072 Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew
Abedi Ayew, known as Abedi Pelé as a tribute to the great Brazilian star Pelé, is considered to be one of the finest African players of all time. In a long and successful career at club and international level, he became one of the first Africans to become established as a star in Europe and paved the way for many more to follow. Starting his playing career at home in Ghana with Real Tamale, Ayew also played in Qatar, Switzerland and Benin before following in the footsteps of many other African players by moving to play in France.
By the time of his move to Europe in 1986, he was already established as a star in Africa after helping Ghana to win the African Nations Cup in 1982, when he was just 18. After playing in the lower divisions in France for Chamois Niortais and Mulhouse, it was a move to Olympique de Marseille in 1988 that helped transform Ayew into a European star. After a short spell at Lille where he scored 16 goals in a little over a year, he returned to Marseille to play a major part in a hat-trick of league titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
Ayew was named African Footballer of the Year in each of these years, and when Marseille won the European Champions’ Cup in 1993 it seemed to be the crowning achievemnt. However, the administration at Marseille was found to be involved in a bribery scandal, and the club was stripped of 1992-93 French championship, relegated to the Second Division and banned from defending their European title. Ayew moved on to play for Olympique Lyonnais, and also played top division football in Italy and Germany.
Despite a record number of appearances at the African Nations Cup, he was unable to inspire Ghana to a repeat of the 1982 success, although they came agonisingly close in 1992 when with Ayew as captain they reached the final against the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, Ayew was suspended for the final and Ghana lost on penalties. Retiring from international football in 1998, he played one season for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates before ending his playing career.
His now owner of Ghanaian club FC Nania as well as an ambassador for African football. In 2007, Ayew’s Nania club was involved in a scandal when they were accused of fixing a vital promotion match, and Ayew and several others were fined and suspended. Ayew maintained his and his club’s innocence, and the punishments were subsequently annulled on appeal.