Co-author of Football Manager Stole My Life
Football history has not been kind to Nii Lamptey.
A quick Google search prompts an endless list of near-identical articles bemoaning – or making light of, in some cases – a downward spiral that quickly transformed him from Pele-endorsed prodigy to forgotten journeyman.
|NII LAMPTEY'S CAREER IN STATS
In fact it is nothing short of a miracle that he’s come out the other end smiling, an engaging interviewee with a story to tell from experiences gleaned over a nomadic career.
Any 'failure' tag hardly seems appropriate. 'Survivor' might be more apt.
A childhood divided between Accra and Kumasi was far from idyllic – such was the abuse and neglect he sustained at the hands of his parents. Lamptey slept under cars to avoid beatings from an alcoholic father who would stub out cigarettes on his son's skin.
Aged eight, his parents divorced but the misery was unrelenting until he found refuge in a Muslim football camp. He converted to Islam and lived and thrived in a far more tranquil environment – aside from violent visits to the mosque from an unforgiving father.
By now he had realised his talent could allow him to write his own destiny.
Money he scraped together from playing in the Under-16 World Cup in Scotland in 1989 allowed him to escape his homeland under a cloud of secrecy. He resurfaced in Belgium, despite an irate Ghanaian FA having confiscated his passport, thanks to a triple-border adventure, safely stowed away in the back of a taxi, and a flight from Lagos using a false Nigerian identity. He was 14 years old.
Lamptey was aided by the agent of the Nigerian captain, Keshi, who at the time was starring for Anderlecht. A trial was hastily arranged with the Belgian club, who took some convincing that one of the world's hottest talents had landed on their doorstep. A few touches of the ball soon allayed any doubts. A five-year contract with Anderlecht should have provided security and stability off the field and fulfilment on it, but his inability to read or write saw Lamptey ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous agents. A series of ill-advised moves in which he had little say precipitated a premature decline.
His two-year stint at PSV proved a career high; a move to Aston Villa was one culture shock too many – though he was well liked by manager Ron Atkinson, who then took him to Coventry.
Again he didn't quite hit the heights and he was sold to Venezia in Italy, then Argentina's Union de Santa Fe.
It was there that one of his sons died of a rare disease. A heartbroken Lamptey was refused permission to bury him in Ghana and a temporary retirement from football followed. He later lost a second child in similar circumstances.
The clubs came thick and fast upon his return to the game, before he found peace in China with Shandong Luneng.
He crammed three more teams into a career which should have ended with more trophies than those secured when he was a teenage prodigy.
However, the real measure of success was his perseverance – a stubborn refusal to give into a strength-sapping chain of events.
He now runs a school with his wife, dips his toe in cattle-farming and other business ventures and scouts here and there for various clubs.
Aware of his legendary status in Championship Manager 93-94 he laughs: "The dream did not come true but it's great that I was honoured in that way."
Like so many short-sighted critics, he sells himself short. Lamptey proved as well as anyone has that a dream, hard work and talent is enough to get you out of just about any situation.
Football Manager Stole My Life is published August 10 in paperback and across all digital formats by BackPage Press. It features articles and interviews about how the game takes over the lives of those who play it; the footballers whose international success has been predicted by the game and others whose careers have not been as stellar in real life. In a series of exclusive articles Kenny Millar (@Kenny_Millar) reveals the stories behind some of the greatest players you never saw.