What’s different about the Ghana team today compared to the squad that played in the World Cup in 2010?
I think the difference is that we’ve got a lot of young, good players on the team. Before we had a lot of experienced players but today we have a lot of young chaps coming up. I think it’s a good thing.
As you just said, obviously there are quite a few young, talented, Ghanaian players who’ve joined since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Who do you think will really make an impression in this tournament?
It’s very difficult to predict in tournaments like this, you know? It could be somebody’s breakthrough. I had my breakthrough in 2006 and even in 2010, so talking about tournaments you might not know. There might be more expectation for a particular player and that player might end up disappointing. So, tournaments like that, we just have to go in as an all-around team and make sure we deliver for the nation. Definitely there might be a revelation for the team, but I’m not God (laughs), so I don’t know at the moment. Let’s just go there and we’ll see what happens.
How important is it to have the right balance on a team between these older, more experienced players and the younger, energetic players?
Yea, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. Young players are more energetic and our experiences combine together. Talking about experienced players, they can share that experience with the young players to combine everything – to deliver. Talking about young players, they’ve got more energy to do maybe 200% of what experienced players can do. While the experienced players sit back and control everything. With young players, there might be something that they might not know, so it’s like the experienced players show them the right path to do their job.
As the captain of the team, do you sometimes feel a burden of responsibility? Or is the role for you an enjoyable one?
I would say yes and no. You know, sometimes people look up to the captain. There are ups and downs in the game. The captain and the coach must take responsibility for the team. I’ve been there for about 11 years and I’ve been through ups and downs; I’ve been through hard times. That is why, being a captain today I don’t feel any pressure. I’m ready to face anything because the whole country turned against me when I was a kid, so it’s like paying homage to all the difficult times before being a captain. I’m ready to take any responsibilities. Yeah, there’s pressure. Sometime I feel like when we’re going onto the field, a captain has to win his game. Sometimes I feel like: “Hey, I’m leading the team. I have to come out victorious.” So any time things go wrong, I feel more pressure. I feel like I didn’t lead the team well and sometimes people say horrible things about the captain, but I’ve passed through a lot of difficult moments in football, so I know what it takes.
You mentioned that you had your breakthrough in 2006, which is obviously when you scored the very first goal in Ghana’s World Cup history. What does this mean to you and is it something you look back on with a special feeling?
Yes, it’s a goal I’ll never forget. I remember the first game against Italy, we lost 2-0 and that was our first World Cup. And I think the second game was really, really important and we were hoping to win. I wasn’t expecting to score the fastest goal, but I remember before the game I told my brother: “I’m going to score” and he said, “Yea, we hope so.” But I didn’t think the goal was going to come that early. It was like people back home in Ghana were expecting Ghana to win the second game to keep us in the competition, because we lost our first game. And I scored that goal. So, it’s like I brought back the hope to Ghana and at the same time, the goal became one of the records for the fastest goal in a World Cup - 1 minute and 8 seconds, if I remember correctly.
The Ghanaian squad is known for its special team spirit. How important is this in order to prepare well and to succeed on the pitch?
Yeah, team spirit is very, very important. Talking about the Ghanaian team, we know how to psych ourselves up. Being the captain, I know how to psych the boys up. Even when I wasn’t the captain, I’m the one who makes sure I psych the players up by composing songs. You know, we crack jokes in the camp just to forget a little bit about the game, just to take off some pressure. When we go onto the field or for training, I’m the one that leads the song to encourage team spirit. So, that is how we psych ourselves up and by doing that, we bring unity to the team. We love each other and we help each other. I don’t think any other country has more spirit than Ghana.
Ghana will have to face Germany and the USA in the tournament’s group stage in Brazil, two very familiar opponents when it comes to your past World Cup experiences. Do you think it is going to be an advantage that you know both the teams well?
It’s going to be a tough game. Speaking of the history, we beat the US in 2006 and then we beat them again in 2010, so we’ve beaten them twice in the World Cup. And this time, I think they’re going to come with the mentality to take revenge and it’s going to be the first game in the tournament. Every first game in the World Cup is a top game because everybody wants to win to stay in the competition and everyone is nervous. It’s going to be an action-packed game. We’ll try to sit back, play our normal game. What makes this different is that they are coming for revenge; they want to do whatever it takes to win against Ghana.
Is it similar for Germany?
Yea, we also want to win because in every tournament, every single game is very important for any country. So that’s what we’re looking at.
The Ghana National Team kit has just been launched by PUMA. What’s your opinion on the new shirt, its graphics and the ACTV technology featured in the shirt?
Great, great. Ghana’s National Team has been working with PUMA for quite a long time now and not only Ghana, but many of the African countries. We’ve got a very good relationship with PUMA. Talking about this year’s World Cup shirt, it’s incredible. You can see they’ve included some really interesting graphics in the colours of our nation. I was surprised when I saw it, surprised about how they got the idea to do that. Talking about the PUMA shirt, it’s a quality thing. It’s a quality shirt and everybody knows; all the African teams know that. It’s got this taping in the shirt and it makes the players recover very quickly when we’re playing. It makes us recover very quickly, which is important for athletes, really, really important.
In addition to Germany and the States, Portugal is the fourth country in your group and your group has actually been described as “The Group of Death.” Do you see it like that?
Yes, I see it like that. But football doesn’t talk about names anymore. We’ve done it before; Ghana has done it before. In 2006, we were in the same group with Italy. Italy went through to win the Cup and we made it through instead of the US, who were rated 4th in the world around that time and Czech Republic was rated 5th in the world at that time. Ghana was the underdog and we were able to deliver. The same thing happened in 2010. So it has happened before and I don’t feel any pressure at all. We’ve got a lot of experience in the World Cup. We’re going to make sure we make every Ghanaian proud by playing our normal game and we’ll see what happens.
Will it be a challenge to qualify for the knockout phase this time?Definitely, it’s going to be a challenge. Portugal has got a great team. Germany, of course, is the favourite; that’s what people are saying. Statistically, they are the favourite in the group, but you don’t know what is going to happen. Any country that qualifies for the World Cup is a good one.