German by birth, Otto Pfister is a FIFA instructor who has worked abroad for a long time, including 22 years in Africa, having been coach of the national teams of Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Ghana. With Ghana he won the U-17 World Champion- ship in Italy in 1991.
FIFA Magazine: At each of the four U-17 World Championships held so far, Ghana has reached the final each time, winning the title twice and finishing in second place twice. What makes Ghana's footballers so dominant in their age group?
Otto Pfister: Football is not simply the most popular sport in this part of Africa, it is an absolute religion. This is the way the game is regarded in Ghana, but it is the same in Nigeria too - they also won the U-17 title on one occasion. Young boys here think about football 24 hours a day and play for at least eight - whether on clay, rough fields or dusty streets. They develop their skills naturally, without any specific training, and end up with superb technique and ability on the ball. They are also fast and tricky, and can feint well with their bodies. Africa and Brazil have by far the best young footballers in the world - on a technical level they are superb. And technique is what it takes to make a good player.
What else goes towards making Ghana so strong?
In Africa there is often only one way for many young lads to escape from poverty and to make their way up the social scale - football. Youngsters want to become stars and to play in a top European league. That is their main aim and they will do anything to achieve it. Let me give you an example: While I was coaching in Ghana I once told my team to be ready for training at three o'clock in the morning. At half past two they were all assembled and ready to go. They want to learn and they want to play for the national team. They know that in their country a national team player is a hero and enjoys a level of prestige that is not comparable to that in Europe. Another positive point for young players in Ghana is that there are many good coaches in the country who help develop the available talent and above all want to let them play. This policy pays off.
But despite all this talent in Ghana, not many of the players develop into top stars of the level of Abedi Pele, Samuel Kuffour or Anthony Yeboah. What is the reason for this?
Many Africans are naïve and gullible - they do not "use their elbows". But that is something you have to do in football, certainly in the top European leagues. In a confrontational situation, Africans will often lack the ability to come out on top. Abedi Pele and Kuffour are exceptions in this respect. But there is also another important reason: When Ghana won the U-17 World Championship in 1991, there were a couple of dozen players' agents surrounding my players. Most of the team were signed up by European clubs, where at first they had to sit on the bench or play with reserve teams. That hindered their development. Yet nonetheless, all the players from that champion team in 1991 are now playing in Europe and so have fulfilled their dream. I am still in contact with them: Nii Lamptey, who was voted the best player in that tournament, as well as being top goalscorer, telephones me now and then, and Kuffour sends me a card every Christmas. And they still call me "Papa". I am convinced that fairly soon Ghana will qualify for the World Cup for the first time - the number of potentially great footballers in this country is enormous. awe