Sammy Adjei,The goalkeeping Prodigy
In the Dakar suburban town of Rufisque, he was the main attraction to the hostile home crowd.He was assaulted both physically and verbally, yet an unshaken Sammy Adjei ensured a last eight berth for Accra Hearts of Oak in the maiden edition of the Confederation Cup, standing between AS Douanes of Senegal and victory in the second leg game.
Riding back to their Diamara Hotel base in Dakar, colleague players led by skipper Amankwah Mireku would tease: “Sammy, you don't belong to us, we don't want you in the bus”. And the chorus was defeaning.
The national goalkeeper had bid farewell to Hearts of Oak after Algerian referee Beinassa Mohammed ended proceedings at the Ngandou Diouf Stadium last Saturday.
“It's sad to leave this family, its sad to separate from one's heritage,” he told the Graphic Sports in Room 3386 at Diamara which he shared with close pal Mireku. “It is sad to leave a family of players with whom you share close ties. But such is life, and life must continue.”
Barely three hours after the interview, Adjei was airborne heading for Tunisia where for at least the next year he will consign himself to the duty of defending the post of Club Africain in both domestic competitions and international challenges.
“I relish the challenge and I look forward to it,” he said. The 24-year old looked back at his performance in Ghana with satisfaction and declared with a smile: “I am proud of what I have achieved.”Those achievements include a taste of the CAF Champions League winning medal, as well as the Super Cup, both in 2000.
“In him you have a reliable goalkeeper. He is good and calm. He inspires confidence in the other players when he is in the post,” Hearts boss, Thomas Okine, said of the goalkeeper.Memories of these qualities are easily fetched from Adjei's performances in the club's successful continental campaign four years ago.
Successive blue-ribbon performances by Adjei against Jean d'Arc of Senegal in Accra, El Ahly of Egypt in Cairo and Lobi Stars of Nigeria helped Hearts to their third final in the top-rate continental club championship.
“The two games in the final against Esperance are still fresh on my mind. Replays of thse matches in Tunis and Accra give me fond memories.”Those two games won Hearts their first ever continental trophy, which remains their solitary achievement in African club football, aside the Super Cup they won subsequent to it.
In Tunis, a marauding Esperance attack featuring Ali Zitouni, who would contest Hearts' Ishmael Addo for the African Junior Player of the Year, besieged Hearts' goal area in the first leg, but found Adjei a formidable impediment to their dreams.
“I enjoyed the challenge from Esperance. They were very good, but we were determined.“Very few people gave us that chance against them, but we possessed a vital advantage — self-belief. It gave us the key to open doors many other well-endowed opponents dreaded to attempt.
“And it paid off. We handed them a defeat they never entertained in their wildest fears.” Esperance managed to go past him once but Addo and Emmanuel Osei Kuffour secured victory for Hearts and set them on the path to a historic day in Accra three weeks later.
“It was there that I realised God's presence in my life. I realised that God had planned for me, He had designed a great future for me in football.“The Accra match was more difficult for us, but I knew we would survive.“There was pressure on us to perform before our own fans. Esperance were down and feared no fall so they frustrated us throughout.”
Hearts went down by a first half goal and trailed until a trigger of a Policeman's teargas held up play for nearly 30 minutes. When the game resumed, Hearts scored three times to taste their first continental glory in history.
“It gave me pride, it bestowed honour on me and my colleagues that we were African Champions.” Sammy Adjei became a household word on the contient after the televised Champions League. For the second time in succesive years, he kept guard of the post of the African Champions.
In the preceding year, then a member of the national Under-20 team, Black Satellites, Adjei was in post when the team triumphed over the rest of the continent at the African junior championship in Ghana.
The technical committee of the tournament voted him above all others after the event, and from that moment the days of glory followed in a smooth flow.The collection of medals began to pile at a time French goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, had gained popularity with outstanding shows that helped his country to the World Cup in 1998 at home, the Confederations Cup in 1999 and the Holland-Belgium co-hosted European Cup in 2000.
In a tribute the fans named him Barthez, and he enjoyed it. “It was in appreciation of my talent and what I could do in the post.”But like Barthez, Adjei would commit a grievous error he would regret for long. In an Olympic qualifying game against Sierra Leone in 1999, his attempt to start an attack ended in an own goal when he threw the ball into his own net.
“It was unfortunate, and I have since learnt from it.” He joined Power FC in the Greater Accra Third Division League in 1995 and helped them to the Second Division the following year.
He joined Hearts the next year but sojourned in Europe where he had trials in France for a possible transfer. In 1997 he was in post for the Starlets that qualified for the World Cup in Egypt. He was dropped for the Egypt tournament but survived selection for the Under-20 championship in 1999.
Today, he is the nation's number one goalkeeper and packs in his small honours wardrope six league titles — won in a row from 1998 to 2003 with Hearts, a Champions League winning medal, a Super Cup winning medal, Africa Juniors championship winning medal and African best youth player.