Authors: Sellas Tetteh & Aristo Dotse
Content: 95 pages, 16 chapters
Price: GH¢10 (US$7)
Publisher: Soccernet Publications
“I was a nice, beautiful midfielder.”
While speeding through the text of Sellas Tetteh’s novelty, this quote at the beginning of memoir kept coming back to me. By the time I was done reading, I was convinced that this self-held opinion of himself sums Sellas Tetteh up more succinctly like no one other in the book.
It is common knowledge that all fathers like to tell their wards about how brilliant students they were in their day. But in Sellas Tetteh’s case, you get the feeling that he wants you to accept what he was in his day, and what he is now. This is why I’d like to warn you in advance that if you do not like Sellas Tetteh, do yourself a favour and do not read his autobiography.
Sellas has achieved a lot. And if you want none of his successes in his book, look elsewhere. Sellas Tetteh: My Success Story is exactly that, a chronicling of Sellas Tetteh’s success story. He tells you, at times by coercion, to acknowledge and give him the respect that he feels is due him. But for the hungry football fan who wants to know more about the man who has catapulted himself and his country to such heights, the memoir is also very insightful.
Don’t mind the body
Though I have a feeling that the book was put together in a rush, it does not in any way detract from the relevance of its content. Yes, the typesetting is a bit suspect and yes, the layout is a bit dodgy, but it is the substance that matters. Many parts of the Holy Bible were first written on scrolls, yet the efficacy of their teachings is unquestioned.
I have quite a few biographies of football and athletics personalities in my library and to be fair, Aristo Dotse’s collaborative effort with Sellas Tetteh is good. It may not be the masterpiece that Liberty Professionals’ Felix Ansong claims it is in the book’s foreword, yet for the fact that this is the first Ghanaian football memoir (and possibly in Africa, too) Sellas Tetteh and Aristo Dotse can be proud of what they have done.
Accompanying this compelling read is a pictorial timeline of (mostly) Sellas’ life in football. The pictures attempt to grasp the wide reach of the coach’s experience, although my animated search for photos from his Bangladeshi playing days proved futile. My Success Story aims to capture the mindset of one man’s continuing struggle for acceptance, his heady successes and crushing regrets as well.
The purpose of a memoir is to give the audience access to little known information about key moments in the author’s life, not skimmed versions of it. This is where I feel the memoir fell short on a few occasions.
Sellas describes the origins of his established nickname, Borbor and its extensions, Borborson, Borborvich and Borborski. As well as many personal details, Tetteh explains how living in Nigeria shaped and affected his playing career, and later, his coaching as well. Since he spent almost all his playing days in Nigeria, one can understand why he makes countless references to our eastern cousins.
In the whole book the most touching, and in many ways, the most apparent call for attention for a man who has done so much for himself and his country comes, once again, at the beginning. It is a known fact that Sellas sees himself as an heir to the Black Stars’ coaching job. However, I am sure that many have not really thought about why it has taken Ghana so long to offer him what Rwanda has now given him.
For Sellas, not playing for the Black Stars is not only the biggest regret of his life (as he said in a BBC interview with Michael Oti Adjei last Friday), but crucially, it “took something away” from him. That is a powerful statement. He goes on to soliloquy that perhaps if he had ever donned the national colours, he “could have been more favoured or considered for the Black Stars coaching job when it became vacant in 2006 following Dujkovic’s exit…..”
Several hints in other parts of the book gives me the impression that Sellas is waiting for his time to be coach of the Stars, in contrast to the earlier feeling he had that he owns a divine right to it.
Seeing this quickly took me back eight months, to October last year. In an interview I had with him in the immediate aftermath of the Under 20 World Cup win, Sellas told me he “would be the next Black Stars coach after Milovan [Rajevac].”Obviously, after winning the next most important trophy in world football after the World Cup, and with adrenaline coursing through him, it was understandable that he should say that.
With this in mind, I started looking for the part of the book where that statement would be reiterated. I did not find it. What I did find, though, was the current mindset of Sellas on the Black Stars coaching job. This mindset is apparent throughout his book, including in its final chapter, where he urges coaches to have “hard work, determination, discipline and MORE IMPORTANTLY patience” (emphasis mine) as they strive to reach the top.
This, together with several hints in other parts of the book gives me the impression that Sellas is waiting for his time to be coach of the Stars, in contrast to the earlier feeling he had that he owns a divine right to it. He confirmed this himself in the BBC interview I spoke of earlier.
Tetteh has always been synonymous with Liberty Professionals and he pulls no punches in drawing strong parallels between the Dansoman club and his success. Everywhere in the book there is a tone of gratitude to his former club employers. Sellas’ pride at being nurtured there and nurturing others there is obvious. His uses of flowing adjectives to describe some of the more illustrious Liberty products attest to this, as are his defenses of the club’s way of doing things.
The fourteen years Tetteh spent at Liberty were littered with many memories, his best of all being the beating of Hearts of Oak 3-2 in Accra ten years ago, in addition to developing many talented players. Among other things I’ll mention later, however, the book fails to address the widely held conspiracy that there is a ‘Liberty-GFA’ wicket gate that pushes these talented products of the club into the various national teams.
Sellas’ segues to his affair with the national teams and their associated ebbs and flows. He gained promotion to the Black Stars team in 2003 as assistant to then coach, Ralf Zumdick. Sellas describes working with the German as “just great,” but immediately reveals a little known nugget thereafter.
Although he does not go into specifics, Sellas blames his inability to make it to the Athens 2004 Olympics on a “misconstrued development in camp” by then coach Mariano Barreto. This, he says, was the biggest regret in his career.
In the few biographies that I have read, the explanation of this ‘misconstrued development’ would have been a good selling point for the book, for the purpose of a memoir is to give the audience access to little known information about key moments in the author’s life, not skimmed versions of it. This is where I feel the memoir fell short on a few occasions.
Who would not want to know the real deal about ‘the T.B. Joshua affair,’ or about the behind- the-scenes stories behind Ghana’s adventures to both the Korea 2007 and Egypt 2009 World Cups? Sadly, readers are only treated to recaps of the matches that were played and not the detail of how they were won tactically, psychologically, why he took certain telling decisions and so on.
As an example of what I mean, consider how Sellas makes us understand how he feels in relation to the whole Ishmael Yartey mess. After he led Ghana to win the African under 20 tournament in Rwanda, Sellas dropped Ishmael Yartey from the side just before the start of the World Cup. This was a decision that Sellas says was taken “purely on merit than any other reason.” Ishmael, according to Sellas, did not hold that opinion and sought to destroy his image out of frustration and disappointment.
He also tells how this affected the team and how they were able to rebound and funnel Ishmael’s words into positive aggression, which explains how the team recorded several sensational comebacks at Egypt 2009. This kind of chronicling is what makes football memoirs (and sporting ones in general) so special. Readers could have been given more of these nuggets.
The man within
Anybody who knows Sellas Tetteh would immediately recognize his voice leaping from the pages of the book. Many co-authored football memoirs have been criticized for not having ‘the man within.’ In a bid to be politically and grammatically correct, authors usually take the personality of the subject out of the book.
My Success Story, I’m glad to say, has Sellas Tetteh stamped all over it. His well-known wit, candour and (sometimes) over-expressive nature are all served copiously. Just like you would expect Sellas to, his diplomacy and tact are also present. Every success he recounts is soon followed by a shared credit with fellow Ghanaians, fellow coaches, players or administrators he has worked with, building tons of goodwill along the way.
Who would not want to know the real deal about ‘the T.B. Joshua affair,’ or about the behind- the-scenes stories behind Ghana’s adventures to both the Korea 2007 and Egypt 2009 World Cups?
Anybody who knows Sellas Tetteh would immediately recognize his voice leaping from the pages of the book. Many co-authored football memoirs have been criticized for not having ‘the man within.’ In a bid to be politically and grammatically correct, authors usually take the personality of the subject out of the book.Every football fan who cares about Ghana’s real Special One (I wonder what Isaac Opeele Boateng would say about that!), the mystery of Sellas Tetteh’s ‘one in a million portrait’ and what has become known as ‘The Famous Shirt’ would find this book to be a good reference guide. As for journalists, it is an absolute must-read and must-have.
The writing of My Success Story means that for the many thousands of tertiary students who need information for their Long Essays or Project Works, there is light at the end of the dark reference tunnel. So often we have students who need basic information on football and yet do not get it. This book may be a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to understand the workings of Ghanaian, African and world football.
The book was co-authored by Aristo Dotse who, with about two decades of professional sporting writing experience, knows his stuff. Liverpool FC fans would also be familiar with some of his work on the club’s website, as well as the many literary works he’s put together in countless international publications over the years.
Having worked with him before, I’m deeply thrilled that Aristo has finally been given space to write ‘a very long article’. I’ve always maintained that if you gave Aristo the whole of this page to write a short piece, he would usually give you so much that you would have to edit. But like Sellas Tetteh says in the book, patience is key in everything.
Aristo has been patient. Now he has had 95 pages in which to write ‘a few words’ about Sellas Tetteh. I think he has not disappointed, as usual. And guess what, so long as Sellas continues to ‘do it again and again’ (as he likes to say), I can see a sequel to this memoir in the offing.