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Workers Cup winner crowns unlikely football journey from Ghana Premier League

#WorkersWelfare #Qatar2022

From a 17-year-old forward in the Ghana Premier League with stars in his eyes to a heroic performance at the heart of the Workers Cup champions Taleb Group’s defence – Jerry Ayitey’s long football journey has traversed a decade, two continents and potentially overwhelming adversity.

Ayitey’s story has been anything but dull. Ten years before Friday night’s success, he had suffered a knee injury that ended his hopes of a professional career. He has been the protagonist in a Marc Bosman-like court battle – and to crown it all has met a FIFA President on the pitch as he celebrated semi-final success.   

Yet Ayitey had no hesitation in describing the win in the fourth edition of the Workers Cup on 6 May in front of 11,050 spectators as one of the most memorable moments of his life. 

“Winning a trophy in front of cheering crowds is what I dreamt of when I started playing football,” the experienced Ghanaian player told www.sc.qa minutes after he had slotted in his side’s first penalty in the 3-1 shootout win against a valiant Gulf Contracting at Al Ahli Stadium.

“The icing on the cake was the meeting with FIFA President Infantino in the semi-final. I might not have made it as a professional footballer but I have experienced the moments any star would wish for thanks to Qatar,” said Ayitey, who arrived in Qatar in June 2015, and is a mason in his day job.

“It was unbelievable when Mr. Infantino came on to the pitch while we were celebrating our semi-final victory. I did not realise he was there. A British journalist informed me and my eyes really popped out. I went up to the President, shook his hand and told him that this was a childhood dream come true.”

Perhaps it was destiny that part two of Ayitey’s moment of truth – the Workers Cup triumph – arrived through the roulette of shootout on an emotionally-charged May evening. For it was sheer bad luck on another May evening a decade ago which had ended his fledgling career as professional footballer.

In his first season for Sekondi Hasaacas FC and with dreams of joining a 20-year-old Asamoah Gyan -- who was then in his third season at Serie A club Udinese – Ayitey started the Ghana FA Cup game against Gyan’s first professional club, Liberty Professionals.

Late into the second half, he received the ball at the edge of the penalty box and as he raced clear of the opposing defence he had the goalkeeper at his mercy.

Then a Liberty defender brought him down with a two-footed tackle from behind. “As I fell forward, I could hear a crackling noise from my knee and then I blacked out,” he recalled. “It was a bad fracture of the knee and I had to undergo surgery. It took me about five months to start training but my career was never the same again.”

Ayitey spent the whole of the 2006-07 season in his club’s second team. There was a glimmer of hope when the then six-time Saudi Premier League winners Al-Ittihad were interested in him that season.

“Unfortunately, nothing further happened as my club did not want to sell me,” Ayitey continued.”

He was then forced to set about to move to a second division club in Ghana the following season.

“Sekondi were averse to me leaving but I took the legal route and following the advice of the courts the Ghana FA declared me to be a free agent. I played two seasons in the second division as a central defender but my knee eventually gave way and I had to wind up my career in 2010,” he said.

The joy and pride of having won the Workers Cup in his maiden appearance in the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy sponsored tournament was good enough for Ayitey to make peace with the pain and uncertainties of the past. But the final was no walkover. 

“It was tough in regular time,” he said. “GCC are a good side and dominated possession. I had to be at my very best at the back and I am proud we did not concede.”

Ayitey says he derived inspiration from Chelsea defender John Terry during the final. “JT is a hard man and when the going is tough only the tough get going,” he said with a smile.

“I so badly wanted to win a title in the country which is soon going to host a FIFA World Cup and there is no defender with greater determination than JT. GCC forwards gave me a lot of tough moments out there but I fought it out till the end.”

Those may have been some of the smaller battles won by Jerry Ayitey in his rollercoaster football journey, but it provided a fitting crowning moment as he celebrated with team-mates, fans and colleagues long into the balmy Doha night.