‘POLO THE MAGNIFICENT: The Story of the Dribbling Magician’ – A Review
If you wanted to fill a library with volumes written about Ghanaian football and its biggest names, you might have lots of space left despite your best efforts.
There just aren’t enough books in that genre, so when I heard about the imminent release of one about Accra Hearts of Oak and Ghana legend Mohammed Ahmed Polo — arguably the finest to have kicked a ball on these shores — my interest was piqued.
A couple of months ago, said book — POLO THE MAGNIFICENT: THE STORY OF THE DRIBBLING MAGICIAN, authored by Nii Odai Anidaso Laryea — was published, and, kind courtesy of Nana Awere Damoah (no, not the Energy Ministry guy), a Facebook friend, I obtained a copy.*
From the foreword, brilliantly penned by celebrated Ghanaian football writer Ken Bediako, one almost gets the impression that the next 100-odd pages of the book would be filled with praises sung of Polo by a self-confessed, lifelong fan.
And while there is a fair bit of that in there — oh, I’m not complaining — you’d find, if you manage to get past that first layer of deep reverence, so much more to this arresting piece of work that opens up the life and career of the great Polo.
Born in the early nineties, I was never old enough to watch Polo play, while videos documenting his accomplishments are very scarce, so this is as close I — and those of my generation — would probably ever get to the story of what he achieved on the football pitch.
Laryea, in his sixties (per my deduction based on the author’s personal information at the back of the book), recounts his own recollections of Polo, but also affords others — footballers, journalists, coaches and administrators from that period — room to share their individual testimonies.
What he achieves with this approach is a mosaic of perspectives — not just his own — and a general picture filtered through the opinions of so many that this ultimately comes across as more than just a personal tribute to Polo’s mesmerising wizardry.
If Polo’s football was an art form, those who described his mastery in words — prose, poetry, and everything in-between — back then were masters themselves, albeit of a different sort of art: football writing.
That is abundantly evident in references from some of its best exponents of the time — Bediako (mentioned earlier), Oheneba Charles, Joe Aggrey, Kwabena Yeboah, MB Brimah, Sam Doku, Ben Ephson, etc — that Laryea incorporates to spice his own work.
For today’s Ghanaian football writer — whom you’re less likely to find as imaginative or skilful — then, this book is an essential.
Then there are the riveting tales: of how Polo nearly got Accra Hearts of Oak crowned champions of Africa almost single-handedly, 23 years before the Phobians achieved that feat; of how one head of state intervened to make sure Polo had a part in helping the country win its third Africa Cup of Nations title; of how Polo inspired ‘Pele’; and of how he became one of the Ghanaian game’s earliest and most successful exports, even after the aforementioned leader (himself the subject of a soon-to-be-published book) had slapped on Polo a ‘non-exportable commodity’ tag.
It doesn’t really matter your stance on the ‘greatest Ghanaian footballer of all time’ debate — had my bias towards the just-as-legendary Baba Yara not been so strong, in fact, Laryea’s compelling arguments might have swayed me — this book makes quite a case for Polo.
And it does make quite a case, too, for a return to the good old days when Ghanaian players — like Polo — were content with letting the ball do the talking (and pretty much anything else they willed it to), echoed by writing as remarkable as the lines from the past Laryea sprinkles to make this a must-read.
*Visit booknook.store for a copy of POLO THE MAGNIFICENT: THE STORY OF THE DRIBBLING MAGICIAN