The Ghanaian Pele: The Tragic Career of Nii Odartey Lamptey

And you thought your career was bad.

Failed wonderkids are no new phenomena.

Everyone knows a good few lads who were praised to the high heavens at 17, before failing to deliver on their initial hype: from Bojan Krkic (now at Stoke) to Freddy Adu (of Serbian side FK Jagodina) or Kerlon (last attached to Japanese third division side Fujieda MYFC). But very few players have suffered the rapid rise and tragic fall of Nii Lamptey – a player once heralded as “the Ghanaian Pele” by the man himself.

Lamptey’s childhood was one of immense strife. Born to neglectful parents, Lamptey used football as a means of escape from his home life, where his alcoholic father would often heckle him from the sidelines. He was thrown out of his house aged eight once his parents had divorced, and found refuge in a Muslim football camp, and it was there that Lamptey’s talent flourished. Soon after, Lamptey was called up to the Ghanaian youth squads, where he continued to shine, before being spotted at 15 in the 1991 FIFA U-17 World Championship. Despite competing with such young stars as Juan Sebastian Veron and Alessandro Del Piero, Lamptey emerged as the star of the tournament, scoring four goals in the process. It was this tournament that prompted Pele to hail Lamptey as his “natural successor” – a tag that would later come back to haunt him.

Following the tournament, Lamptey was signed for Anderlecht, who went ahead to alter Belgian League rules in order to plant the young Lamptey into their first XI. Lamptey spent two years at Anderlecht, scoring 9 goals in 30 games before moving onto PSV Eindhoven. Lamptey only continued to dazzle in the Dutch League, scoring 11 in 20, and cemented his position as one of world football’s brightest talents. But then, out of nowhere, he moved to Aston Villa.

In a dodgy deal with a dodgy agent to a dodgy club managed by one of the football world’s dodgiest men – Big Ron Atkinson -, Lamptey found himself thrust into the Midlands and into the lumpy, physical football of nineties England. His agent at the time, Antonio Caliendo, owned Lamptey’s image rights and directly pocketed 25% of any of his transfer fees, and so he sought to move Lamptey to the club offering the most money – which in this case was Aston Villa. This is where the story of Nii Lamptey begins to unravel.

Lamptey only managed 10 league games for Villa, failing to score once, before Big Ron – who was sacked by Villa – took up the helm at Coventry, and brought Lamptey with him. Once more, Lamptey was ineffectual, playing 6 league games and, once again, failing to score. From Coventry, Lamptey moved to Venezia (Italy), Union de Santa Fe (Argentina), Ankaragucu (Turkey) and Uniao Leiria (Portugal) between 1996 and 1999, playing 28 times and scoring once across his time at all four clubs.

In an effort to reinvent himself, Lamptey dropped his agent and allied himself with a German agent, who transferred him to Greuther Furth in the 2. Bundesliga. However, Lamptey found himself too frail for the German Second Division, and found assimilating into German culture too hard a task. Lamptey was also rejected by his teammates, who refused to share rooms with him, and found himself increasingly isolated in Germany. It was this failure that prompted Lamptey to seek pastures new, in the freshly emerging football market of Asia.

Lamptey – at long last – found some minor success upon signing for Shandong Luneng in China, where he was accepted and loved by the fans, scoring 9 times for the Chinese outfit in 38 games. However, he left after a season, first to Dubai, and then back to his native Ghana, where he became the first Ghanaian international player to return to his native league. He retired in 2007.

He is currently a minor famous figure in Ghana – owning a school, running a cattle farm and serving as the assistant manager for local team Sekondi Wise Fighters; however, Lamptey has gone on to serve as the ultimate cause celebre for putting too much pressure on a young player. Lamptey has said that despite everything, he does not feel like a loser, but rather as a hardened survivor who refuses to be destroyed.

Good on him.

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