"I wanted Lampard. It’s not a mystery but i could not be happier with Muntari who has made me absolutely forget about Lampard". Jose Mourinho is known for his outlandish remarks, this certainly isn’t one of them.
This is not the first time Inter new boy Sulley Ali Muntari has been praised by a respected figure in world football, indeed when Muntari made his Serie A debut for Udinese back in November 2002 against mighty Milan, Football Italia magazine was so impressed that they described the youngster as "showing himself to possess the touch of Kaka and the combativeness of Edgar Davids".
Make no mistake, Sulley Ali Muntari, born on the 27th day of August 1984 in Konongo, a mining community in the Ashanti region of his native Ghana, has had more than his fair share of criticism. His rise from the obscurity and poverty of his little town to global fame and the status of national hero is due to the level headedness and insightful decisions he made as a young boy back back in Ghana.
A 14 year-old Muntari was first spotted by scouts of Liberty Professionals FC and Kumasi Asante Kotoko FC whilst representing his secondary school in a national tournament way back in 1998. Young Muntari pitted himself against his own mother when he opted to sign for liberty and not the more glamorous Asante Kotoko. Apparently his mother had received household appliances and unspecified amounts of money from Kotoko officials, but strong headed Sulley refused to be swayed and defied his mum to sign for Liberty. His reason being that players from Kotoko never manage to make it to Europe and the few who do are never heard of again as they slip into obscurity. Liberty Profesionals meanwhile, though relative newcomers on the Ghanaian football scene, is a well managed club that is famed in Ghana for exporting young talent to good European teams.
Together with close pal and Chelsea midfield dynamo Michael Essien, Muntari enjoyed good times with the Liberty Professionals amateur side, thereby earning a call up to the Ghanaian national youth team at the tender age of 16. Again, together with Essien in midfield, Muntari and Ghana lit up the FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina 2001 where en route to a Runners-up spot, the Young Muntari played an incredible game as Ghana beat a highly fancied Brazil side containing Kaka and current Inter teammate Adriano in a fierce quarter-final battle. Muntari’s exploits in Argentina had drawn the attention of Manchester United who invited him for a trial, He performed decently but wasn’t signed.
Udinese however signed him soon after, so at the young age of 16 Sulley’s European dream was on course and his decision to sign for Liberty Professionals had been vindicated. After a season of cutting his teeth in the Udinese Reserves, the 2002 season proved to be another breakthrough year for the young Ghanaian. Muntari made his long overdue Serie A debut against AC Milan on 6th November 2002 at the San Siro. Although the Bianconeri went down 4-1, Muntari’s reputation went up, he received rave reviews after this game and attention was beginning to be given the fiery midfielder.
Having made his senior national team debut against Slovenia on 17th May 2002, he was now steadily establishing himself as a first choice midfielder for both club and country. After earning himself a regular first team place at the Stadio Friuli, Muntari was once again called to represent his nation at the Athens olympics Games 2004. That wasn’t meant to be however as Ghana’s Olympic coach Mariano Barreto dismissed Muntari from the team for allegedly breaking camp rules and being a negative influence on his fellow teammates at a training camp in Portugal.
The disillusioned 21 year old vowed bitterly never to play for Ghana again after sending a strong worded letter to the Ghanaian FA. His international hiatus lasted for barely a month however as reason prevailed and a remorseful Muntari apologised in writing to his teammates and the Ghanaian FA.
Displaying excellent robust performances for both club and country, Muntari was an integral member of the Ghanaian team that qualified for and sparkled at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, he even managed a crucial goal against the Czech Republic in a decisive group game. By the time Brazil had eliminated Ghana from the tournament the world had taken full notice of Muntari.
After 113 appearances and eight goals for Udinese, Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth signed Muntari on 30th May, 2007 for a reported fee of £7.1M amidst concerns about his discipline. Muntari proved to be an instant hit at Fratton Park, and never looked back after his debut at Derby County on 11th August 2007. Muntari became established as a first team regular with Pompey where he flourished greatly in the company of fellow African stars Kanu and Papa Bouba Dioup.
After a good start to the season with Pompey, Muntari played a starring role in Ghana’s quest to win the 2008 African Nations Cup on home soil. Two screaming goals from the midfield dynamo en route to a third place finish in that tournament firmly established him as one of Africa’s brightest stars. Muntari had now attained global fame and it was just a matter of time before one of the traditional European powerhouses came calling, that club turned out to be none other than Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
Initially Harry Redknapp had expressed his desire to hold on to Muntari, but Inter’s failure to land Frank Lampard from Chelsea meant Redknapp’s desire couldn’t be fulfilled.
After only a year Muntari was back in Serie A, and he was handed the number 20 jersey as he signed for Inter on 28th July 2008 for €16M. A good pre-season performance endured him to Nerazzurri fans and Mourinho. Muntari’s unenviable discplinary record has already reared its head at Inter though and he is currently sitting out a three game suspension for lashing his hands against the face of Catania’s Giacomo Tedesco.
Will Muntari be a success at Inter? Will he finally shed his "indiscipline tag" under Mourinho? Will the rough diamond finally be cut? It remains to be seen, but expect the the boy from Ghana who has braved the odds and grown into a man in Europe to serve up some feisty, passionate performances in Inter’s midfield.