To get things done, you need “doers”, and Anthony Baffoe definitely belongs in that category. The 44-year-old can look back on a storied career, and his experience combined with his engaging personality, way with words and skills in sports management make him the ideal ambassador for African football.
The son of a Ghanaian diplomat, Baffoe grew up near to the former West German capital of Bonn and made a name for himself in the 1980s in the Bundesliga, becoming a real crowd favourite for Cologne and Fortuna Dusseldorf. Baffoe won some 16 caps for the West African nation before hanging up his boots and embarking on a successful career on German television in various sport programmes.
Today Baffoe advises the Ghana Football Association on international affairs and occupies various functions for CAF, the African Football Confederation, as well as for FIFA. He is the General Secretary of the Ghana Professional Football Association (PFAG) and in that capacity is in close contact with the FIFPro players’ association. Baffoe is looking forward to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with real pride, and just before this important year got underway, one in which all eyes will be turned towards his home continent, he took time out to share some interesting and personal thoughts with FIFA.com.
Tony, you are on the horns of a dilemma. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup, your two teams - Ghana, where you have your roots and Germany, the country of your birth - were drawn together in Group D. What was your initial reaction during the draw in Cape Town?
Tony Baffoe: It was funny! I was watching the show just a few seats away from the German delegation and we’d obviously said hello to each other and shared some words. When the draw happened, I thought: 'What a coincidence!' It’s an excellent draw but at the same time obviously a really tough one. I have to say though that my heart is 100% behind Ghana, even if I still have real ties to Germany where my Mum and my sister [Liz Baffoe, who is a famous actress] live.
How do you see Group D panning out? And what about the match between your two teams?
Germany are obviously very much the favourites, but I’m sure that they will already be a little nervous about playing Ghana. We’re one of the best teams in Africa and we’re getting closer and closer to the top countries in the world. We really caused a stir at the last World Cup and since then our players have all picked up more experience. I think that this group will be a real test for Ghana, but I’m convinced that we will make Africa proud!
Do you think playing at the first FIFA World Cup on African soil will feel like a home match for the Black Stars?
Yes, I think it will, even if the World Cup will be played in different weather conditions from those that we are used to in West Africa. But the fans in South Africa will obviously be right behind us – no question about it!
Can you see an African team winning the FIFA World Cup?
It won’t be easy for the European and the South American teams to get past the six African representatives. I think it’s very important that as many teams as possible from our continent make it through to the knock-out stage. And should one of those teams gets through to the semi-finals – be it Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana or any other country – then they will have the full support of the local fans, and at that point anything will be possible.
One senses that as an African you are proud that in six months time, a FIFA World Cup will finally be staged on your continent.
Oh yes, I am incredibly proud! When I look at the progress that has been made and how smoothly events like the Final Draw in Cape Town are being organised, it brings tears to my eyes. We’ve learnt a lot – now we’re really concentrating on the little details. Everyone’s working really hard and issues like punctuality are being given priority. This is the way it has to be both in football and in management if you want to get to the top in global terms and then stay there. Above all I want to thank FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. South Africa was permanently confronted with doubts and no-one really believed that Africa could organise big events. He always believed in us though. I’ll never forget when he said: 'Plan A is South Africa, Plan B is South Africa and Plan C is also South Africa!' He showed then that he believed in us Africans. And I am delighted for CAF President Issa Hayatou who has been working on behalf of African football for 25 years.
2010 will definitely be African as far as football is concerned, but 2009 was already an important year for the continent. What were your impressions of the past 12 months?
What with the Confederations Cup, the U-20 and the U-17 World Cup we had three FIFA tournaments here on African soil. Congratulations to South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria! This is what helps our continent to progress. And when you see how much media interest has been generated – obviously for the World Cup but also for the African Cup of Nations that is about to get underway – it’s unbelievable! I was obviously absolutely delighted when Ghana won the U-20 World Cup, since that was also a win for Africa.
The CAF African Cup of Nations 2010 begins in Angola on 10 January. Do you think that Ghana can win the tournament?
Winning it is obviously the main aim, and Ghana have won it four times in the past so they’re always one of the favourites. 1992 is the last time that we made it through to the final though, when we lost in a dramatic penalty shoot-out to Cote d’Ivoire. I remember it as if it were yesterday – after all, I was playing (laughs)! Joking aside, we are struggling for players, which is why we have six members of the U-20s in the squad. It won’t be easy and it will be interesting to see how well the youngsters manage to acquit themselves.
I’m sure you also have fond memories of 1983. This was when you became the first black player to appear in the German Bundesliga. Some 27 years later, the first ever FIFA World Cup is being held on African soil. What kind of feelings does this give you?
To be perfectly honest, it’s going to be hard work! Back then when people talked about things like racism, it was all about improvements and hopes for the future. And look how far we’ve come since then. I often had to face tough situations as a player, but I had physical attributes and also my gift for the language. A lot of people couldn’t believe that a black player could speak German better than a lot of German footballers, but after all I grew up here in Germany and always set great store by education. I tended to use humour and sarcasm a lot – I wanted to shake people up! And over the years, thanks to a lot of projects – some of them run by FIFA – we have managed to change things. The world is now more global and multi-cultural, and we are on the right track. I’m proud to have played a part in it.
What were your personal highlights in 2009?
From a sporting point of view, it was the passion that the fans showed at the Confed Cup and Ghana’s victory at the U-20 World Cup, as well as the experience I gained as a member of the FIFA delegation at the U-17 World Cup – I really learned a lot there. Another highlight for me was that my Mum celebrated her 80th birthday.
And what are your hopes for 2010?
All I want is for my three children Shaquille, Boukeem and Keisheira and my wife Kalsoume to stay healthy. And then my second wish is for an African team to win the 2010 World Cup!