Robert Boateng’s transfer from Kotoko to Rosenborg was a dark episode that showcased the dangers of international transfers.
Legendary Brazilian club Santos was on a tour of Europe that had Norway as a stop. They would play Norway’s biggest club at the time, Rosenborg in Oslo as part of the trip. The Trondheim based club had won the last six league titles. They had the best players. The best coach. And they wanted more.
A 22 year old from Ghana was also there and desired more too. The Obuasi born forward was a speed merchant with a bag of tricks and a decent eye for goal.
His name -Robert Kwabena Boateng.
Boateng had arrived with a chip on his shoulder. It could be understood. After growing up in the feeder system of his hometown club Ashanti Gold FC he had become one of the most coveted players in the country. There were no shortage of suitors for his signature.
Ghana league giant Kumasi Asante Kotoko would win the race and for the next two seasons Boateng terrorized fullbacks in the country. It was easy to name Boateng among the top five players in the Ghanaian league between 1995 and 1997.
For those who did not watch him let me make this simple. Imagine Sadio Mane in full flight.
It was this reputation that had earned him a trial with Rosenborg. The architect of the trial was an agent named Wilgodt Andersson.
The audition was in Oslo and the antagonist for the day, Santos. Boateng put on a show. Wearing the number 18 shirt in his trial, Boateng scored a goal that personified all his attributes. It was a goal deserving of greater stakes than a pre-season trial.
After receiving the ball on the right side of Santos’ defensive area, the Brazilians put two defenders on Boateng. It looked like he had nowhere to go. With a shimmy to his right, he darted left and accelerated past his marker. Another defender tried to reel him in but he was too quick. Making use of his upper body strength, he kept the defender at bay whilst the Santos goalkeeper rushed out to narrow the space. It was all Boateng needed. He nipped the ball past him. It rolled slowly into the goal as thousands of Rosenborg fans cheered. They had a new hero.
Rosenborg’s greatest ever manager Nils Arne Eggen was sold. Here was a player he could use in the Champions League.
In the summer of 1997 Rosenborg bought Boateng from Kumasi Asante Kotoko.
It is a seminal transfer in Ghanaian football. And it was murky too.
The transfer of top, in form players from Ghana to Europe did not start with Boateng. After all, Tony Yeboah and Abedi Pele had left Ghana at the peak of their powers. In between, Alhaji Grusah’s strategy of selling teenage players like Ibrahim Tanko and Mallam Yahaya to European clubs from the early 90’s meant there was a solid representation but none that had earned a reputation in the top flight. They had to earn their stripes in the feeder programs of these teams before promotion to senior team football.
Boateng’s was different. Here was a player at the peak of his powers being signed for a record amount by a top European team to impact title winning ambitions. In total Rosenborg paid $800,000 to Kotoko to sign Boateng. It is a domestic transfer record that stood until 2018 when the West Africa Football Academy transferred Aminu Mohammed for 1.8 million euros to Manchester City. There have been reports of Shilla Illiasu being transferred for a million dollars from Kotoko to Saturn of Russia. There is no official documentation and confirmation of this.
The transfer would also reveal the darkness and corruption involved in football. It showed how footballers were pawns in a larger game, their talents sold for premium that they barely enjoyed. A system designed to cheat the player and enrich clubs and agents would find itself facing the public limelight.
The president of Ghana himself was fed up with this system. He ordered an inquiry to be led by an Appeal Court judge, Justice Sulley Gbadegbe.
It is this inquiry that would reveal to Boateng just how badly he had been cheated by persons he had trusted.
George Aduse-Poku was chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko at the time. A powerful businessman who had made his money retailing car tyres among other things, he oversaw the Boateng transfer and was hailed for it . After all $250,000 for a top player in those days was good business. And yes. $250,000 was what he declared as the total sum involved in the transfer.
Boateng himself had no idea about what was going on. In his own words before the commission of inquiry he declared he only signed a representation contract that bound him to Wilgodt Andersson.
Andersson, however, was up to no good. Rosenborg was paying Boateng $10,000 a month as salary through his bank account. The player was getting only $1,500.
It would take four months for Boateng to start asking questions about the situation. His first point of call was his club. His enticement fee had delayed. Rosenborg were gobsmacked and asked him to speak to Andersson, then based in Sweden. His attempts to reach his agent failed and so he he reached the one person who connected all points, Kotoko boss Aduse-Poku.
It turned out Boateng was due a share of the total transfer as his enticement fee. $200,000 to be exact. After several attempts to redeem his money from the two parties, Adusei-Poku managed to pay Boateng $80,000. In short Boateng’s transfer had enriched all parties involved bar the player and even to an extent his club.
The entire story as it emerged was a study in duplicity and corruption. Boateng’s case would not be the only one discovered during the inquiry into player transfers. His prominence, however, highlighted the need to protect players better during transfers.
It is easy to say that not much has changed since the Boateng debacle two decades ago. Talented footballers in Ghana are even more at a risk from the insidious agenda of agents and club owners. Player trafficking is at an all time high as players are promised the world and delivered hell. In 2019 the CIES ranked Ghana as the second highest exporter of footballers in Africa. Not many have happy stories to tell.
Amidst all this drama, Boateng would never live up to the moments of that fine, summer evening in Oslo.
By 1998 he was back in Ghana although still contracted to Rosenborg. He would return in 2000. That would be the nature of his four year stint with the Trondheim outfit. There were a few shining moments. Like a a Champions League game against Paris St.Germain. But he failed to excite consistently at a high level to make the impact Rosenborg had hoped for when they first signed him in 1997. It is a career step easily forgotten.
But in Ghana, Robert Boateng cannot be forgotten. His was the transfer that triggered a search for the dark soul of football. His gave a chance to get things right. Nothing much has changed.
By: Godfred Akoto Boafo, Journalist.