The day after scoring his first goal for Empoli, watched by his mother in the stands, Afriyie Acquah lost his father. In an exclusive interview, the Ghana international opened up to Richard Gyasi.
Born in Sunyani in the middle belt of Ghana, the energetic midfielder came through the youth ranks at Bechem United and DC United, then had a breakthrough to join Palermo’s Under-19 side in 2011. Since making his move to Italy, Acquah has had loan spells at Parma, Sampdoria and STG Hoffenheim (twice) before finally joining Torino on a three-year permanent deal. He is currently on a one-season loan at Empoli.
Acquah describes his father, the late Alfred Baah Yeboah, as a strict Dad who prioritised education over talent. The professional teacher died at the age of 62 at the Sunyani Municipal hospital.
“My father never wanted me to play football,” he says. “Because of his teaching profession, he tried to discourage me from the sport and insisted that I focus on my education. I nearly gave in at a point because I thought he knew what was best for me, but my desire to play football grew stronger and prevailed.”
Acquah spent his formative years with his grandma, Yaa Afriyie, whom he was named after because of the early separation between his parents. He admits he didn’t really have a deep connection with his father until his late teens, when he blossomed into a future star.
‘’I grew up with my grandma who I thought was my Mum in my development stage until I was introduced to my real mother. My mother could not take me along in her next marriage, so I had to stay with grandma.”
On the day Acquah scored his goal for Empoli against Sassuolo, his mother Madam Ama Konadu, brother Denis Afriyie Acquah together with his manager Oliver Arthur was in the stands. Prior to that jubilant day, the former Torino midfielder was finding playing time hard to come by, as he had not started Empoli’s previous three matches, occasionally coming on as a substitute in the dying embers of those games.
“It was the first time I flew my mother over to Italy to watch me play. And I was extremely joyous when I got on the score-sheet. We were in a very troubling position, so it was an important win for our existence in the league.” Acquah’s goal and performance on the day was surely a strong case to regain his starting place in the team and he started in the next fixture against Milan.
The Monday after the celebratory mood, Acquah received the news of his father’s death from his extended family in Ghana. A dark cloud overshadowed the ray of light that he felt the day before.
“I was devastated when I received the news. It never occurred to me that I could lose my father at this stage of my life. I knew he was ill because he informed me of his regular check-ups at the hospital, but it happened so soon for me. Fortunately, I had my mum with me that day, so I was consoled by her presence.
“My team Empoli wanted me to return to Ghana, but I insisted that I train with the team and play the next weekend match against Milan. I don’t bring my worries to the field of play. I’m very calm and focus on my job as a footballer. I hardly ever pay attention to the fans in the stands, I’m ready to go once the referee blows his whistle.”
It’s been more than a month since his demise, do you occasionally think about him?
“Yes, I do. Especially when I’m alone. Even though we weren’t that close during my young age, he always came to visit me in my home in Accra anytime I return to Ghana and regularly spent time together. He brought me to this world, so the thought of not having my father anymore always crops up, but I have to accept the reality of it.”
Afriyie Acquah started pre-season with Torino before joining Empoli on a one-year loan deal. He describes his period in Turin as a great learning curve in his career.
“I was very elated when I signed for Torino. It represented a major stepping stone for me in my burgeoning career. I wanted to use that platform to move to a bigger club, but so many things happen in football that can derail your aspirations. You don’t always get what you want.
“I totally enjoyed my stay in Turin, it’s a lovely city and the fans are amazing. You don’t get that here in Empoli, because it’s a small town compared to Turin. If you want to shop, you have to do that in Florence, which is the closest big city.”
Empoli face the frightening prospect of been relegated to Serie B after securing just 29 points from 34 games. They’re 18th in the league table, four points adrift of safety with fixtures against Fiorentina, Sampdoria, Torino and Inter left to play.
The Ghanaian midfielder attributes the poor performance of his club to the change of management mid-season. Coach Aurelio Andreazzoli was relieved of his duties in November after 11 games and replaced by Giuseppe Iachini, only to be recalled in March.
“The decision to sack Andreazzoli did affect us a lot, because we had to now adapt to a new system. I enjoy playing under him because his demands are based on possession and a lot of movement and that brought out the best in me.”
In June this year, Ghana will be participating in the forthcoming African Cup of Nations in Egypt. This will be the first time the tournament will be played in the summer and the Black Stars of Ghana have been paired alongside Benin, Guinea Bissau and defending Champions Cameroon in Group F.
Afriyie Acquah, who did not take part in the last qualifying match against Kenya in Accra because of injury, says the Black Stars cannot underrate any of their opponents if they’re to qualify from the group.
“It’s always difficult when you play against teams like Guinea Bissau and Benin because you don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeves. But I’m confident we can qualify out of the group. Winning the AFCON is our major aim and we always discuss it amongst ourselves when on national duty. Anytime I’m given the opportunity to play for my country, I give my all. But I believe the Coach knows best when it comes who deserves a call-up.”
FT: #Empoli 3-0 #Sassuolo (Krunic 34', #Acquah 37', Farias 60'). My goal dedicated to my mom Ama Kwaadu. She watched me today at the Stadio Carlo Castellani; that’s special!! @EmpoliCalcio @ArthurLegacy pic.twitter.com/z0sin3vWJy— Afriyie Acquah (@AcquahAfriyie20) February 17, 2019
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