“The new Pele” chosen by Pele himself: but so the legacy has become a curse

Of Pierfrancesco Catucci

The former Ghanaian footballer Nii Lamptey was identified by Pel as his heir: you never lived up to expectations, indeed the pressure and difficulties as a boy condemned him

my natural heir. Word of Edson Arantes do Nascimento. History, however, said the opposite. Of Pel there is (was) only one. And it marked an era. World football is full of new Pels, new Maradonas, new Messi crowned too soon. And, many times, they do not live up to expectations. And pressures. The story of Nii Lamptey — who also passed through Venice in the 1996-97 season, without leaving a mark — the emblem of a comparison that ends up crushing. It was O Rei himself who called him his successor after seeing him play at 14 years old. And if that was his luck as a young man, at every step of his career and at every failure they began to remind him of it until the footballer, originally from Ghana and raised around the world, was crushed by that investiture. Pel’s curse is the title of his autobiography released in Holland in 2019.

Pel’s — tells the American online magazine The Athletic — a special name to bear, a great honor. But certainly not an easy name to compare with. It didn’t destroy me, but it was a weight on my shoulders. It all began in 1989 when Lamptey, a boy, sought redemption in football for a hard-earned adolescence between Accra, the capital of Ghana, and Kumasi, 250 kilometers further north, where at the age of 11 his mother sent him to stay with the father. And where his father’s alcohol problems had already left him a series of scars on his skin (cigarette burns still visible now that he is 48 years old) and on his soul and had helped build that all too rebellious character which helped. Pel, who was a Fifa ambassador at the time, saw him play at the Under-16 World Cup in Scotland with his national team shirt. The opening match against the hosts finished 0-0, but Lamptey impressed with the confidence with which he caressed the ball, despite him being abundantly the youngest on the pitch. So much so that O Rei had him awarded as man of the match and, in an interview, said that he saw in him the new Pel, someone able to walk in my shoes.

Lamptey still had no idea who the man from Brazil was, and for there he didn’t give too much weight to those words. Only a couple of years later did he find out who Pel was. I was already in Belgium, at Anderlecht. He arrived there with a fake passport (the Ghana Football Federation had confiscated his passport and that of other young talents to prevent them from seeking their football fortunes elsewhere) and with the recommendation of Nigeria captain Stephen Keshi. The integration was not easy: he had never had a good relationship with school, he was barely literate, but he was very intelligent. And he knew how to play soccer. Still a minor, in 1991 he made his debut in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup against Roma (and scored) and a few months later with the senior national team (and scored again).

His career seemed destined for a successful future, so much so that the king of prosecutors of the time, that Antonio Caliendo who also managed Roberto Baggio and Diego Maradona, inserted him into his stable. It was the beginning of the end. First the injuries, then a series of behavior problems. Arrived at Aston Villa at 19, the downward trend accelerated his career. The English press began to hammer away with the story of the new Pel. He tried to cling to coach Ron Atkinson, his new football father, but things went downhill quickly. I made some mistakes — tells a The Athletic —. I have not maintained relationships, but have made good friends in England: Dwight was a very good friend, John Fashanu too. In all, he played a lot even with the national team and was not always able to handle the pressure, both physically and mentally.

And at the age of 22, with a wife and two children, he set off on a new football journey. First Venice, then he was one step away from playing for Boca Juniorsbut all the way to Union de Santa Fe because Boca had no slots available for another foreigner. There he met Maradona and, in his honour, he named his third son Diego Armando. The little one, however, fell ill and died a little later. Lamptey then decided to leave South America, in the hope of returning to Anderlecht where he had blossomed. It was not possible, you change your attorney and start a long wandering between Turkey, Portugal, Germany, China and Saudi Arabia (in Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr now), Ghana and South Africa. Always pursued by that brand came at 14: At first it was nice to think I could inherit him, but after a while even I realized I could never be him. I was happy he said it, but that comparison put a lot of pressure on me. People expected me to play as Pel, which is not possible. For nothing.

But it all served as a lesson for him. Now, having abandoned football played for over a decade now, runs a football academy where Mohammed Muntari trained (the first Qatari in history to score at a World Cup) e built a school in Accra: Fundamental education. What I went through as a child, not being able to go to school, not reading what I should have read, marked me. I didn’t want my children or other kids to experience the same difficulties. So I built a school with my own money.

January 2, 2023 (change January 2, 2023 | 12:42)

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“The new Pele” chosen by Pele himself: but so the legacy has become a curse

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