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Sports Features of Sunday, 10 April 2011

Source: T Morris / USA

Polo - The Incomparable Legend

In the early 70s during a very competitive soccer derby at Bukom Square in central Accra, the local darling club who had their pride dented, having conceded an early goal and having been eclipsed in the first half, decided to introduce an unknown teenager, for the second half of the game.

He had been brought down from Nima in Accra. He was quite shy, perhaps from the incredible attention.

But the moment he made contact with the ball, the entire spectators saw something never observed at this popular soccer ground before: He received a pass right in his half and dribbled his way cleverly all the way into goal.

They won the match 3-1 and the bewildered spectators followed him like a messiah after the match; gazing at his left foot as if it would reveal some secrets. A few months later, he was seen featuring for Auroras, the second team of Hearts of Oak. This was the birth of a legend. He was only 15.

Polo's incredible exploits made sports writers exhausted all the superlative accolades in the dictionary in an effort to succinctly describe his unique talent. They called him the Dribbling Magician, Wizard Dribbler, Magnificent Dribbler, Scorer of Important Goals, Professor, Maestro, to mention a few. He was simply incomparable and his influence in the game was so vast and peerless.


Those who were fortunate to see the historic 'Miracle Of El-Wak' against the dreaded Mighty Mufulira Wanderers of Zambia could agree with this assertion..Mufulira Wanderers, in fantastic form, had eliminated Mouloudia of Algeria 3-2.

The Zambians, had a 'never-say-die attitude', with the habit of scoring late goals and winning matches often from a losing position, hence the nickname; "Mighty awinaichungulo" meaning mighty wins in dying minutes.

Led by the legendary Samuel "Zoom" Ndhlovu, the Zambia darling club, had won everything in titles, Zambia had to offer.

Hearts of Oak had lost the first leg by 5-2 and needed at least, a 3-0 win in the return encounter in Accra to advance into the final.

The stakes were very high against a well drilled and determined side. The local fans had written Hearts off completely.

Polo did not feature in the Lusaka encounter and therefore news about his likely inclusion added to the debate. The El Wak Sports Stadium was filled to capacity by 11.00 am. Hearts parading the famous :"Fearsome Fivesome" had played the first half of 45 minutes without a goal. Suddenly, a 59th and 79th minute goals, with Polo's magic, brought some hope. However, the Zambia were proving very difficult, as the clock ticked away.

Then the wizardry of Polo went into action once again.. Hearts had been frustrated by bad officiating. The teaming fans who had sung all day to tiredness; were now storming out the stadium in disappointment. At the press box, the Zambia commentator could be heard assuring anxious Zambian fans that the mighty lads from Lusaka had made it to the finals. It was injury time.

Polo picked up a pass in his half around the penalty box and dribbled the field majestically to right corner of the field and released the ball to Mama Acquah, who put AnasSeidu through for the much-needed goal. A miracle was made and the Dribbling Magician status as the super star was only reaffirmed. Hearts made it to the final for the first time in the club's history.

And to date, most soccer fans believed that if Polo had played in the final match against Hafia in Conakry, after the tactical lost in the first leg in Accra, the Osagyefo trophy could have been won right before the Guinean home fans.

He was the Ghana's Footballer of the Year in 1974 after just about a year of play in the local league.

The following year, the diminutive Polo, (who loved to rolled up his adult size soccer pants to comfort), played against Nigeria in Surulere in August, 1975, in the Nigeria-Ghana Friendship Games. These matches were ego-driven and the Green Eagles, (as the Super Eagles were then known), were flabbergasted by Polo's jaw-dropping performance.He simply made a joke of the otherwise tough Nigeria defence with his artistry. No wonder, Christian Chukwu, was recently quoted as saying that in the 70s, in any encounter with Ghana, the focus was on Polo. There was simply no known defender who was able to contain Polo.

He was a member of the best Ghana's team of all time who won the African Cup of Nations for keeps in March, 1978 by beating Uganda 2-0 in the final. And although Razak was voted the 1978 African Footballer; an award influenced by his 55th match winner against Zambia, in the opening match, and most importantly, the 57th minute 'golden' goal against Tunisia, which took Ghana to the final berth. Nevertheless, only a novice could believe that Polo was not the best at the time.

Polo last competitive game was in 1979 for Hearts against Mighty Blackpool of Sierra Leone. In a familiar fashion, Hearts had lost the first leg by 0-2 and needed a 3-0 victory in the return encounter to advance to the next round.

At the Accra Sports Stadium, the first 45 minutes did not register a goal. Then Polo came on at the start of the second half.

and produced a rare feat of performance. He single-handedly took on the visitors defence and Hearts earned a 2-0 win to take the games into penalty shoot-out which Hearts emerged victorious. Hearts went on to the final where they lost to Union Douala of Cameroun; with Adolf Armah of Hearts, voted Africa's 2nd Best Footballer.

Polo, by this time was playing for Al-WaslFC of Dubai (voted UAE Club of the20th century), where his familiar magic helped won the club league title in the club's 22 year history in 1982.


Ghana soccer until Polo, has truly enjoyed its apogee of glory: Ghana had won two Nations Cups in 1963 and 1965. They were losing finalists in 1968 and 1970.Ghanaians has come to consider players BabaYara, Mfum, Aggrey-Fynn, Sunday Ibrahim, OseiKofi, AmusaGbadamoshie, to mention a few as legends. But Polo was in a class of his own.

This was the time when Africa has only a single slot at the world cup. It was the era of short-wave radio broadcast as live TV broadcast of soccer encounters were non-existent. Soccer matches in away encounters were not without strange officiating. Soccer referees were not too sensitive and whistle-happy to the slightest tackle like they are today; (otherwise the likes of OfeiAnsah and Hesse Odametten), with the famous 'sliding' tackles would not have earned them a minute of play.

Ghana, at this time was blessed with classic defenders like KuukuDadzie, AwuleyQuaye, Paha , Isaac Acquaye, Dan Oppon, to mention a few, while Dan Owusu, Peter Lamptey, OpokuAfriyie, George Alhassan, Willie Klutse,among others, were predatory strikers of some sort..Nevertheless, any bulging soccer talent took on the name Polo, as an inspiration.

In 1977, Abedi Pele was a 13 year-old colt star with Falcons. Although very talented, he was not the colt best.

The year belonged to one Nii Moi Polo; affectionately named so as a prodigy of the Dribbling Magician, Polo.

That year, Mohammed Polo was voted Africa's 4th Best Player. Yet, in July 1985, Polo featured for the Black Stars, among a new generation of players including, Abedi Pele in a World Cup qualifier in Libya, and yet, showed why he was considered the best of all time.

He was one player whose ball distribution, dribbling and passing with precision, were at the zenith, without equal. The famous sports writer, KwabenaAgyapong, believed Polo was the most technically gifted player Ghana has ever known.

In 1986, a new Hearts administration used a very youthful side as the nucleus of the team. They were impressive but lack the experience particularly, in matches against arch-rival, Kotoko. So when Hearts were asked to play Kotoko in 1989 June 4th Anniversary Cup, the result was widely predicted. However, each team was asked to use a guest player.

Kotoko, then a fantastic side, opted for Papa Arko while Hearts employed the services of Polo, who was then in the country on holidays. Polo played as if from another planet and taught the Kotoko players a real soccer lesson. His performance was simply for the records book. Hearts scored twice in the first 15 minutes and went on to went on to a deserving 2-1 victory to clinch the trophy.

Today, soccer has more publicity and is business-driven. Ghana now has Essien, AsamoahGyan, John Mensah, Andre Ayew, to mention as few, carrying its banner. At the World Cup, Ghana made some great showings. An average player today has great chance of playing professional soccer abroad, as European soccer scouts are all over the continent of African searching for talents.

The world now has Messi, Ronaldo, Eto, Drogba, etc making splashy headlines.Oh what a generation!

However, fortunate fans, like myself, who have had the privilege of seeing the present generation and the super-stars of the 1970s, consider it simply laughable at any comparison. If only the world had known the likes of Mohammed Polo.