Abedi Pele Ayew occupies a space in African football that can hardly shrink. On and off the pitch, the memory that most followers of football on the continent and elsewhere have of him is that of a superstar of unfading luster. This is not just because he played football at the highest level and of the highest quality too. It has much as well to do with his personality. It is his charismatic personality that continues to endear him to many across the globe as one of the very best in the game. And for someone who never played at the World Cup, that says a lot.
Birth and Early Years
Abedi Ayew was born on 5 November 1964 in Kibi or Kyebi, a town and the capital of the East Akim Municipal District, a district in the Eastern Region of south Ghana, on the eastern slopes of the Atewa Range. He grew up in Dome, in the Ga East Municipal District, of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. As of 2012, Dome was the nineteenth largest settlement in Ghana, in terms of population, with 78,785 people. Much is not publicly known of his early years, but he started playing football as early as age eleven for a youth football team dubbed Great Falcons.
Abedi Pele was one of the first African- born football players to rise to prominence in the European football league alongside the likes of George Opong Weah of Liberia and Roger Milla of Cameroon. Abedi played as an attacking midfielder in his favourite jersey number ten. His professional career began with the Ghanaian football club, Real Tamale United (RTU), where in 46 matches he scored 21 goals between 1980 and 1982. A player of outstanding football skills, Abedi’s exploits at RTU earned him a call-up to the national team of Ghana to the 1982 African Cup of Nations.
Soon after the nations cup, he joined the Qatari club Al Sadd for a transfer fee of $1,000, a laughable fee for a player of his quality, even by the standards of that era. He spent just a season with Al Sadd (1982-1983), playing eight games and scoring seven goals. Next, he joined the Switzerland club Zurich FC, playing there also for just a season from1983 to 1984. At Zurich, in eighteen matches he scored 9 goals. He returned to Ghana in 1984 with the intention to join either Ashanti Kotoko or Heart of Oaks. However, when he could not secure a playing contract with either of them, he joined AS Dragons FC l’Oueme in the Republic of Benin, appearing eight times in the club’s jersey and scoring 11 goals. Soon, he was able to force a move back to Ghana to play for the 1985 league season with Real Tamale United, his former club, playing nineteen matches with a return of 7 goals.
He then successfully moved to Europe to play for a season for the French side Chamois Niort from 1986 to 1987. His time at Chamois Niort had a bit of success. In thirty-four games he scored 12 goals, but his performances caught the eye of another French club, FC Mullhouse who signed him on in 1987. Again, he spent just a season thereafter scoring 5 goals in sixteen appearances. His transfer to Olympique Marseille in 1987 proved pivotal. Although out on loan at Lille for two seasons from 1988 to 1990, he returned to Marseille to literally and finally announce himself to the global football community with a string of dazzling performances that climaxed with European glory. In 1993, Abedi was a key member of the Marseille team that stunned the world by winning the UEFA Champions League. The previous two seasons had also earned him and his team two back-to-back domestic league titles. Although his returns in terms of goals in his 112 appearances for Marseille may appear negligible, his overall contribution to the successes of the club in his six seasons there was the complete opposite, that he was able to attract interest from FC Mullhouse, another French football club. At Chamois Niort he appeared in 34 matches and scored 12 goals. In 1987 he moved to FC Mullhouse, where he played for a season, appearing in 16 matches and scoring five goals. In 1987, he transferred to Olympique Marseille. He was at Marseille from 1987 to 1993, (but went on loan to Lille between 1988 and 1990). He donned the jersey of Marseille in 112 matches and scored 23 goals. While away on loan at Lille, he appeared in 61 matches and scored 16 goals.
Abedi Pele joined FC Lyon in 1993 and played 29 matches, scoring 3 goals before moving to Torino in 1994. At Torino, where he spent two seasons, from 1994 to 1996, he scored a total of 11 goals in 49 match appearances. By 1996, Abedi Pele’s career in Europe was winding down. Consequently, he decided to move to a small European club, 1860 Munich. In fifty matches he managed only 2 goals between 1996 and 1998. In 1998, he signed a two-year contract with Al Ain, a United Arab Emirates football club. At Al Ain, he helped the UAE team win the Pro-League in the 1999/2000 season and the 1999 UAE President’s Cup. His exploits at Al Ain fetched him 28 goals in thirty-one appearances and a nomination as one of the best foreign players in the UAE league.
Meanwhile, Abedi’s international career was equally impressive. He played for the national team between 1982 and 1998, appearing in seventy-three games and scoring a total of 33 goals. He was part of the victorious team that won the 1982 African Cup of Nations (AFCON). He was also captain of the team through the rest of the ‘80s and ‘90s. At the 1992 AFCON, he put in a sterling performance that nonetheless was not enough to earn his team the trophy. Two yellow cards received at the semi-final stage ensured he was not part of the final game in which they lost to Ivory Coast, thereby settling for silver. Perhaps, Abedi Pele’s greatest regret would be that he never got to play at the World Cup.
Abedi Pele was the first African player to win the France Football African player award (a precursor and equivalent of the CAF African Footballer of the year) for three consecutive times. Only the Ivorian Yaya Toure has outdone him with four consecutive wins. He was often included in the FIFA ‘ALL Stars’ selections, and as captain, had led the African ‘All Stars’ to victory over the European ‘All Stars’ in the 1997 Meridian Cup.
Abedi’s brilliance as a footballer was clear for all to see from the very get-go even as an amateur player. In 1978, he had already won a major recognition as the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) Best Colts (Young) Player. The name Pele was a nickname he picked up playing on the streets of Kumasi as a lad. He was so good on the ball that admirers likened him to the iconic Pele of Brazil, and the name stuck.
At the professional level, Abedi Pele was to win even more illustrious honours. He was listed among the FIFA 100, a list of 100 world-renowned football players selected by the legendary Brazilian Pele, at a gala to mark the 100 years anniversary of FIFA on 4 March 2004 in London. In 1992, he placed 9th in the FIFA Player of the year ranking, having also the previous year in 1991 been nominated. He placed 3rd in the African Player of the Century ranking by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) and placed 5th in the top 30 African players in the last 50 years ranking in 2007. He earned the African Golden Ball in the 1992 AFCON and was named the BBC African Footballer of the Year in 1991. Ghana Footballer of the year in 1993, he was named among the Golden Foot Legends in 2011. In 1996, the Ghanaian government honoured him with the national title of Order of the Volta (OOTV Civil Division).
Since retirement from active football in February 1998, Abedi Pele has remained a useful figure in Ghana football. He manages a local professional football club Nania FC, a Legon-based football club, where he is both head coach and president. He is married to Maha with whom he has children, several of whom are themselves, professional international players. Andre and Rahim played for Ghana in the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Andre and Jordan, his third son, both featured in the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt and scored a goal each in Ghana’s opening match at the tournament.
“Abedi Pele.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abedi_Pele Accessed 3 July 2019.
“Abedi Ayew Pele.” Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abedi-Ayew-Pele Accessed 3 July 2019.
Duthiers, Vladimir. “Abedi Ayew: ‘African Pele’ Who Conquered Europe.” CNN, 6 June 2013. https://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/06/sport/abedi-pele-ayew-ghana-football/index.html. Accessed 25 July 2019.