John Paintsil, regarded as one of the most successful Ghanaian footballers in recent times, started his career with Berekum-based Arsenals as a striker before joining Liberty Professionals. That was prior to attracting an offer from Israeli club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he started his professional career in 2002.
He was a member of Ghana’s World Cup squads at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010.
Graphic Sports’ George Ernest Asare engaged the versatile player in an exclusive interview in which he hinted of plans to undertake a coaching course as a future career. He also revealed how he negotiated to acquire Legon Cities Football Club and how he was transformed from a striker to become one of the most successful defenders in Ghana, as well as why he refused to register for both Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak during his formative period.
Below are excerpts of the first part of the interview.
Graphic Sports (GS): John, it has been a while since you retired from active football. Your fans want to know where you are and what you are doing.
John Paintsil (JP): There is always life after football, so before retiring there is the need to have a transition plan. That is why I started planning for my coaching career some years back before retiring.
I was an assistant coach for Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa between 2016 and 2017. It was after that period that I returned home to put things together for my coaching career.
It will interest you to know that I was one of the founding fathers of Accra-based Legon Cities. I am now a management member of the club which was born out of Wa All Stars, which was once owned by former GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi.
When we acquired Legon Cities, I initially doubled as a management member of the club and coach, but due to the GFA’s criteria of having only Licence A coaches for the Premier League, I have taken a bow from the coaching job and I’m now concentrating on my role as a management member. However, I am upgrading my licence, hoping to become a Licence A holder soon.
GS: Your fans are eager to know how you transformed Wa All Stars to become Legon Cities, which is considered as one of the most fashionable Premier League clubs in Ghana today.
JP: After my retirement, I planned to add value to Ghana football because I had acquired the expertise of nurturing a club from the grass roots to become a formidable one. Before then, I met the President of Legon Cities, Mr Richard Attipoe, and discussed my intention of establishing a club and developing it to the highest level. After giving me the green light, we started from the Third Division and nurtured the club to Division Two.
While still developing Legon Cities, we got wind of the sale of Wa All Stars and, therefore, approached Mr Nyantakyi, negotiated successfully and took over.
GS: The flamboyance of Legon Cities has been tremendous and Ghanaians have become so enthused about the club. How did you do it?
JP: It is important to always plan for everything, and that is what we did from the onset. Before acquiring Legon Cities, we had a five-year development plan. We are using the youth in order to offer them experience. This will enable Ghana to benefit from their exploits so far as the various national teams are concerned.
We are not focusing on the Black Stars alone because we are building a formidable academy to groom young players into future stars. This takes a lot of effort. We have noticed that it is important to make the club very attractive to entice football fans to watch the team during competitive and friendly matches.
That explains why we bought an attractive bus for the use of our players. Beside the technical team, we have a team of doctors, board members, media, communication and marketing personnel.
With such a vast staff with various expertise, each of them is putting up something which is unique. Legon Cities can, therefore, be classified as a big company, but not one of a sole proprietorship managed by one person or family members.
Legon Cities also has an account of its own, which is different from individual players and staff. We pay salaries of players through the bank to inculcate the culture of savings in the players. This is to raise their standard of living to motivate them to excel.
We have a philosophy that there is life after football, hence the need for the players to plan their lives from the onset so they do not become liabilities to anyone after retiring.
Legon Cities has a purpose to add value to Ghana football for the present and future generations of footballers in Ghana.
GS: Earlier, you mentioned a five-year development plan for Legon Cities. What is your mission and vision so far as the plan is concerned?
JP: We want to become one of the best clubs in Ghana and Africa. We have a mission to be one of the top three teams after each league and become one of the top five teams in Africa.
We also want to groom many players to play actively for the various national teams in Ghana and at the international level. We want to groom many of our players to play prominently for big clubs in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
GS: What materials and facilities have you marshalled to help realise your mission and vision within the projected period?
JP: At the moment, there is a projected plan to construct our own stadium to add value to the club. We are also making plans for our own training facilities, as well as a club house and a bus for the youth side.
We also want to engage some NGOs to help support the needy by providing them with quality medical care when the need arises. Within the five-year period, we should be able to bring all these laudable projects on board the journey we have embarked upon.
GS: Where are you planning to build the stadium and the other facilities you mentioned?
JP: For now, we are keeping it as a secret for a purpose. We will make it known at the right time.
GS: Earlier, you said you were desirous to become a coach. What measures have you put in place to realise that objective?
JP: I want to use coaching to become a father, mentor, teacher and friend to the youth who want to use football as a career. I want to be very special for my players in particular and all footballers in general.
I started from South Africa and acquired a Licence D. When I returned to Ghana, I wanted to acquire the A licence but the FA was not working at the time, so it affected my programme. I am still waiting for the right time to upgrade my licence, though with the experience gained in South Africa I can coach any team that comes my way.
GS: Your fans want to know how you started your career as a footballer. How did it all begin?
JP: In actual fact, playing football was a gift from God. I never played any colts team or enrolled in an academy. I just played football for fun during the early part of my life and never dreamt of pursuing football as a career.
My father was a police officer and that made me visit him anywhere he was transferred to. When he was transferred to Berekum, I visited him as usual and joined friends to play football at weekends.
In the course of our fun games, a friend, Joe Debrah, informed a colleague that I was very good so they should form a club at Berekum to compete in the league. That was how Berekum Arsenals was established. We started from Division Three until we were promoted to the elite division.
At that stage I was playing as a striker and dribbling with ease to score goals. When we were promoted to Division One, we played a friendly match against the national Under-20 team which was then coached by the late Mr E.K. Afranie.
It was during that friendly match that I was discovered by Coach Afranie. After the match, I was invited to join the national team in camp at Winneba and from there, I never looked back.
I can, therefore, say that my baptism of fire as a footballer started from Berekum Arsenals in the lower divisions before it blossomed at the age of 20.
GS: Where were you schooling before you relocated to Berekum?
JP: I was at New Juaben College of Commerce, so trekking to Berekum on weekends to play football and returning to school was quite challenging. The management of Arsenals, therefore, negotiated with my father to transfer me to Berekum to continue my education. After my transfer, the club started paying my school fees and also provided me with my personal needs as a way of motivating me to focus on my training.
GS: If you started as a striker, at what point did you turn into a defender?
JP: When I joined the U-20 national team, I still played as a striker or winger. However, the coach realised that the squad he was presenting for the tournament had a lot of strikers.
However, he was determined to keep me in the team because he realised that I was a hardworking player. He, therefore, shifted me from the striking role to the right back position. It was a hard decision he took because I knew nothing about that role.
However, I realised that for a player to be successful, it was important for him to abide by the instructions of a coach, and that was what I did.
GS: Would you, therefore, admit that it was Coach Afranie who transformed you into a formidable defender?
JP: Exactly so. In my baptism of fire, we went to Ethiopia for the first qualification match to the Argentina U-20 World Cup, and after the match, he (Coach Afranie) kept me in the team and instructed me on what I had to do on the field during matches.
However, we played a friendly match with Germany on our way to Argentina and he used me at the right back position. After the match, we converged on our hotel where he announced that he had finally got his strong back four.
It was at that time that I realised that I would maintain my position at the right back at the tournament. I, therefore, decided to stick to all instructions he gave me to maintain my position in the squad.
GS: You stated that your first local team in Ghana was Berekum Arsenals. How many teams did you play in Ghana before venturing out to play professional football?
JP: From Arsenals, I played for Liberty Professionals for about six months in 2002 before leaving to play professional football in Israel.
GS: Why did you leave Arsenals that brought you into the limelight to play for Liberty instead of some of the flamboyant teams such as Hearts and Kotoko who were seeking your services at the time?
JP: In those days, Herbert Mensah and Harry Zakkour enticed me with money to play for Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak respectively, but I was honest with them and told them that I was not interested. It was later that the late Alhaji Sly Tetteh came for me, which I agreed. However, after playing for only six months, I had an offer to play in Israel which I accepted.
GS: What motivated you to refuse the offers from both Hearts and Kotoko?
JP: I was not interested in any offer from the local scene. I just wanted to play for fun, devoid of tension. In those days, the scientific display of football by Liberty Professionals attracted me.
That explains why I accepted to play for the late Alhaji Sly Tetteh. As I said earlier, their style of play suited me so much and when I signed for Liberty, I played as a second striker and dribbled opponents to score goals.
At Liberty, we went for pre-season training in Kuwait, and in those days each player was given $100 as per diem. It was at that time that I realised that there was something unique in football. It also made me respect Sly Tetteh the more and also became much more committed to his club. I also realised that Alhaji had a lot of ideas in football and acted professionally as well.
I, therefore, decided to learn from him. I can say that my involvement with Legon Cities and everything we are doing are from what I learnt from him.
My reason for playing for Liberty Professionals was basically based on their sense of professionalism.