | Sebastian Deisler and the pressures of elite sport
Thus started an uncontrollable cycle of failure, compounded by a set of exterior elements that Lamptey might hardly have been held accountable for. Failure beneath Ron Atkinson at Aston Villa was the first blip in an in any other case exemplary profession. Nevertheless, at his next membership Coventry – once more underneath Atkinson – his lack of influence illustrated that the lack of type was not an remoted incident. Lamptey was merely not suited to Premier League soccer. He had made simply 16 appearances in two seasons.
As befitting the tragic nature of Lamptey’s life, battle quickly materialised for his nationwide group too. Regardless of reaching the ultimate of the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations – dropping on penalties to the Ivory Coast – Ghanaian success turned scarce. As Lamptey started to criticise their underachievement, his position in the nationwide staff turned more and more tenuous. At the ripe previous age of 21, Lamptey’s worldwide profession got here to a discordant conclusion, having gained 38 caps; the reminiscence pains him to this present day.
As each membership and worldwide profession spiralled into disarray, Lamptey’s state of affairs turned more and more erratic – he started shifting throughout the globe, so far as Argentina and China, with no obvious technique, by no means lasting greater than a single season at a membership. It was a forgettable decade on the pitch and an utter waste of expertise. Thus ended the budding prodigy who would go down in historical past as certainly one of soccer’s biggest almost males.
Off the pitch, Lamptey continued to endure disproportionately. He arrived in Argentina in 1997 hoping to duplicate the exploits of his hero, Diego Maradona. As an alternative, he was pressured to go away his membership, Unión de Santa Fe, after just a few months, when his son – by the way named Diego – died of a lung illness. In Germany two years later, Lamptey was once more mourning the dying of a kid, this time his daughter Lisa. If that was not sufficient, he was additionally the topic of racism from fellow teammates. He even found in 2013 that his three surviving youngsters weren’t biologically his.
It appears that evidently each tragedy conceivable to the human creativeness has been directed Lamptey’s means. Life has been, in his personal phrases, corresponding to “hell”. Certainly, struggling has been an ever-present; a relentless, crushing wave of water, battering a seawall into submission. Now, as the wave lastly retreats, the injury is obvious – although standing, nuances stay on the seawall as battle scars, reminiscences of what as soon as was and of harder days passed by.
But for now there’s hope; Lamptey runs a soccer faculty again in Accra to offer kids the schooling that he was disadvantaged of. Maybe extra importantly, the faculty presents escapism in sport, one thing that Lamptey as soon as trusted. Soccer is greater than only a recreation in any case. With out it, his seawall wouldn’t have stood towards the oncoming wave, however crumbled into the murky depths of oblivion under.
By Euan Rice-Coates @EuanRiceCoates