Former Hearts of Oak skipper, Mahatma Otoo, left an indelible mark on the local league as the second-highest scorer after Ishmael Addo.
Since scoring 20 goals in the 2013 league season, no other player has been able to reach that mark.
In the following interview with Graphic Sports’ Peter Sarbah, the 25-year-old talks about what he did differently to achieve that feat, why strikers in the league are unable to break his record, his experience in the Turkish league, where he would be playing next season and what he would be doing after his football career?
You just completed half a season loan spell in the Turkish league, can you tell us your experience as far as the Turkish league is concerned?
Well, you cannot tell the difference between the Turkish second tier league and the top flight league because they are almost the same. They have a lot of quality players in their league and the involvement of the supporters in the league is extraordinary.
Turkey is a football-loving nation and they did well at the international level when they used to play in the World Cup and I must say the level of football in that country is very high. That is why the league is now attracting some quality players in the likes of Quaresma, Pepe and other big stars who have played in the mainstream European league so I will say it’s a mature league.
How would you rate the Turkish league against the Norwegian league?
The Norwegian league is more of physique and they normally use players who are very fast and physically strong, unlike Turkey where they blend the young ones with the experience ones. Turkey has experienced players coming in every year and that’s the difference between the two leagues.
Why did you play just half a season in Turkey despite your love for their league?
I went to a club that was struggling in the league and wanted to avoid relegation. Unfortunately, my contract had ended in Norway and I needed much playing time. My move to Turkey was an opportunity to gain more playing time. It was only half a season contract and they would have extended it after the season so I thought it was a good idea to go and get some playing time as well as to get myself ready for a new season.
Why was your contract not extended?
The coach in my club is a very good coach and so he was poached by another club and the one who replaced him also came with his own ideas and game plan. Although the previous coach wanted to sign me in his new club because he liked me, they had exceeded the foreign player quota so it was impossible for me to join him. But this thing is normal, it happens in even the bigger clubs so I wasn’t worried when it happened that way.
You made a huge impact in Norway, do you miss their league?
Well, I played almost three and a half seasons in Norway so I think the Norwegian league gave me the kind of exposure and made me who I am today. I spent most of my time in Norway and it helped me a lot as a player because I am the type who always wants to be the best in life so I often try to push myself to achieve that. The Norwegian league gave me that platform to do that because everybody was ready to learn and all the coaches were always at your disposal. It was a learning process in Norway where everybody is ready to teach you something so I think I missed it a lot.
Given the opportunity would you like to play in the Norwegian league again?
As I said, if you play in the Norway league you must be very fit and ready to give your 100 percent effort every time. I enjoyed playing in Norway so if I get a chance to play in Norway again, why not? It would broaden my mindset about the game and keep me fit for anything that comes.
No player has been able to score 20 goals in the local league since you last did in 2013, what did you do differently and what do you think is the problem now?
As a player I always like to push myself and to do more so I did a lot of personal training when I was playing for Hearts of Oak. And of course, as a Christian I knew that if I worked hard as if everything depended on me and prayed hard as if everything depended on God, when the right time comes my hard work would pay off.
I was consistent each year so I think the players coming up now must adopt the fact that hard work is the key although there are challenges in football. You work hard and just have patience because if you work hard you are confident that whatever your colleagues are doing you can do better.
So I think they just have to work hard and wait for their time. I remember Thomas Abbey was my friend and THEroommate who knew what I was doing and now he has adopted it and he is working hard. Today I can confidently say he is one of the best players in the league.
Talking regimen about training how was the training like when you were with Hearts of Oak?
When I got home after training with the team I also had my personal trainer who helped me train in the evening. I concentrated on the fitness a lot because I believe that when you are fit you are always looking for where the ball is. Even when your colleagues are tired you are the one who is supposed to carry them on. Remember I was the captain at that time so I needed to do extra to carry the team on during difficult times.
What do you say to people who argue that defenders at your time were not as good as the current ones that was why you were able to score 20 goals in a season?
I don’t think so. It sums up to hard work. I tripled my training sessions. I was much fit and conditioned and as a Christian when I am fit and well-conditioned I just have to pray for favour and that was why I was doing well.
I did my personal training so whenever I am on the pitch I know what to do in every situation. I didn’t have one style of play where I could be marked out, because if you try to mark me out I will try to play like a midfielder by coming out of the striking role to handle the ball more and move more in the 18-yard so it was a little difficult to mark me out.
Talking about defenders we had good defenders such as Rashid Sumaila, Awal Mohammed and Baba Rahman at that time and these are defenders who made their mark in the league. So I wouldn’t say the defenders were not good but it was my time to score goals.
You haven’t been part of the Black Stars for a while now even though you are doing so well outside, do you get worried about that?
As a human sometimes you are hit by the fact that you are doing well yet you don’t get the chance to play in the national team. But for me I don’t let things bring me down. I rather allow things that I have not been able to achieve motivate me more.
Therefore, my focus now is how to get back to the national team and that is through hard work. So that is what I have been doing in the past few years and even while on holidays now. I have not been resting because I want to score more goals next season and any club that I go to I have to bang in the goals.
The current coach, Kwasi Appiah, is giving every player the opportunity to play so once I start scoring more goals I will get the chance to play for the Black Stars again.
What do you think about Hearts now?
I think they are doing very well now. They have signed some quality players who are helping them and individual players are showing what they can do. I think what they need now is to work more as a team and if they are able to do that they can achieve greatness.
Football is not about individuals but teamwork. I must say I am very happy for Thomas Abbey now because he is doing well and I hope he can do more than I did for Hearts of Oak.
Where would Mahatma be playing next season, in the local league or Europe?
Currently, I don’t have any idea of playing in Ghana but I want to assure my fans that I am working on a few things to go back and sign for a club in Europe. When I play for some time and I feel I have paid my dues in Europe I will come back and help the local league.
Which team would you like to play in the local league?
Once a Phobia, always a Phobia so I will definitely come back to Hearts of Oak because I know Hearts of Oak will always be there for me but for now I would like to play more in Europe.
Finally, what are your expectations for the future?
I have not decided on what I want to do after my football career but for now, I want to work hard and give the fans what they want and to make them happy.