Born in Ghana, Gerald Asamoah came to Germany as a child and went on to play in the Bundesliga and for Germany. He spoke to DW about the Africa Cup of Nations and why African players are in such high demand.
DW: Although you chose to play for Germany in your international career, you were born in Ghana and often visit the country. So what does the Africa Cup of Nations mean to you?
Gerald Asamoah: The connection was always there. The first tournament I ever watched on TV was the 1992 Africa Cup. Anthony Yeboah, Anthony Baffoe and Abedi Pele were some of the stars of that tournament. I had to record all the games with VHS video cassettes so my father could watch them when he came home from work. I have never forgotten that, and it was the start of an ongoing attachment to the Africa Cup.
Was it the Africa Cup that first got you interested in football?
Anthony Yeboah was my main role model, and as a child I hoped to one day get to his level. But I've played football ever since I can remember. I always played barefoot with my friends on sand pitches in Accra. Back then, any thoughts of becoming a professional were off in the distance. This came much later which I was already in Germany. It was here that I first played with football boots.
How big is the interest in this Africa Cup of Nations?
Football is the primary sport there, everyone talks about it. There is actually only one topic, whether on the street, on the radio or on television. There is no such thing as public viewing (in Ghana), but when the games are on, everyone watches and the streets are almost empty.
Gerald Asamoah (right) is back with the U23s after acting as Schalke's interim team manager in the later part of 2018-19
What are the differences between German and African teams?
You can't generalize about that because we're talking about a whole continent with many different countries. But I know exactly what goes on in the camps or on the bus trip with a lot of nations. The players are more relaxed, there's singing, dancing, drumming. A German bus is much quieter, with everyone having headphones in their ears, reading or listening to music. I once visited a Ghanaian national team training camp, and what that was pretty wild. I would have liked to have observed it from start to finish. Sometimes I can't see how the players manage to concentrate on a game. I'm more of a German (laughs).
For the first time, the Africa Cup will be played with 24 teams instead of 16 – what's your view on this?
You can argue that only the very best teams should take part in the tournament. But I think that African football stands to benefit a lot by smaller footballing nations taking part. The interest in the countries that never make it through qualifying is lower than in ones that make it to the Africa Cup. That's a shame. By simply qualifying, it will have unleashed an unbelievable euphoria in Benin, Mauritania, Madagascar or Burundi. That builds self-confidence in each of those countries, so I think it's good that things have changed. And who knows, maybe one or two as yet unknown major talents will break out at this tournament.
The Africa Cup is been held in the summer for the first time, making it easier for European-based players to take part. Your thoughts?
On the one hand, I think this is very good for the clubs, as they don't lose their players for such a long time. But it's also good for the players who want to and need to perform well for their clubs. They can concentrate fully on their clubs and don't have to leave for almost two months in the middle of the season. However, it also cuts short their holiday. But it's also an honor for them to play for their country at the Africa Cup, so they willingly accept that.
At least 20 players from the Bundesliga and Germany's second division are on the squads for the Africa Cup of Nations. What are the particular qualities that make African players so much in demand?
In many African countries the players are usually very athletic; on the other hand they often lack the technical and tactical training. When they come to Europe, for example, some of them can't shoot well from distance. That's because nobody really taught them. But this is changing. There are now academies where young players are receiving good training. However the gap in training between the two continents is still enormous.
Are there any other differences?
Sometimes when players come to Germany they are surprised by how strict things are here. It's a culture shock for them. That's why it's very important that the right people take them by the hand and look after them. They don't understand the language, they don't know the food and have never even seen snow (laughs). Many clubs still don't do a good job of this and that's why some very good players fail here, when it's not really necessary.
The interview was conducted by Jörg Strohschein
Gerald Asamoah, 40, was born in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. At the age of 12 he moved with his family to the northern German, city of Hanover, where he later turned pro at Hannover 96. Asamoah's most successful spell was with Schalke, where he twice won the German Cup. He made 43 appearances for Germany and was part of the team that made it to the final of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Asamoah ended his active career in 2015. He currently works as manager of Schalke's under-23s and owns a hotel in in Accra.