Made in Bavaria
Mon, 24/06/19, 12:27
Fans' favourite Kuffour on 'his' FC Bayern
Sammy Kuffour has to take off his jacket first. It's five o'clock in the evening in Accra, the sun will soon set, but even towards the end of the day it continues to blaze down on Ghana's capital city. Kuffour just got home from the office, where he works in the property business. His tie will still be sitting straight when he says goodbye to us in two and a half hours, but now even he has to pause for a moment. The television on the terrace is showing football - of course, you might think, but if you took a closer look, you'd be surprised: it's women's football. Kuffour takes a sip of water from a 'weißbier' (wheat beer) glass which is decorated with the FC Bayern Munich logo.
The discarded jacket, which he repeatedly slips back on for photos, is perfectly finished off with a flower on the lapel and a handkerchief - a stylish touch in a prominent place: Kuffour used to wear the FC Bayern logo there, above his heart, which still beats for the German record champions. He is doing well, very well, says the 42-year-old, and he must thank God and the people in Munich. The fans "still sing my name today - it's crazy there", he says, and he actually says it in Bavarian: "da Wahnsinn".
The memories come in such quick-fire succession, it's impossible to interrupt him: Whenever he visited coach Hermann Gerland at home, the cooking was done by "Frau Hermann", as he calls the wife of the man who discovered him, and his three daughters took him to Austria to teach him how to ski. The original Bavarian Klaus Augenthaler taught him how to swim ("I couldn't do that") and how to drink weißbier ("He said, as a Bavarian you have to be able to do it"). Uli Hoeneß' secretary at the time Karin Potthoff is still called "Mama" and today's president "Papa". He has never met a more honest person than Hoeneß and thinks you should always stand up when talking about him: "Out of respect." And Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was always berating him: "But if someone who was such a global star told you something, you had to listen. Kalle meant well. You have to meet people like those at FC Bayern if you want to have a great career."
A home like a Museum
Entering Kuffour's house feels like being in the foyer of a luxury hotel. Wide staircases lead up and away on both sides of the expansive hallway, and there are lots of photographs on the walls: Kuffour as a player, Kuffour with Ghana's greatest statesmen, Kuffour in portrait. On the floor, further paintings and photos, for which no more space could be found lean against the walls. As a child, there was no way to tell Kuffour would one day have a home like a museum. His family lived in simple conditions in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city. He was discovered while playing street football, and when he was first nominated for Ghana's Under-17 team, his mother flogged the TV so he could buy football boots. His three sisters complained (Sammy was the only boy), but his mother encouraged him to continue playing. Ahead of his debut against Sierra Leone, she predicted he would get a goal, and he did indeed score to secure a 1-0 win. With his first decent bonus, he bought the family a new television. A bigger one.
These days Kuffour has two living rooms, and there's a giant TV in each of them. He drops onto a sofa. Here, with a few friends, he recently followed his Bayern's 5-0 thrashing of Dortmund. Generally speaking, he watches all of Bayern's games, even when travelling and also working as an expert on South African TV. He freaks out when they win: When the Reds won the Champions League in 2013, "I was the craziest in the TV studio". He was as happy as if he'd played himself. "It was such a big thing to win after the final 'dahoam' [at home] in 2012, we had the same situation in 1999 and 2001 - that's FC Bayern Munich: You don't give up. Mia san mia."
That provided a good opportunity to ask a delicate question: Would Kuffour watch the 1999 Manchester United final defeat again, right now, right here, on his sofa, on his giant television? We’d brought a DVD with us. No, he says, he wails, "no, no, no, I can't - it still hurts too much.” Kuffour slaps his lapel, where the logo was, where his heart beats, and he almost crushes the flower in his buttonhole. He's been avoiding this game for 20 years, he says. "Maybe I'll watch it with my kids sometime." The three teenagers live in London, go to school and university there. One is a Man United fan. "He googles clips of the game on YouTube from time to time, and I always say, get rid of that," says Kuffour. Will he take a look at it for the 25th anniversary? "I can't promise. I don't think so."
Life is not always golden
Next to the sofa is the display case with Kuffour's greatest successes. The silver Champions League medal from 1999 is in there next to the golden one from 2001. He treats both with the same reverence. Football is like life - not always fair, that's part and parcel of it, he says. "We were the better team in 1999, we were unlucky." No one shed more tears on the Camp Nou pitch after the final whistle than Kuffour, the only non-German player in the starting eleven from Munich. Bayern fans will never forget that. Referee Pierluigi Collina came up to him, the injured Bixente Lizarazu hurried down from the stands, "but I couldn't control myself". United's wonder strikers Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole "managed absolutely nothing against me- and then the game was turned on its head". Karin Potthoff had had a special shirt printed for him, which he'd wanted to show off after the victory. "Thank you, God," it read. "But I couldn't wear it."
On the night of the defeat, Kuffour hid in his room. No banquet, no party. Again and again people knocked on his door, saying he really should come out. "I always said I'd be right there, but I couldn't." Instead, he talked to his mama on the phone in Ghana. She cried. And with his daughter in Ghana. She cried too. When he landed in his home country two weeks later, he was welcomed at the airport by lots of fans. "The whole of Africa was behind me in the final," he remembers. He received letters from all over the continent. The message was always the same : "Sammy, you'll come back from this!" And sure enough, the 1999 "mother of all defeats" in Barcelona against Manchester United heralded the birth of the 'Immer-weiter-Bayern' (the ‘keep-going’ Bayern).
„"FC Bayern is my first home."”
"Do you see that glass there," says Kuffour, pointing to one of the beakers used in Munich for the 'Meisterduschen' (championship showers). The monster of a weißbier glass doesn't really fit into the African-style living room - and yet it perfectly suits Kuffour. "FC Bayern is my first home." His business is what took him back to Ghana. "I wanted to stay in Munich. But I had my family to think about." That's the way it's always been, even as a player. "When I was young, I saw Lothar Matthäus and Oliver Kahn in the dressing room. They were so stylishly dressed. I wanted that too, but I had to understand that I didn't make that much - and needed money for home, for mama, grandma, my siblings." Hoeneß reminisces: "Sammy came to us as a child. And he left as a man." Once he had an offer from FC Barcelona. Hoeneß said to him, "Sammy, you can't go there. This is your home." He stayed.
KKuffour still knows exactly how Gerland approached him at the 1993 Under-20 World Cup in Australia after he'd scored a goal against Germany. "You're a good player - do you want to join us?" the 'Tiger' asked. Kuffour had moved to Torino when he was 15, he was homesick, and now he called his mama at home: "FC Bayern want me. Should I do it?" Of course! When he trained with the pros for the first time the following summer, Rummenigge joined in. Kuffour ruthlessly tackled the boss, again and again, until in the end he said: "We can use this guy." Matthäus had already said to Hoeneß beforehand that, if necessary, he would pay the 300,000 deutschmarks out of his own pocket. Kuffour himself thought for the first time in his life that he could make a difference as a professional when he trained with Matthäus. He had watched the World Cup on TV in 1990: "Lothar was the best in the tournament, the best in the world - and suddenly I was training with him. I said to myself, don't look back now! Now only one thing matters: Forward!"
The FC Bayern Family
Kuffour quickly embraced the German mentality. Matthäus, Oliver Kahn ("If he becomes the club boss, that's good, he's an idol") and Stefan Effenberg exemplified it for him. Kuffour can still imitate 'Effe' very well, as the captain at the time visited him in his room so often during important games. Before the 2001 quarter-final against Manchester United for example, he said, "Sammy, if you can take care of Yorke and Cole again, we'll go through." Before the 2001 final, Kuffour was sitting alone in his room after dinner, when Effenberg knocked again: "Tomorrow is the most important day of your life! The whole of Africa is behind you!" Kuffour is still impressed today: When a character like that tells you something like that before a game, you'll believe anything that person says, and he believes that German football needs those kind of characters again.
The sun is fading, the last rays are reflected in Kuffour's pool, over which a statue of the Virgin watches. When his youngest daughter drowned in 2003, FC Bayern organised a private jet for him within a few hours and the pilots waited for several days in Accra until Kuffour was ready to fly back to Munich. It was a tragedy in which they all suffered in far-off Germany. It took a long time until "Mama" Potthoff's tears dried, and Hoeneß, Rummenigge, Gerland and his teammates did everything they could to make their Sammy's life easier again. Kuffour relates this sad episode in brief terms, "because I am happy that I have three children - and because this story shows that FC Bayern is different to other clubs. It's a real family." The television on the terrace is now showing the Champions League; Juventus vs. Ajax. But Kuffour now wants to take a shower, his tie is making him itch, he says goodbye to us. He takes the weißbier glass with the Bayern logo back into his house.