RR: Hi Asamoah! Firstly, thanks very much for sitting down with Roker Report to discuss your time at Sunderland. We’ll start with a nice easy one. What are your memories of the day you joined the club? You came as our record signing - were there any other clubs interested in signing you?
AG: There were many clubs that had offers on the table - but Sunderland were the one with the most concrete offer. I remember everyone recieved me with a good heart - the reception was great.
Being the record signing for Sunderland made me feel special. It made me feel like I was going to be a special player for the team.
RR: What is it that Steve Bruce & Niall Quinn said to convince you that Sunderland was the right move for you after that heroic World Cup you had for Ghana?
AG: Niall Quinn is a great man - very, very kind and he knows how to manage a player.
Steve Bruce also spoke to me eye to eye. He told me that when he watched Ghana in the World Cup against Uruguay; when I missed the penalty in the last minute then stepped up to take our first penalty in the shoot out, he said he decided to sign me when he saw that because of my mental toughness; he said it wasn’t easy to find a player with that mentality. He liked my style of play too, but he liked that side of me most.
RR: You started your career here well. You got a goal on your debut, a double vs Stoke etc, but the real pinnacle of your time here was the 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge. What are your memories of that game?
AG: I remember when first I moved to England, I had a friend who was a Chelsea fan and I told him I was going to score against Chelsea every time. I said to him on that morning I was going to score - unfortunately for him, I did!
We went there to perform. We had quality players at that time, players that we’re also competitive and fought for the team. We had confidence in ourselves, and whilst we didn’t expect it to be 3-0, we had lots of quality in that team.
I was just looking up at the fans when I scored; you can see when you watched back that I’m just looking at the fans and celebrating!
RR: We all remember your famous asonto dancing celebration with Bolo Zenden...
AG: He told me before the game! He said “this time when you score, I’m going to dance too!”. I didn’t even know Bolo had danced because I was celebrating with the fans. The following morning everyone was making comments and I just asked him “did you really dance?”.
I have seen some funny videos of YouTube afterwards of him dancing with me! It is a great memory.
For me, that was a perfect year. Everything just went so well, including my music. The song I wrote was a big hit in my country and if we won, the stadium used to play the song. That’s why I felt so special. Sunderland is a good place, people may think it’s not the biggest club in England but the atmosphere of the place, those fans - it’s great to play for them because they do so much to make you feel at home.
I felt no pressure at Sunderland, I was playing without fear, I just played my football and enjoying it. I was so, so happy there.
RR: The season you joined, we seemed unstoppable up until around January time. We had yourself, Darren Bent and a young Danny Welbeck to choose from up front, then Darren Bent left out of the blue and we struggled. How did you feel when Darren Bent left the club?
AG: We were doing so well. Everything was working good for us and all of a sudden Darren left. It was a bit difficult because things had to be started all over again; the manager was building the team around Darren Bent, he was building it around me also. Everything was working - people were scared of facing Sunderland then.
I don’t know what happened, but Darren has his reasons for leaving the club. When he left I asked myself a lot of questions but all I could do is wish him well because life goes on.
RR: What are your memories of scoring in the derby? It was literally the last kick of the game and the celebrations felt like relief and ectasy all in one!
AG: It is a day I’ll never forget. When I arrived at Sunderland it’s the game people tell you about anytime. When I first came, a supporter came to me and told me that no matter what happens, I need to score against Newcastle! It was really evident how big that game was. I told my family about the game and what it meant to the supporters.
I know the fans wanted that game bad, and because of all of this I always had the game in my mind, I knew we had to be ready for it. We lost the first one 5-1 and I came on as a substitute when we were three goals down, but I got confidence from the next game against Stoke City by scoring two goals.
The goal against Newcastle - you can see in the celebration I did - Phil Bardsley hit the shot and it came out and it just hit me, I felt like it wasn’t my goal (laughs). It was one of those days I’ll never forget, because of the atmosphere of the entire day. To score in a derby game, it is an amazing feeling. Do you remember Steve Bruce running 50 metres on the field? (laughs)
RR: It was such a shame that you left the club as early as you did. That whole summer, it just felt like you were linked to a new club every day. Did you want to leave or did you feel pushed out?
AG: I felt like the club wanted to do business at that time rather than have the player. There was some interest in me the January beforehand; Liverpool, Tottenham and even talk of Real Madrid, but I was playing well and when you play well naturally clubs are interested in you - but I didn’t expect the club to let me go the way they did.
When Al Ain made the offer, Sunderland came to me and told me it was a loan deal for one season and I think the fee they were offering blew their minds considering it was only a loan deal. They were looking at the figures.
At that time I was the lead man at the club, and they were letting me go on loan? I didn’t understand it. I was the lead striker and they were just letting me go on loan. I was just thinking it should be a permanent deal, or nothing else.
They said “go on loan and return in a year” and it really hurt me. I felt special at Sunderland and now I was just being allowed to leave on a loan. I was thinking “what are the fans going to think about this deal?”.
These people weren’t thinking about the player, or what the fans would think, just the figures.
If I was a priority, they shouldn’t be looking at letting me leave on loan. I loved the fans and I was thinking they might see it that I was a traitor - but it wasn’t my fault. Till now most of my interviews I always mention the fans of Sunderland, because they were so graceful to me, but that was the situation. I understand the fans feeling how they did.
I didn’t want to talk about it for a long time, but now I want the fans to know and hear what really went on. I was the player working and the club got a big offer and asked me to go on loan, and that hurt me, so I went to Al Ain.
I rang my family and they said not to worry. The deal financially was very good for me, but I wasn’t thinking about that. It seemed like the club really wanted this loan deal, so I thought I should go but in my mind, I always wanted to come back.
RR: Do you regret not going to another club in Europe during your peak?
AG: Sometimes I think I should have stayed longer. The regret is me not playing so much in the best league in the world. When people ask me “how long did you play for Sunderland?” I feel so bad I can only say one year. I feel like I could have achieved things in other top leagues too.
Sunderland fans are fantastic. It isn’t huge city but the stadium was always packed and they backed us with their heart - it was only a year but I really enjoyed it.
Though I am very proud of what I did in the UAE for Al Ain, because I created a new legacy for me. I created something for myself, I was the top scorer of all time in that league, the top foreign player of all time. I know it isn’t the Premier League, but I felt like I helped raise the standard there and others joined afterwards.
I went to Al Ain and I fell in love with the place, created a new legacy and they paid me good money and if we are honest with ourselves that is a big reason why we work. Sometimes I do regret it, but it goes both ways. I regret not playing longer in the biggest league in the world, but then sometimes I don’t regret because I have to do what I have to do.
RR: There was a rumour you almost came back to the club last summer. Was there any truth in that? Would you have liked to have returned?
AG: I would have loved to have come back!
When I left China, I had a loan option and I was linked with Reading. There were options but I was pushing my agent to contact Sunderland because I wanted to come back. I didn’t feel like I left in a good way and I wanted to come back and continue what I left.
I still feel I want to come back and prove myself, but sometimes I think it’s too late but you never know what’s going to happen. I’m 32 on the 22nd November, so I’m still young and I am always available for Sunderland, because they are a club in my heart. You never know.