With one of the better players in the league this season, I finally had the pleasure of calling and having a chat with Nana Opoku Ampomah. The Ghanaian is not only adored by Beveren fans, but he has admirers across the Pro League. A season to remember, I was extremely grateful for him to put some time aside for me to talk football, amongst other things.
Hey Nana. You’re in your second season in Belgium now. Is Belgium beginning to feel more like home?
Yeah it’s beginning to feel like home now. Im almost into my fourth year here I think and I’m feeling more relaxed now.
How did a move to Belgium happen?
I came to Mechelen. They scouted me and put me on a six month contract. Then I played a couple of games for the second team and I gained some good experience.
What actually happened at Mechelen?
I just didn’t get the chance to play for the first team even though it was good experience. But in football things happen and I had to move on because I had to play.
This season is like a polar opposite of last season personally for you. How frustrating was last season?
Well as a football player you always want to play and when you don’t get the chance it does become very frustrating. You can get sad. But I always trained hard and did my best everyday to get the coach to notice me and I didn’t let negative thoughts get into my head. I just wanted to play because the coach is the one who selects the team. If he thinks there is someone better than me then I just have to work hard and not get down and try and get into the team. I had to learn from all this and continue to work and I’m getting my chance this season, although I still have a long way to go.
When Phillipe Clement came in, how did you feel? What were your emotions like? Were you calm or apprehensive…?
Well as a new coach he has his rules and ways of doing things. When I came back from vacation I said to myself ‘I have to improve!’ A new coach, new start, new beginning and I just had to work harder. He saw how hard I was working in training. Doing everything I could to be in the team. I was grateful that he gave me the chance and I’m really happy for that.
Did he say to you that you’d be a key player for him when he joined the club or did he say to everyone that it’s a clean slate and you all have a chance?
Because he was new he didn’t know the players and he started looking at us in training. I think cause I was really working hard to be in the team because I wanted to play, I was doing everything he wanted me to do. I knew how to do best and it’s working for me.
This season you have been exceptional. Opposition fans want you at their club because of your performances and you were selected for Ghana. Has this season almost been a dream for you?
Yeah I’d say it’s been my best season ever. I still have mistakes and have had ups and downs and know I still have to work hard to get to where I want to go. I still have to work on my statistics with just seven goals and three assists, I could have done better. And now I was really happy to play for my national team in Ghana. It’s every child’s dream in Ghana to play for the national team and I was really happy to be selected to play for them. I was proud and happy and hope this continues, but I’ll have to work for this. I know I still have to work harder.
You have been part of one of the most attacking and exciting front lines in the league. How fun has that been for you knowing how potent you and your teammates can be?
Yeah. When you get some players you’re going to play with and against and you have good players around you, it gives you confidence and boosts your mentality and physicality. I think Morioka was one of them players where you felt he could assist or score, and Thelin, who can always score. He has scored an amazing amount of goals and is leading the competition. That gives us more confidence that we can do anything together and they are some of the best in the Belgian League. It was very good and I’ve been lucky to play with this talent. It’s a very good feeling playing in this team with those players.
When I came and spoke to Aleksandar Boljevic he said that if Morioka has to go, we have to just let him go. What did he say to the players when he knew he was joining Anderlecht?
Naturally he is somebody who doesn’t speak a lot. We knew something was going to happen and knew he was going to leave so we just had to….we wanted him to stay but he knew and we knew he had to take that step in his career and I’m very happy that he got his move to Anderlecht and sometimes in football you just have to let him go. He is one of the best players in Belgium. We had to just forget about it and just concentrate on our game and keep going because he is just one out of eleven players. We have quality on the bench who are ready to play. I was happy for him and we understood this and we have to keep working hard as one.
Unfortunately a plethora of quality players have left or will leave, and of course Phillipe Clement went too. How has that affected you and the squad mentally?
It sort of gave the team more perspective. Of course the manager went to Genk and he came in and told us he had to take that step in his career. That’s the job though. If you’re losing and not doing well he’d have got sacked, but because he did well he moved on. It’s good for him (Clement). Personally I was a little bit sad but incredibly happy for him. Happy for him to take that step and he can become a great coach. But we have a very good coach now in Sven Vermant and he has done a good job. He has been here a couple of months now and he is doing well so we’re just concentrating on our own team and to do the best here.
When Sven Vermant came in he carried on the good work. I think he was undefeated in his first six matches? What did he say when he joined and how does he compare to Clement?
When he came the first session was very good. I think he will do his best and he came at the right time. He made us feel good. Yeah the first few games he was undefeated and he was very proud. We are ready to fight for him.
Where do you see yourself next season? Is it still at Beveren or if the club get a good offer for you, could you be elsewhere?
Personally I am fully concentrated on Beveren because I am still here and I’m hoping to play well and we can go far in the playoffs. Now personally I’m concentrating fully on the team.
If you are at Beveren next season, would you feel more like a leader within the team?
I wouldn’t say I’d be a leader. There’s other leaders within the squad who are more responsible. We just have to work hard together to get to where we want to get to. We want to work very hard.
Is Europa League still your main objective in the Playoffs?
Yeah. Yes! We want to win the playoffs. We’re not just playing for playings sake. We just want to get to the top and get where we weren’t able to in the league. We want to be top of Playoff 2 and I hope everything goes well for us. We’ve been working very hard and we want to do well.
Looking at the groups, you could be in the tougher group with Kortrijk and Zulte Waregem. How difficult will it be to finish top?
Kortrijk are strong and have a very good team now. Of course Zulte have a good team too. But we don’t think about who is tough and who isn’t tough. We just think about ourself. How strong we are and how strong we’re going to be. We don’t think about them we just think about how we’re going to win. We’re thinking about how to get to the top and that’s really important for us. That’s our main goal.
We were meant to chat back in November, but thankfully for you you were called up to the national side. How big a surprise was that for you even though you were in good form?
I had an injury in the game against Egypt. I started the game and somebody caught me in the nose with their elbow and I had a very deep cut. The bleeding couldn’t stop so I had to come off. Personally I felt I was doing well. (Unless their was poor connection on the phone or a misinterpretation of the question, Nana answered a question there nonetheless)
How good were Egypt that day and obviously with them qualifying for the World Cup?
It was hard. I was very proud to be selected for the first eleven. But playing against the likes of Mo Salah, Mohamed Elnenny, Trezeguet, I was really proud of where I was and it was a little bit tough. But we got a point and that was important because we didn’t lose.
Growing up Ghana were quality at the 2006 World Cup and had bad luck in South Africa. Who did you idolise growing up in Ghana?
Growing up we had Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, Stephan Appiah, Sulley Muntari. These players made the national team. These are the players I always looked up to. And I was really happy playing with Asamoah Gyan. One of the best players from Africa. I was really grateful to train and play in the same team as him. These were my idols.
What is Ghana’s main aim in the near future. Is it the Africa Cup of Nations or at least qualifying for the next World Cup?
We were really sad that we didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year, but then yeah, the goal is to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations and to get to the 2022 World Cup. Personally I hope they call me again in the national team.
As a continent, Africa does have some great individual players. Without sounding too unrealistic, do you think Africa is getting closer to another ‘George Weah’ and a Ballon d’Or winner or maybe winning a World Cup?
I think we have the talent and we can produce and who is doing well right now, with kids coming through too, I can’t see why not. That day will come and I think you’ll see an African do well again.
Going back to the Pro League, who is the toughest player you’ve played against?
In Belgium? That’s a really good question and a difficult one to answer. Erm….Hans Vanaken. (After a brief pause) Aidoo from Genk. (After a longer pause) you’ve made me think a little bit (with a slight chuckle)….I think Pozuelo. There are good players in Belgium.
Finally, have you ever had to deal with racism in the Pro League and how can we eradicate it? What’s the solution?
As a player I’ve never had to deal with something like this. I really don’t care for people calling me a monkey you know? I try not to listen and stick my head above it. The person who calls me that….I’m a human, not a monkey. If I meet this person, I think it’ll get really rough. I think I’d go and fight them (with another slight chuckle). But I think for the fans, doing something like this, I can’t explain. It’s really bad for fans and things need to be done about it because Belgium has a very good league and things like this can ruin the league.
Definitely. When fans do this and call me a monkey it makes me want to play better to beat their team. At the same time I don’t want to show them it’s affected me. It happens to a lot of players across Europe. They have their own way of dealing with it.
After thanking him again, I ended the call. Unfortunately the line wasn’t the greatest, hence the answer to one of the questions, but Ampomah was pleasant and respectful, knowing that he is representing Beveren in a good way.