Sulley predicting big things for Ghana
Since his arrival at Portsmouth from Italian Serie A side Udinese, Sulley Muntari has established himself as one of the best central midfielders in the Premier League with his range of passing and uncompromising style.
The Ghanaian first caught Harry Redknapp's eye with some outstanding performances at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and has continued to impress in Portsmouth's ascent up the Premier League table this season.
Before he headed off to join up with his country for the forthcoming African Nations Cup in his native Ghana, ESPNsoccernet Press Pass caught up with him.
Q. Hi Sulley, it's been your first season in the Premier League, how are you settling in so far?
A. So far, so good. Everything is going well, we're winning games and we're playing well so I'm very pleased with it. It's not easy, playing in the Premier League - it's very difficult to settle in as I did. I'm very happy, and also very happy with my colleagues, playing very good football, that's why we're getting good results.
Q. Are you happy with the way you've adapted with the English style of play?
A. Yeah, at first when I came here it was pacey - I couldn't even breathe on the ball. Because when you turn around, there are two or three players around you trying to take the ball from you. But now, I'm ok. I've settled into it and it's great playing in the Premier League.
Q. How does it compare to Serie A?
A. It's totally different. Serie A is more tactical, while the Premier League is more pace.
Q. Portsmouth have had a fantastic start to the season. Are you surprised with the way the team has gelled together so quickly?
A. No, I'm not surprised because we have a good manager, good players and everyone is good here. The guys are great so that's why we get good results, because we are together, we are one as a team and no one can come between us.
Q. Is the target then to get maximum points before you have to leave for the African Nations Cup?
A. Sure, because this year we're aiming to play in Europe and we have the capability to do so, so we are trying as much as possible to get a lot of points now so that when some of us go to African Cup, we don't have a lot of problems.
Q. Do you think then that Portsmouth will be able to cope with losing some key players to the squad?
A. Sure, I believe that because there are a lot of guys around that can play. They are more who are willing to play, willing to save the team, so we won't have any problem.
Q. Looking forward to the African Cup of Nations, are you pleased to be playing in your home country of Ghana?
A. Sure, yeah. Home is home, and I can't wait to play, to step on the field and represent my country because it's everything to me. They showed me a way out, so I'm paying them back with all I have and hope to play well for them.
Q. To be playing in your home country, do you feel any added pressure to do well?
A. Sure, we have a lot of pressure because everyone wants us to do well. We did very well in the last World Cup, so they're not expecting anything but us to play well. They'll expect us to gain points and victories and to be able to win the Cup if we can, and that's what we are aiming at. I think we can do it.
Q. What do you think of the group you've been drawn in in this tournament?
A. Well, every group is difficult, because if they weren't good, they wouldn't be able to qualify for the Nations Cup. It's a tough group for us, and we'll try our best to go to the next stage. If we get through we're going to meet either Mali or Nigeria so it's tough, it's not easy.
Q. On paper, your group has been described as 'easy'. Would you disagree with that then?
A. Yeah I disagree with that because it's not easy, modern football is not easy. Everyone knows how to play. Namibia, Morocco - Morocco has a very good side. I think in the last two months they drew with France and they are not easy side to play so it's going to be difficult.
Q. So which team do you tip as favourites in the tournament?
A. Well, I would tip Ghana. We have a good side and have young players that are willing to play well for the country; but there's also Nigeria and Ivory Coast. There's going to be surprises because there are a lot of teams we don't know a lot about.
Q. So for readers who might not know about the Africa Cup of Nations, which players should we be looking out for?
A. Well, we have a lot of stars, for instance in Ghana we have the former captain of Ghana, Didier Ayew, that's his son, he's very good and playing for Marseille now. Then we have a couple of players that play for the national U-17 team, there's one player called Donello Parry, he's very good. Those boys are going to perform well in the Nations Cup if they get the chance.
Q. Ghana showed during the World Cup that they are a team to be reckoned with. Have they improved since then and how much?
A. Sure, we have improved a lot because we managed to show that we are very good side. If someone comes in, he adapts to how we play and we are together as a family. We are one, that's important so that no one can come between us.
Q. With the national team, along with Michael Essien and Stephen Appiah, you've got one of the best midfields in the world. Would you agree with that? How would you rate your midfield?
A. Yeah, well we are great players. Stephen, Mike and there is one too who is called Laryea (Kingston) who is playing for Hearts in Scotland. We are very good side and the most important thing that is we are together as a team. We don't have one star player and we play as a team, no one shows that he is on top. That's important for us.
Q. Michael Essien has shown he's quality at Chelsea. Do you think he's up there with the best midfielders in the world?
A. He's strong, he's fast and he can change the game at any time - he's a very good player, outside and on the field too. I stay with him in a room, and he's funny, he's a good guy and I think he's one of the best midfielders in the world right now. Everyone's seeing how he's playing so there's no doubt about it.
Q. Is a small part of you disappointed to leaving the Premier League at a time when Portsmouth are doing so well?
A. Yeah it's definitely difficult when you are in a club that is doing well and is playing well without any problems, you feel like staying and playing for them. But you have your national team calling you and you can never say no to your national team and that's what is happening now. I can't do anything about it, I have to leave and go and play for my national team and that's it.
Q. Do you think the dates of the African Nations Cup should be reviewed and maybe changed now that there are so many African players playing in Europe?
A. If it is going to be possible and if CAF will change it, they will. But if they don't, we can never do anything about it. We can't force them to change because they make the rules.
Q. With so many African players playing at the highest level in Europe, what are the chances of, in South Africa 2010, an African nation going all the way and maybe winning the World Cup?
A. Sure, definitely one day, an African team is going to lift the World Cup. If it doesn't come in 2010, then definitely it is going to come in 2014. An African team is going to lift the cup because now everyone is playing well and there is a lot of talent coming through for the future.