Doha: At 6 feet and 3 inches, Al Markhiya’s Ghanaian striker Kwame Karikari is a towering presence on the field. He has scored only two goals after seven rounds of action in the QNB Stars League, but he is a lot more than the numbers suggest.
Promoted team Al Markhiya started their top-flight campaign with shocking 13-time league champions Al Sadd in their opener. However, their joy was short-lived as the result was overturned and the match was awarded to Al Sadd after it was found that the Oryxes fielded an ineligible player.
They slipped after that to be placed 10th in the standings presently with five points and just one victory.
However, Kwame said Markhiya were not to be taken lightly as they are determined to give it a tough fight, as was seen in their last three matches in the league when they registered one victory (against Al Khor) and two draws (against Al Gharafa and A Kharaitiyat). The 25-year-old striker spoke to QSL Online about the game in Qatar, Markhiya and his ambition, in an exclusive interview.
Could you tell us about your experience so far in Qatar?
It was a totally new experience for me. Rather, a new adventure. It has been some months now, but I’m still getting adjusted to the conditions. A new culture as well. I arrived in Qatar in July and the weather was a big problem for me. I must admit that I took time to adapt, but now I’m settling into my stride.
How was it like playing in a team which just got promoted to the first division?
The team mostly had new players, but the team spirit was very high. Everybody helped each other and was co-operative. We had a very good pre-season camp and training, and the mood was upbeat.
Al Markhiya had defeated formidable Al Sadd in the first match, but their form declined in the following rounds. What was the reason for that?
That we had to forfeit the victory and valuable three points for fielding an ineligible player heavily demoralised the players and we plunged to defeats in successive three matches. The coach was changed and we now have a new team management, which is very supportive, with a new president for the club.
However, I believe we fared pretty well in the last three games, winning one and drawing two. We managed to hold Al Gharafa, who were on a high after drawing with Al Duhail, the only time when the leaders dropped points. Now, coach Youssef Adam is back at the helm and the players are comfortable under him. He’s a great motivator but, at the same time, he doesn’t hesitate to come down hard on our mistakes.
You’ve two tough games, against Al Duhail and Umm Salal, coming up. What are your thoughts?
We can beat any side, as we proved against Al Sadd. Nobody had given us even an outside chance to beat them, but we did it. Likewise, we can earn points against any team. Football is all about hard work and determination on the pitch. While facing strong sides, we must work harder from start to end and be stronger on the pitch.
If we suddenly win two or three games, the picture will change and we’ll in the top half. We could’ve won the two matches that we drew. And in the games which we lost, we didn’t create many opportunities. Football is also about creating chances and utilising them effectively.
What’s your target for yourself and the team this season?
I had said before coming to Qatar that I wanted to score at least 10 goals in my first season here. I’m a striker and I’ve to do my job, i.e. scoring goals, especially for a promoted side with big ambitions. All players, professionals and nationals alike, are working hard. Personally, I’m working on my game every day and look forward to be scoring consistently. Most of the time, I was inside the box.
Sometimes, I wasn’t either moving well without the ball or fellow players failed to spot me correctly. At the beginning, that connection wasn’t there. For example, our playmaker Alain Traore couldn’t read my style of game. But it’s only a matter of time…
Where do you see Al Markhiya at the end of the season?
The season is long and I foresee Al Markhiya stay in the first division. There’re talks that promoted teams rarely stay in top flight and play spoilsport in Qatar. We want to prove that notion wrong. We’ve a good set of players, an understanding coach, qualified technical staff and supportive team management. I don’t see a reason to think otherwise. You can’t build a strong side in one or two weeks, it takes time…
You’ve played for four clubs in Sweden. What’s the main difference you’ve found between the game in that country and Qatar?
Perhaps, the only difference I’ve found is the tempo of the game. It’s too fast in Sweden right from the first whistle till the last, mainly because of the steady weather. However, the quality of the game is more or less the same in both countries.
Al Markhiya have strengthened the side by adding three players recently…
Yes. Defender Bilal Mohammed and midfielder Anas Mubarak, both from Al Gharafa, and forward Abdulqadir Ilyas from Al Duhail are all experienced players and proven performers. They’ll definitely add value to the squad.
Who’s your role model and what was the inspiration for you to take up football?
Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku is my role model. I like his style of play and I believe I’ve invariably the same qualities as a striker. We’ve many similarities. He had a highly-successful stint with his previous club Everton.
My father, who played only small-time football, inspired me to take up the game when I was a kid. After excelling at the high school level, I wanted to become a professional player and chase my dreams as well as realise my potential. I must thank him for providing me with everything related to football.
Finally, what’s your message to the club’s fans, who’re expecting the team to punch above its weight?
Keep supporting us and you’ll have much to cheer about. We need their support. We, the players, are doing our best and the results should substantiate our efforts.