Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has revealed how he gave former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah his break at Udinese.
One of the best talents to emerge from Ghana’s football giants Hearts of Oak, Appiah had trials with Turkey’s Galatasaray youth squad in 1996 but was unsuccessful.
A year later, the midfielder tried his luck with Italian side Udinese, where he landed a deal at the club, initially playing as a striker. However, things did not start on a rosy note for the former Ghana international. He came close to being sent home after being played out of position because of language barrier before Zaccheroni intervened at the eleventh hour.
The now retired Zaccheroni has revealed what prompted him to give Appiah ‘one last look’ at Udinese and the moment that changed everything.
“I needed players for a summer friendly as both the Primavera and Allievi were at that moment in a youth tournament,” he said.
“The management then told me about this 16-year-old boy who was about to finish his trial and was almost leaving. He was held back one more day in order to be able to show me what he could do. Because he did not speak Italian, I used Gargo [Mohammed] to communicate with him and I discovered that he wasn’t a striker but rather a playmaker.”
“In the last half hour of the match, a midfield enforcement was needed so I brought Stephen in to make up for the absence of alternatives.
“His first touch was sumptuous, with a precise opening on the opposite strip. Stephen laid on a wonderful pass from midfield to Amoroso [Márcio] who only had the goalkeeper to beat. Finally, a long-range drive from Stephen made the goal post trembled. And you know, not many other things are needed to convince coaches so I told Udinese that the boy must stay,” Zaccheroni deduced.
The now 39-year-old went on to have a memorable three seasons with the club, making 36 appearances. A transfer to Parma in 1999 was jeopardized by viral hepatitis, but Appiah overcame the illness to move there in the summer of 2000. After two seasons at Parma, Appiah went on loan to Brescia for the 2002/03 season.
He became a first-team regular for the Lombardians and scored seven times in 31 games.
Appiah’s success at Parma alerted defending Serie A champions Juventus to his talents. The Serie A giants signed him in the summer of 2003 on loan, with an option to a permanent transfer in 2004. He went on to enjoy a good first season for Juventus, playing in 30 Serie A games and appearing in the Coppa Italia final.
Appiah played 48 times for Juventus, winning two Scudetti with the club before his shock move to Turkish giants Fenerbahce in 2005.
By Mthokozisi Dube