Exploring the isolated and lonely life of the foreign-based Ghanaian footballer

Imagine an 18-year-old footballer from Wa, trekking all the way to Accra through to Lisbon to the open gates of Switzerland or the Netherlands to start a new life

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The Ghanaian footballer playing abroad may be earning huge sums of money from salaries, bonuses or endorsement deals, making him the envy of many and the breadwinner of a lot.

But there is a silent aspect of their lives that is hidden from all – their private lives.

Imagine an 18-year-old footballer from Wa, trekking all the way to Accra through to Lisbon to the open gates of Switzerland or the Netherlands to start a new life.

Just visualise how the feeling is like when you arrive at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle for the first time from your village, knowing no one and having no one to speak to.

It becomes more worrying when you can’t speak the language of the people close to you – a real dilemma of a young ambitious footballer. But when they look back and see the hundreds waiting to be fed from their football cup, there is no turning back.

I recall the late Atsu revealing how challenging it was for him, resorting to staying indoors for more than a year before he could interact with his team mates.

“I couldn’t speak their language and I had no one to speak to. So, after training or games, I just go inside my room and lock myself there.

“I was not speaking to anyone and they felt I am anti-social. But later they understood me,” he told footballmadeinghana.com.

“It was really challenging for me in Portugal. I didn’t know anyone there. The food was alien but I had to eat and get used to it,” he added.

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Other Ghanaian footballer are faced with worse, and this appears the real experience of most African footballers plying their trade in Europe.

Just imagine being used to Tuo Zaafi and Ayoyo Soup, or Fufu and Light Soup, but here you are, confronted with sea food spaghetti or frog limbs or the French vegetarian pizza.

Just imagine the culture shock and how long it will take the footballer to adjust.

There comes the weather, a difficult aspect of the whole situation.

You are used to an average temperature of 26°C but you are confronted with 0° or even -5°C or even worse.

It takes a strong personality with a determined mindset to adopt and stay, just to make money and be a breadwinner.

But the worse is perhaps yet to come.

You play in a club that is dominated by home-based Europeans, you are the only expatriate in there.

Instructions are through the local language, tactics and strategies are explained in the same language. How do you understand? And you need to understand the coach, execute actions on the field to be part of his team.

But here you are, as green as a young virgin, watching sheepishly without comprehension.

Imagine how long it will take the young footballer from Kpaliwogor to survive such an environment.

Wait a minute, racism and frustrations from coaches make it worse when you are the best in the team but you are treated like a misfit.

That is where the real deal comes in – who do you speak to?

The footballer lives in a nice mansion, 3- or 4-bedroom apartment alone and after going through all these frustrations, must stay alone and deal with the situation alone.

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You will now appreciate why many African footballers suffer high rates of depression.

But that’s even not over.

Despite all these, friends and family members will be expecting the usual dollars or euros to drop at the end of the month regardless of whatever is happening.

You will have a better appreciation of why many African footballers take to clubbing, womanizing and becoming addicted to music.

When there is a national team assignment and a player is invited, the excitement is amazing. You need to be a footballer to experience that feeling. The player is not only happy because he’s been honoured by his country. He’s excited to be meeting his own people who understand him, where he can share jokes, where he can eat what he is used to and where he shares his challenges.

The life of the Ghanaian/African footballer is a mystery yet to be unravelled because they are pregnant with too much loneliness.

By: Sheikh Tophic Abdul-Kadir Sienu

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