Samuel Inkoom fled home as a teenager, helped Ghana beat Brazil in the final of the Under 20 World Cup and had to run the gauntlet of angry fans in his country. Nothing worries him - apart from Swiss traffic laws. Inkoom, an outgoing, confident 20-year-old, joined FC Basel at the start of the season and his only real difficulties thus far have been with the highway code.
"The driving here is more difficult, there are a lot of rules," he said after a five-minute trip in a shining Volkswagen Scirocco from Basel's St Jakob Park stadium to his comfortable but unassuming apartment. "They have a limit which you are supposed to go at, if you go faster than that, they will flash you, they fine you and you have to pay." "In Ghana, you're free," added Inkoom, who had to restrain himself from pulling across two lanes of oncoming traffic - a normal manoeuvre back home - as he left the stadium car park.
Inkoom, a full-back, broke into the Ghana team last year when he played in the final match of the World Cup qualifying campaign against Mali and was an ever-present in the team which finished runners-up to Egypt at the African Cup of Nations in Angola in January. He played in the team which won the U20 World Cup in Egypt last year, beating Brazil on penalties in the final, and believes that victory could inspire the senior side to win the tournament in South Africa - something no African team has done.
"I believe that we are going to live the ultimate," he said, bristling with confidence. "If you are determined and focused in football, I believe you can achieve what you want. We are united and we have the quality. "If you see the senior and junior players, it's amazing. Michael Essien [the Chelsea midfielder] is great, you can ask him anything you want, anytime. Stephen Appiah [the Bologna midfielder] is the same, he is a good captain, he encourages players.
"Milovan Rajevac is a very good coach, he comes to you and shows you the plan, he goes through it with you one to one, he shows you what to do, he makes us understand football." Inkoom's new home, in a quiet Basel suburb, is a world away from the teeming streets of the steamy port of Sekondi where he grew up. Like thousands of children across Africa, Inkoom learned his football on the streets. His life changed when, as a teenager, he was spotted by a scout from a football academy in the centre of the country.
"My father was a teacher and he told me I couldn't go, he wanted me to go to school," said Inkoom. "So I ran away from home. One day, I just took some things and left. "Then, my father would come and watch me play and he would argue with my coach telling me he wanted me to come home." Inkoom, who says his parents are now among his biggest fans, ended up being signed by Ashante Kotoko, Ghana's most popular club, where he quickly established himself in the team.
He was spotted by Basel, joining the Swiss club at the start of the season. He does not intend to let the opportunity slip and has shunned the lifestyle which has sent so many players down the wrong path. "I prefer gaining a lot of energy for my work," said Inkoom, who spent the interview with one eye on his performance in a recent match against FC Luzern. "Instead of going to a nightclub, I prefer to sleep and watch my matches and the mistakes I made, to learn from them."
No African team has ever reached even the semi-finals of the World Cup, but Inkoom said that expectations in the West African country - who reached the second round on their first finals appearance four years ago in Germany - are high, possibly too high. "There is a lot of pressure on the national team, everybody wants you to do something for the country," said Inkoom, who felt the fans' wrath after a 2-2 draw with Mali. "But you will not find it easy, they will assault you, they will go to your family ... everybody knows where you live and they will go straight to your house.
"They follow the team with their hearts, sometimes they don't have money and fight to get money to buy tickets to come to watch you ... so they get angry if you lose. "I believe it's part of football. If they insult me, it doesn't bother me." * Reuters