It’s not uneasy for writers to be rendered bereft of superlatives and other apt descriptions to paint a vivid picturesque image of a footballer regardless of their positions on the pitch.
There is this belief that journalists wax lyrical albeit one good performance of a footballer but the consistent performances of Abu Imoro made such belief, a misnomer.
The former Real Tamale United midfielder was arguably Ghana’s best midfielder in his heydays.
Nicknames like Midfield generalissimo, midfield dynamo, midfield ‘supremo’, midfield metronome were accorded him by Ghanaian Sports Writers of the time but he loved to be called Jean Tigana because his style of play was reminiscent of the French midfielder who was a member of the famed ‘Carre Magique.’ This clearly corroborates how a talented midfielder he was.
Imoro’s status as an icon was confirmed during his playing days with Accra Great Olympics and Real Tamale United and was a regular member of the Black Stars in the mid and late 80s and always a delight anytime he donned the national colours. Asante Kotoko SC was peerless then and had most of their players representing the Black Stars.
It had to take an extraordinary player outside Asante Kotoko SC to stake a claim in the Black Stars that featured players like Emmanuel Quarshie, George Arthur, Sarfo Gyamfi, Opeele Aboagye, Rauf Iddi, Kofi Abbrey, Isaac Naana Eshun, Kwasi Appiah and Salifu Ansah.
His style of play served as a darker side of his legacy, the reason why almost four decades later, we’re asked if Ghana football will ever produce a midfielder of his ilk. He was tireless on the pitch and would become the best box-to-box midfielder in the country.
Imoro would make crucial interceptions and clean tackles that were crucial for the team and thus, he would make his presence felt on the pitch.
A player who would disrupt attacks and create counter-attacks which would destroy the opponent’s defence, he was a defensive workhouse of the team and would also venture forward to create opportunities for his teammates and he was deployed on either flank due to his fiery pace and killer passes to split open adhesively tight defences.
This tendency to dominate the middle of the park defensively made him popular in Ghana in the’ 80s. His main purpose was to maintain the balance of play in the middle of the park and ensured that defensive solidity was maintained.
Ghana has already produced several players who have more than surpassed Imoro’s achievements. Michael Essien, and Sulley Muntari both occupied similar defending midfield roles, and both have lists of honours that completely eclipses Imoro’s. This isn’t to say that Essien and Muntari are inferior – far from it.
However, there’s no doubt that in football, supporters have always had a special place in their hearts for those who succeed despite themselves, who have been able to set aside their character flaws – even for the briefest of moments – to mesmerise.
And yet, there’s an inescapable sense that while memories of Essien and Muntari’s exploits will eventually begin to fade from the minds of those, not their fans, Imoro will still be talked about in superlatives by the masses, not for what he did, but for what he could have done, had it not been for his personal demons; not just his drug addiction, but his temperamental attitude. Had he been able to keep himself clean, who knows what he could’ve achieved? His natural talent seemed to know no limits – older fans still talk about him in awe today.
Abu Imoro at a diminutive five feet four inches tall was a figurative rather than literal giant on the pitch.
It’s still striking now when you see footage of his playing days not just by how short he looks, but by how slender he also seems – as if he could be blown away by the warm summer breeze as much as he might be brushed off the ball by opposing players. Those looks were deceiving, not only to foes but also to supposed friends.
In separate interviews, Ghanaian legends Abedi Ayew and Anthony Yeboah were effusive in their of the former national star.
All that begs the question - what happened to Abu Imoro?
“At first, I used to smoke weed but now, I am into cocaine.” He told TV3’s Yaw Ofosu in a recent interview.
Now in his 50s, he looks fagged, dirty and lives in a sordid environment. He is always found in the company of two other drug addicts, who visits refuse dumps, collecting broken plastic containers, metal scraps and sometimes engages in theft so they could survive.
“Abu Imoro you see here was my senior in the national team. The young ones like myself learnt a lot from him. In those days, he was a champion in his own class. He was a role model but let us look only at the negatives. What he has gotten himself into, should others get themselves into, this is how they would end up if not worse. We are still trying; we still want to get him out of this situation.” gushed Abubakari Damba.
“Life is indeed someway. I was privileged to watch Abu Imoro play for Great Olympics and some teams at the Indadfa Park, Mamprobi. He had boundless energy, pace, power, skills and vision. He was a box-to-box midfielder with an occasional eye for spectacular goals, a good tackler and a great passer of the ball. It’s sad that his promising career was curtailed by his addiction to drugs.” remarked Dr Kobina Dadzie Ephraim, a Chemical Pathologist and a Senior Lecturer of the University of Cape Coast.
For Imoro, his downfall embodies one of the sadder tales in Ghanaian football, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect on the brighter, promising years of his life.
The tale of his career is a dismaying one but it was also important in raising awareness of drug addiction.
Abu Imoro is an unembellished example of how difficult it can be to live up to the inevitable hysteria surrounding drug addiction. He later noted in TV3s documentary that “When I went into drugs, I regretted it very much. I will advise the youth especially young footballers not to go near drugs. They are now coming up and if you want to play to the highest level, don’t move into drugs. Keep yourself out.” He quipped.
While he is a man who was the creator of his own downfall, there is something vaguely warm about the fact that he eventually got the chance to test himself internationally. Yet that warmth of opportunity was also offset by a feeling that his ship had sailed, and that he may forever be wondering what he could have achieved personally and collectively when at the peak of his powers.
By: Godfred Budu Yeboah @budu_godfred on twitter