Abedi Ayew Pelé, a Ghanaian footballer born into a family in the town of Kibi on Nov. 5, 1964, is the only man to have won the African Player of the Year award three consecutive times (1991–93).
He grew up in the town of Dome, on the northern outskirts of the city of Accra, with his family, where he attended and played football for the Dome Anglican Primary School.
As a young boy, Abedi entertained the people of Oko and Dome by playing football. Many children his age and even older had a tough time playing against Abedi Ayew because of his superb football skills.
It did not take long for a local club known as the Great Falcons to sign him in the late seventies. As a teenager, Abedi Ayew represented Ghana at the international level by playing for Ghana in the 1982 African Cup of Nations.
Abedi left Ghana after the 1982 African Cup of Nations to join Al Sadd in Qatar for a $1,000 transfer fee. After a short stint at FC Zürich, he returned to Ghana and joined AS Dragons FC de l’Ouémé in Benin.
He began his European career with Chamois Niort before moving on to Montpellier and Lille before transferring to Marseille and then Lyon. He also played for Torino in Italy before finishing his European career with 1860 Munich.
Abedi went on to sign a two-year contract with Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates and was nominated as one of the best foreign players to play in the UAE league. He was the captain of the Ghana National Football Team (the Black Stars) from 1992 to 1998 and was one of the first African football players to earn a top place in the FIFA World Player of the Year voting in 1991 and 1992.
He is arguably Africa’s most decorated and honored football player ever, having won the France Football African Player of the Year Award three times, the BBC African Sports Star of the Year in 1992, and the corresponding Confederation of African Football award twice.
He was also awarded the Golden Ball Award for being the best player at the 1992 African Cup of Nations and was the “man of the match” in Marseille’s historic UEFA Champions League final win over Milan in 1993.
As an attacking midfielder with Olympique de Marseille in France, Abedi Pelé was one of the pioneers of African football in Europe and hence one of the first African players to have an impact on European club football. He played for teams in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and most famously France, where he was instrumental in Marseille’s prominence in the UEFA Champions League in the early 1990s.
Amidst his international accolades, he was often included in FIFA “All-Star” selections and captained the African All-Stars in their victory over their European counterparts in the 1997 Meridian Cup.
Abedi Pélé played for Ghana 73 times and is considered the greatest footballer in his country’s history and among the best in Africa until June 7, 2013, when he was surpassed by Asamoah Gyan.
He was a fixture in the African Championships of the 1980s and 1990s with his national team and a member of Ghana’s victorious team in the 1982 African Cup of Nations, but never had an opportunity to play in the FIFA World Cup since the Black Stars did not qualify for the competition during his career.
However, he was arguably the most dominant figure on the African football scene for about a decade. His performance in the 1992 African Cup of Nations is often cited as one of the most outstanding football displays by any player in a single tournament. His native Ghana reached the finals of the Cup that year, only to lose on penalties in the final to the Ivory Coast after Abedi was suspended because of a yellow card he received in the semi-final against Nigeria.
Prior to that, his three spectacular goals against Zambia, Congo, and Nigeria proved crucial in putting Ghana through to their seventh appearance in an African Nations Cup final, their first final in ten years.
The performance earned him the nickname “The African Maradona.” His solo run goal against Congo in the quarterfinals is often compared to Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. His back header goal against Nigeria from the edge of the opponent’s penalty box also heralded international acclaim.
Also, Abedi holds the record for most appearances at the Nations Cup Finals, with his record even surpassing that of the legendary Roger Milla of Cameroon. He made his first appearance at the thirteenth Nations Cup Finals in Libya in 1982 and, for the next 16 years, continued to grace the most prestigious football tournament on the continent.
Aside from his acclaimed exploits at the 1992 competition, Abedi also earned much acclaim for his three goals at the 1996 competition, where he led Ghana to the semi-finals of the competition despite critics expecting him to be in the twilight of his career.
At the club level, he was a key figure in Marseille’s dominance of the French league, resulting in four league championships and two appearances in the European Cup finals. An attacking midfielder, Abedi became famous for his sublime dribbling skills and for scoring spectacular and often very important goals.
Many such goals became regular “Goals of the Week” on Independent Television News’ weekly “European Football” program. At Marseille, he was a member of the team’s “Magical Trio,” along with Jean-Pierre Papin and Chris Waddle, spearheading perhaps Europe’s strongest league side of the early 1990s, including a European Cup final defeat in 1991.
Abedi was the only remaining member of the trio still with the side when Marseille defeated Milan in the 1993 Champions League final in Munich.
In June 2001, he was nominated by the present government of Ghana to serve as the next Chairman of the FA, an opportunity he later gave up for a more experienced former coach of Ghana, saying in his own words that this was an opportunity to learn from his superiors.
Some of his honors and awards at the international level include an African Cup of Nations finalist medal in 1992, an African Cup of Nations winner in 1982, and African Footballer of the Year awards in 1991, 1992, and 1993. Abedi Pélé is also one of the great footballers who did not play for his nation at the World Cup.
Notwithstanding the fact that he has never played at the World Cup, he was among the FIFA 100 greatest living footballers list released during the 100th anniversary of FIFA at a gala ceremony in London on March 4, 2004.
He is rated among the top footballers around the world. Some of which include Gabriel Batistuta of Argentina, Zico of Brazil, Roger Milla of Cameroon, Bobby Charlton of England, Roberto Baggio of Italy, Marco van Basten of Holland, Eric Cantona of France, and many more.
In appreciation of Abedi’s devout services to the country, the Ghanaian government awarded him the country’s highest honor, the Order of the Volta (civil division). He was later nominated by the president to become the next Chairman of the FA, but he turned it down and handed it to someone he felt was more experienced.
Thus, he became the first Ghanaian sportsman to be highly honored.
He was embroiled in a serious alleged second-division promotion play-off bribery scandal, for which the Football Association found him and others guilty. The guilty verdict attracted fines and suspensions for Abedi and others, but these were quashed by the Appeals Committee of the Football Association after determining that there were irregularities in the initial judgment of the Ghana Football Association.
The allegations stem from an astonishing 31–0 victory recorded by his club, Nania FC, over a much-respected Okwawu United side. A similarly farcical 28–0 result was recorded in another second-division match played between the Great Mariners and Tudu Mighty Jets on the same weekend. The clubs involved in that Second Division Promotion Play-off Zone III match were also investigated and subject to the prospect of stiff penalties and demotions.
Despite his vehement denials, Abedi had been chastised by some members of the Ghanaian media, who were demanding that strong punitive actions be taken against him by Ghana’s football governing body as well as the legal system. His wife, Maha Ayew, was banned from football on Nov. 3, 2008, due to this manipulation scandal.
Despite the indignity, the success story of Abedi Ayew Pelé is not ruined, as he continues to play a vital role in world football. He has participated in many FIFA-organized charity games around the world. He played a vital role in South Africa’s bid to host the World Cup on African soil for the first time in the history of world football.
Abedi Pelé is a very kind-hearted footballer and has given back to many young, talented footballers in Ghana. He has given many Ghanaian footballers the opportunity to play professional football in Europe by arranging trials with European clubs and has succeeded in getting most of them contracts to play overseas.
Since his retirement from active football in February 1998, Abedi Pele has remained a useful figure in Ghanaian football. Not surprisingly, Abedi Pelé also owns a Division One League club known as Nania F.C. in Ghana, where he is both head coach and president.
It is believed by many that he named his Division I club after his village in the northern part of Ghana. He is married to Maha, with whom he has children, several of whom are themselves, professional international players.
His two sons, Rahim and Dede Ayew were part of the Ghanaian team that lost to Egypt at the recent African Cup of Nations final in Angola in 2010. His son, Dede Ayew, a professional footballer in France, led the Ghanaian under-20 team to World Cup victory, which happens to be the first time an African nation has won the World Cup at the under-20 level. His youngest son, Jordan, is also a professional footballer, currently playing for a French club.