Stephen Appiah was the driving force of Ghana’s team when they achieved a long-standing ambition to finally qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ four years ago. But in the run-up to the Black Stars’ second-successive finals appearance, he has been battling against time to get ready for the tournament.
As captain of the side in the past, he has led from the front with goals, displaying an exceedingly high work rate and a real feel for the game. But a near-crippling knee injury has seen him out of the club game for almost two seasons now, although Appiah was recently offered a contract by Bologna in Serie A. His knee injury saw his contract cancelled in Turkey and left him forced to go on trial at several top teams before finally finding employment again. During that time, Appiah’s imminent retirement was predicted, but the 29-year-old kept the doomsayers away by managing to play in half of Ghana’s 12 matches they played to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Appiah is not a stranger to FIFA competitions, having appeared at two junior championships in his teens as a player for Hearts of Oak. It quickly established him with European scouts and also with the hierarchy of the Ghana national side, who gave him a debut for the senior side on his 16th birthday when they turned to the juniors to represent the country at a mini-tournament in Cotonou, Benin in 1996.
Appiah was a world champion at the FIFA U-17 world championships in Ecuador in 1995, although as the youngest member of the team, he only got to play in one of the matches. There was enough evidence however to convince Udinese of Italy to sign him, converting him from a striker to a bustling midfield operator as they groomed him in their youth team. In 1997 he went to the FIFA World Youth Championships in Malaysia in a defensive role but was injured in the quarter-finals and sat on the sidelines as Ghana eventually finished the tournament in fourth place.
He spent three seasons at Udinese before Parma paid US$8m for his services, a move which catapulted Appiah up among Africa’s top stars in Europe. His transfer to Parma had been jeopardised by a bout of viral hepatitis but Appiah overcame the illness to sign on the dotted line and help the side in the various European club competition campaigns. But the Ghanaian, although by then a regular international, was never able to command a steady first team berth and as Parma embarked on a massive buying spree, so Appiah was loaned to Brescia. What seemed at first like a step backwards for the Ghanaian turned into a major blessing as he scored seven goals - his first after five seasons in Italy - and was suddenly filling the pages of Italy’s numerous sports newspapers.
A dream move to Juventus materialised at €6m and for Appiah the chance of a lifetime. And in his second season he helped Juve to win the Scudetto, playing 18 times and joining a small band of Africans who have won Italian football’s top domestic prize. Appiah was sold to Turkey’s Fenerbahce at the start of the 2005/06 campaign and quickly established him as a firm favourite in Istanbul before his knee problems took his career on a circular route to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.