Nii Lamptey; The Forgotten African Superstar
For me and for a lot of Dutch and Belgian football fans, the name Nii Lamptey has become synonymous with young super-talents that succumb to the pressure and are unable to live up the high expectations placed upon them by managers, media and fans. For instance, Freddy Adu is deemed the new Nii Lamptey.
But who was Nii Lamptey back in the days?
Lamptey was one of the driving forces behind the Ghanaian youth teams that were hugely succesful on the international stage in the early nineties. Ghana won the U17 World Cup in 1991, the African Cup of Nations U20 Edition in 1993, they lost the final of the U21 World Cup in 1993 and they grabbed a bronze medal during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He was also named as one of Africa's greatest players, all before even turning 20.
Lamptey in action for the national team.
Despite the presence of talents like Juan Sebastian Verón, Marcelo Gallardo, Alessandro del Piero, Josep Guardiola, Andrej Juskowiak, Samuel Kuffour and Demetrio Albertini, Lamptey was almost always deemed the greatest talent in these tournaments.
His star shone more brilliantly than them all, as he dominated everyone in these competitions. He was subsequently touted as the next Pelé by the Brazilian legend himself.
His fast feet, speed of thought, and clever interplay with team-mates were on display for all to see. His willingness to get into the box was critical too, and his countless goals made him an attractive target for European clubs. Dutch coach Aad de Mos signed Lamptey as a 15-year-old and brought him to Belgian giants R.S.C. Anderlecht.
Just to prove how exceptional of a talent he was deemed back then, the age limit rules in Belgium were changed to allow him to debut at the age of 16 for Anderlecht.
Lamptey signed his first contract at Anderlecht when he was 16, becoming the youngest-ever player to play in the Belgian league. He quickly established himself as a prolific scorer, dazzling onlookers with his flashy play and obvious talent.
After two highly spectacular seasons, he was transferred to PSV Eindhoven, where he made a similar impact and awed fans and experts with his game.
At the tender age 19, Lamptey had fulfilled the dream of many African teenagers, namely becoming a professional soccer player, going into the Promised Land (Europe) and becoming rich and famous.
When he left PSV for Aston Villa however, things started moving down-hill. Many observers believed that the numerous back and forth travels to Africa for international matches, stalled his young career at club level. Lamptey wasn’t suited for football in the English leagues, he was too weak physically, his style of play was more technical.
After his departure from England, after unsuccessful stints at Villa and Coventry, Lamptey’s career progressed as if a drunken man was throwing darts arrows at a world map.
He played for Venice in Italy, Unión de Santa Fe in Argentina, Ankaragücü in Turkey, União Leiria in Portugal, SpVgg Greuther Fürth in Germany, Shandong Luneng Tai Shan in China, Al-Nasr in Saudi Arabia, Kumasi Asante Kotoko in Ghana, before finally settling in South Africa at Jomo Cosmos.
Everywhere he went, Lamptey was plagued by bad luck. Injuries, greedy managers making money of his back and personal tragedy, Nii Lamptey has seen it all happen to him and his family.
Poor deals with greedy managers especially hindered his career. When he first came to Europe, he signed an exclusive marketing contract with an Italian player agent. Naive as he was, he thought that the agent only acted in his best interest.
In fact, the player agent was a modern-day slave-trader. He thought only of where to sell Lamptey for the best price, to bag ~25% of the transfer sum for himself.
During various of his foreign adventures, Lamptey also lost two of his children to various illnesses. Plagued by injuries and grief, he returned to Africa, to setup a school for the lesser privileged children. In an interview, he claimed he felt like a survivor and not like the loser international media made him out to be.
Personally, I like to think he has a point. Despite all the bad luck he has encountered, he kept playing the game he loves. Still, his name has become synonymous for talents that haven’t been able to live up to expectations.
So the next time you hear someone being labelled as the next Nii Lamptey, you’ll know what people are talking about.
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