In light of Ghana’s progress to the quarter-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations, Goal profiles one of the Black Stars’ greatest talents
In the eyes of many European football fans, Sammy Kuffour may primarily be remembered for one of his greatest failures, but elsewhere, he’s remembered as one of Africa’s finest defenders.
As the Black Stars’ Nations Cup campaign continues into the final eight, Goal’s African Legend of the Week is one of Ghana’s top players and one of the continent’s most decorated talents.
Kuffour was an excellent, well-rounded central defender who was among the world’s finest in his position in the late 1990s and the beginning of the new century.
At 5’10, he perhaps wasn’t the biggest, but he boasted power in abundance, and defended with intelligence and subtly, successfully muzzling some of the greatest strikers of his era.
He was an excellent man marker, and played with heart, passion and personality—all of which endeared him to Bayern Munich’s supporters.
Kuffour was also occasionally prone to rashness, and was handed a six-game ban in 2003 after being sent off for dangerous play in the German Cup semi-final, a year after he was sent home from the 2002 Nations Cup with Ghana after a breach of discipline.
The lasting image of Kuffour is surely his indignation and despair at the conclusion of the 1999 Champions League final, when he thumped the turf in dismay after Bayern’s late capitulation.
It was a moment that summed up the desire and passion with which he played the game; here was a player who cared, and it mattered.
The defender lost his 15-month old daughter in a drowning accident, a tragedy that greatly affected him, although he believed that his faith in God allowed him to cope with the loss.
A committed Christian, he has also discussed the possibility of joining the priesthood, and regularly demonstrated his faith with public displays of devotion.
After moving to Italy during his early years, Kuffour finally settled at Bayern in 1993 and would go on to spend over a decade with the German giants, winning a predictable plethora of honours in the process.
He lifted the Bundesliga on six occasions, which is an almost unparalleled record among African players in Europe’s major leagues, while those successes were complemented by four German Cups, four League Cups and the Intercontinental Cup in 2001.
He’s one of only three Ghanaians to win the Champions League, with Bayern’s success in 2001 coming two years after his grandest failure—against Manchester United in Barcelona.
He was a defeated finalist in the Uefa Super Cup in 2001 and, with AS Roma, the Italian Cup in 2006.
Kuffour was part of a sublime Ghana youth side, winning the U-17 World Championship in Italy in 1991 alongside the likes of Emmanuel Duah, Nii Lamptey and Mohammed Gargo, and then taking bronze at the Barcelona Olympics before finishing second at the U-20 World Cup in 1993.
However, that side arguably never realised their potential together, missing out on the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups before finally reaching the tournament in 2006—Kuffour’s international swansong.
He also represented the Black Stars at five Nations Cups, but never managed to match the semi-final finish of 1996 in South Africa.
Kuffour won three Ghanaian Footballer of the Year awards during his prime, and also claimed the BBC African Footballer of the Year award in 2001, becoming the second Black Star to clinch the award.
In 2001, he was named Man of the Match following his performance in Bayern Munich’s Intercontinental Cup triumph over Boca Juniors, where he scored the only goal of the game in the 19th minute of extra time.
Caf named the then-veteran stopper in their list of 30 greatest African players of all time in 2007, while he also made the Nations Cup’s ‘Team of all Tournaments’, despite never clinching gold at the continental high table.
“I didn’t mean to do that but when you are so down you can’t control yourself. When I go to any airport in the world people always recognise me because of that. They say, ‘Oh Sammy remember Manchester United against Bayern Munich’ – no.” – On the UCL final defeat to United in 1999, to The Guardian.
“Winning the Champions League in 2001 was a great feeling. For me it was my dream to get my hands on the trophy. I thank God that I was able to do this. When we lost against Manchester United in 1999, nobody thought Bayern would come back with a strong mentality. But we did. It’s all about the German mind-set and mentality. They know what they want.”
“Today is the fourth, I am the fourth born in my family, and I always wear shirt number four!” – Kuffour after being named BBC African Footballer of the Year