The first time I saw Yussif ‘’Yo-Yo” Ayoma, Liberty were playing RTU in Kumasi. It was an away game for the Dansoman boys, and they were up against a side that had mastered the art of failing. Ayoma was a small figure at right back. I had never seen him play. I remember being in the stands (I was one of about 50 people in the over 40,000 capacity Baba Yara Stadium) and listening to radio just so I could get most of the players names. I didn’t regret being at that game.
I just knew I wanted to know more about him.
I met Ayoma again in Accra weeks later. I was covering their game against Hearts, and he was injured. He happened to be sitting by me. Liberty lost that game three goals to one – and all throughout the match, he run me through his team mates, their weaknesses, strengths, game plan, what he thought, etc. I took his number after the game.
Ayoma has big dreams, like every Ghanaian footballer – except unlike many others, he’s willing to work hard for it. He knows where he comes from, and more importantly, where he wants to go. Born in Tamale to a former footballer, Ayoma’s childhood was normal - middle class normal. “We weren’t that rich, but we were okay,” he says. His father, Michael Ayoma, had been a goal keeper who had played for Real Tamale United, Dawu Youngsters, Accra Great Olympics and teams in Togo and Cameroon. He also represented the Togolese National team. Young Yussif lost his dad when he was in second year in Junior High.
Like his father, Ayoma set his sights on becoming a footballer. He was lucky to have been part of the prestigious Right to Dream Academy aged 14 in 2008 – by the help of a friend he remembers as Amos Acheampong. There, he experienced what he describes as the best moment in his life so far – traveling to the UK in 2009. He had been part of the Academy team that had traveled to the Netherlands for a tournament, after which they qualified for its final in Manchester. Ayoma, being a Man United fan, had the time of his life “I met many Manchester United players. I met [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Rooney, Evra..most of them. I was so happy.”
Life at Right to Dream was good. “Our coach [Gareth Henderby] always told me I’m a hardworking guy and that he liked my simple game and my crosses too.” Yussif was in camp with the likes of Abu Mohammed, Razak Nuhu and Abdul Majeed Waris. “They were all my friends from Tamale. I had a good time.”
He was nurtured under the club’s state of the art facilities, and felt very lucky too. But he had to leave after a year – the club transferred him to Division One club D’International along with some other mates of his. He set his sights on making his way up to the top flight. “It was no easy but because I was always serious and played good football the team manager liked me and was so good to me. He took care of me.”
Ayoma was training in Burma camp with his team, and lived with his friend in the Accra surburb of Nima. He missed his mother and elder sister back in Tamale. But he knew he was out to prove himself. “After a season a D’International, I promised myself not to play in the lower division again. I always dreamed of joining the club I supported (Liberty Professionals) or any other Premier League club because I believed in myself and knew I could play in the top flight.”
One Sunday, he recalls, a friend of the late Liberty Professionals Owner Alhaji Sly Tetteh saw him in action playing ‘Sunday special football’ in Tamale. The man, Ayoma calls coach Alala, was impressed. “After the game, we talked. I later found out he was a friend of my Dad’s. He promised to get me to Liberty,” he says. “He asked if I liked the club and I said yes.” Ayoma says Liberty is the club he’s “always supported.”
Kotoko’s 2011/12 Ghana Premier League winning coach Maxwell Konadu was then the coach of Wa All Stars. He informed the man who had ‘discovered’ Ayoma that his side was coming to Tamale to try out some players. “He was happy because he believed in me and told me not to worry,” Ayoma recalls. “and that by the time I’ll finish the justifier many more teams will come for me.”
What he said turned out to be true. Arguably Northern Ghana’s biggest clubs Wa All Stars and RTU registered an interest, but Alhaji Sly Tetteh himself placed a call to the man. He wanted Ayoma at Liberty.
“During my time in Tamale, I kept on telling my mum that I would never go back to Accra if not to go and play for a premier league club,” Ayoma says, the essence of the promise drawn on his face.
Ayoma signed a three-year deal at Liberty in July 2010. He is now in his third season. After 9 matches in his first season, he played 22 matches in his second, and has notched up 15 appearances this season so far. He scored two goals last season, against Heart of Lions and Bechem United.
19 year old Ayoma is his club’s first choice right back.
“My role model is Dani Alves,” he smiles. “He’s good going forward, and he always gives some good crosses, plus he tackles well too. In fact, everything of his is good!”
Not even unsuccessful trials in France that did not work out in 2011 has dampened his spirit. Ayoma had been given an agent by Sly Tetteh to go for trial at French club Lyon – even though he was 17 at the time. His coach had thought he was too small for the first team, but Sly Tetteh saw a big brain in a young body.
As to why that didn’t work out, he says “For that, I can’t tell. Only my agent and Alhaji can tell.”
Ayoma says he knows one day, he’ll make it, so he’ll be able to fulfill his dream of taking care of his mum and elder sister back in Tamale. “For now, any time I get any money, I try to send them some. I know by all means there’ll reach a time where I’ll take care of them. But for now, they rarely ask for money because they know I don’t have it.”
His first game for his boyhood club came against King Faisal in Kumasi. He describes it as one of his most memorable games. “Coach [J.E] Sarpong was so proud of me after the game, he kept on saying he was happy for me and since that game started calling me his son. He believed in me so much. I’ll never forget the fact that he gave me a chance.”
Godfred Saka was transferred with Ayoma from Right to Dream to D’International. Saka is now the most famous players in the top flight, plying his trade with 2009/10 league champions Aduana Stars. “We’ve not talked on phone for a while but when we do meet, we have a good talk,” Ayoma says.
Saka is now considered the best right back in Ghana. What does Ayoma think about this, considering he’s also a right back? “Hahahaa I can’t tell oo,” he says laughing. “But I do know he’s doing very well.”
Saka is not the only ‘old pals’ of his making it big.
Ayoma knows the levels his colleagues he started playing football on the dusty pitches of Tamale have reached.
Majeed Waris became the first Ghanaian player to top score in a major European league (Sweden) since Tony Yeboah and was named their player of the year;
Mubarak Wakaso now balls in Spain (Espanyol), and is now a main stay in the National team.
“Waris calls me all the time. Wakaso does too. He in particular was older than us but we all lived as brothers back in Tamale when growing up.”
“Even up till today, when we all find ourselves in Tamale, we get together and play.
“They still respect me like how we used to hustle since. They don’t think of themselves as superior, they behave like we’ll all equals,” Ayoma says.
Deep down, Ayoma wants in on that success too. He knows it’s all about time.
This article first appeared on AllSports Ghana.
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