David Accam has become the first African man to join Common Goal and now wants to find the next George Weah or Kofi Annan. Adam Bate caught up with him to hear about his unique journey to MLS via non-league football in England and the Swedish third tier.
David Accam is speaking in Florida where his new team Philadelphia Union are preparing for the forthcoming MLS season. His heart, though, as ever, is in Ghana. The conversation soon turns to the gravel pitches he enjoying playing on with friends as a child. That was where the dream began. But Accam is acutely aware he was also reliant on fortune to make it a reality.
It was the intervention of the Right to Dream academy that set him on this path. For almost 20 years, the Accra-based initiative has provided opportunities for young Africans with a focus on football and education. “It was huge for me,” Accam tells Sky Sports. “When I was growing up, most people perceived footballers to be illiterate, especially in Ghana.
“That was the perception that my parents had so they didn’t want me to play. I had to convince them that I could do both – I could play football and get an education. The good thing is that it has all changed now back home. It is not just soccer, soccer, soccer like it was before. The Right to Dream academy in Ghana focuses on education as well as soccer.
“When you do both, you develop your character not just your soccer playing ability. You mingle with people from all walks of life and you learn so much. It made me a better person as well as a better footballer. I knew that getting the chance to go there was a privilege and that there were lots of other kids like me not getting that opportunity.”
Accam wants to ensure that others now get their chance too. That is why he has funded the construction of the David Accam Community Pitch back in Ghana. “I went to Kumasi and we built the pitch,” he says. “We also gave scholarships to some of the kids too. For me, it is something I am really proud of. I want to use my position to help underprivileged kids.”
This is why, when Juan Mata launched Common Goal in August, Accam did not wait long to get in touch. “I am in a good position and doing well for myself now,” he explains. “I have enough money to feed my family. But I will never be someone who forgets what it was like. This is my chance to help others fulfil their goals too.
“I know some players have their foundations and are doing their own thing in Africa. But I think it is important to be part of something bigger. As footballers we can do something big if we all come together. So when I saw what Juan Mata had started, I knew that this is what I had always wanted to be a part of. It is about football coming together.”
It is perhaps no surprise that the global aspect of the project is part of the appeal for Accam. A son of Africa who now has his green card in the United States after spending three seasons with Chicago Fire, it was in a third continent – Europe – that he made his first forays into the professional game. It began in English football’s non-league with Ledbury Town.
Accam laughs at the memory of “wet Wednesdays in Ledbury” and insists his adventures in English football’s tenth tier were enjoyable. There was a spell at Evesham United too with Accam unable to play at a higher level because he was in the country on a student visa. It was in Sweden with Graham Potter’s Ostersunds FK that his professional career began.
The tiny Swedish club have since become one of the success stories of the decade, rising from obscurity to compete in Europe under their British coach thanks to the vision of chairman Daniel Kindberg. From humble beginnings in front of crowds of a few hundred people, Ostersunds FK are now preparing to face Arsenal in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
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“It is amazing,” says Accam. “When I arrived there, Daniel, the owner, said to me: ‘David, I have ambitions. I want to be playing in Europe in the next three years.’ In my mind, I was thinking he was crazy. We were still in the third division! You should be thinking about promotion not Europe! But he had the plan and it has worked perfectly for them.
“Graham Potter has done such a good job. Nobody ever wanted to go there because it is so isolated. It is in the middle of nowhere and it is really cold. Honestly, it is so cold. But now people want to go because they can see what is happening there. There are visitors going there too. It has been amazing for the city of Ostersund.
“The coach deserves so much credit. He is one of the best that I have ever worked with. He just encourages the players to express themselves and it brings the best out in people because they are so comfortable. He brings in people from different cultures and they just come together to make something special. Everyone gels. They are all united.”
This desire for unity is a recurring theme for Accam, now made explicit by his decision to sign for Philadelphia Union in the city of brotherly love. He is settled in the United States and acknowledges that this “is going to be a huge year” for him in his career. But he expects his commitment to the Common Goal project to last rather longer than that.
“My intention now is to be involved in it for life,” says Accam. “It has always been my dream to help people and, with Common Goal, I think we have the same dream. You can choose where your money is invested and for me that means helping underprivileged kids in Africa. They are helping me to have the chance to do that so I am really happy.
“It is just about helping the kids to become whatever they want to be in the future. If that’s the next David Accam then that’s perfect. But if it is the next George Weah and we can help a kid who wants to become president then even better. Maybe we can help the next Kofi Annan too. It is about giving young people that opportunity.”