Alphonse Tchami, Cameroonian footballer, remembers that “Diego” called him “El Negro”

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Diego Maradona in November 2008.

Alphonse Tchami (49) was made to travel the world. After his professional debut at Unisport Bafang, the international striker (57 caps, 21 goals) was the first African player to cross the Atlantic to participate in the Argentine championship.

For two years, from 1995 to 1997, he had Diego Maradona as a teammate, at Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in the world, located in Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina is also the city that saw the birth of the “Pibe de Oro” (“Golden kid”), died on November 25 at the age of 60.

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Alphonse Tchami, who participated in two World Cups with the Indomitable Lions in 1994 and 1998, then satisfied his thirst for discoveries by playing in seven other countries until his retirement in 2005 (Germany, United Arab Emirates, Scotland, France, Russia, China and Lebanon). For The World Africa, he remembers his extraordinary teammate.

You played for almost two years with Diego Maradona. What memories do you have of the player and the man?

When I was in Africa, I already adored it. He was my idol and I never thought I’d play alongside him one day. In 1991, I was still in my country, at Unisport Bafang, in 1992 in Europe, and three years later, I was in his team!

This player was a genius, an artist. He was 35 when he signed for Boca Juniors, a club where he had already played (1980-1982) and where he had left his mark. He always had this extraordinary technique that we know him, did not put himself forward, because he cultivated a very collective spirit. Diego also called me “El Negro”. We got along well and he often invited me to his parties, with the other players on the team. He never took drugs in front of us.

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Everyone knew he was bingeing. Because Diego loved to party. He was burning life at both ends. But he was excessive, endearing. And we don’t have the right to judge him. Let’s keep this image of him as a brilliant player, one of the best in football history. His disappearance hurts me a lot.

How do you, the Cameroonian player, who arrived in Europe in 1992, go from Denmark to Boca Juniors, one of the best teams in South America?

I was having a good season and we eliminated Real Madrid in the round of 16 of the UEFA Cup (2-3, 2-0), winning the second leg in Spain. The match had been broadcast in Argentina and Boca Juniors wanted a replacement for Gabriel Batistuta, who transferred to Fiorentina. I’ve been contacted. I was introduced to the club, with some of the hottest supporters in the world, the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was offered a salary, including bonuses, five to six times that I was receiving in Denmark. I went from 3,000 to 15,000 euros minimum per month.

I obviously hesitated, because Argentina, for a Sub-Saharan, is a plunge into the unknown. Everything was about to change. With Odense at the start of 1995, we were doing an internship in Rio de Janeiro. There, the Argentine leaders came and they convinced me. And at Buenos Aires airport, there were already thousands of supporters. I immediately liked the crazy excitement around this club.


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