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Raised in Accra, becoming a man in Italy, fighting racism. Duncan tells his story.

22 March 2022

Raised in Accra, it was in Italy where Alfred Duncan matured into a man as he made it into top-flight football. In an earnest interview, the midfielder shares some of the serious issues he’s faced, notably in relation to education and racism.


"Football is the most important part of my life. 

It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m lucky enough to have loved football from a young age, and it means the world. 

It’s what makes me happier overall, so it’s everything to me."  


"Alfred was raised in a neighbourhood of Accra where around 80% of the population are Muslim and 20% are Christian. 

“It’s quite an unusual area. It’s not great, but it’s where I grew up. It’s where I lived out my younger years. It’s thanks to this neighbourhood that I became a tough kid.

“I started playing football in the streets for fun with my friends. That’s what helped me to become what I am today. It’s a tough neighbourhood where some bad things can happen. There’s a lot of violence. But it’s also a place where many wonderful things happen too.

“When I mention violence, I’m not talking about individuals dying necessarily, but people place bets on five-a-side football matches between six- and seven-year-olds. And when a team loses, that’s when things go down, with the referee, etc. And this stuff happens even when the match is between six-year-olds. So it’s quite an unusual neighbourhood.

“I played in so many of these games. Already at the age of seven, people would come to call on me and my friends, just so they could bet on us. We wouldn’t get any money. We just wanted to play, to enjoy ourselves. Football was the best thing that could ever happen to us. So, we would go and play, and we’d often win, but lots of people would hurt themselves by the end because they’d do anything to win on account of the betting. I played in so many of these games.

“This experience helped me to become quite tough. 

Before then I was quite gentle, but these games toughened me up."


"I brought everything I’d learnt in Accra with me to Italy. And it’s what made me whole. Without it, you just can’t get to a certain level.

“When someone is ‘soft’, so to speak, they need to have quality. Lionel Messi, for example, has no malice to speak of, but when he has the ball at his feet, he has the quality to be able to punish you. 

So you either have to be Messi, or you need to be something else.


"As soon as I arrived in Italy, I tried to learn things quickly, especially the language. It wasn’t easy coming to a country I wasn’t familiar with, and it was especially hard to settle in.

“I wanted to learn new things, meet new people and make new friends. I tried to absorb everything I could from the people around me, and it really did help. I took positive bits from everyone. It helped me to understand the language, to study and to play football.

“One of the first people I met in Milan was Alfonso Bonito, my tutor at boarding school. He was like a father to me. He taught me a lot. He made me understand lots of things about Italy in those first years when I didn’t know much. He helped me to grow in lots of different ways. He always used to tell me to be patient and honest with myself. 

I think I will always remember this advice. I try to apply it in everything I do". 


"The journey to playing in Serie A is not easy. There are so many players who have the qualities you need to get there, but then they struggle. You need to also have patience because it’s not easy.

“It’s hard to be in a team where there are players with different qualities in the same position as you, and you have to try to stand out. You have to accept that you might not get to play in every game. But what makes you unique might just make the difference in one way or another. You have to accept all of it and be aware of what makes you stand out.

“There is pressure, but that’s just how it has to be. It can be a decisive factor. A player might have outstanding qualities but feel the pressure in games. And it’s right to have this element of fear, because if you aren’t fearful, it means that you don’t care about what you’re doing.

“Playing in front of so many fans should give you motivation. It’s certainly not like that for everyone, because not all players have this strength and confidence. But I think that after a couple of years, you have to be ready to take responsibility for what you have.

“For instance, I chose to join Fiorentina for this reason. It’s one thing to play in front of 10,000 fans, but it’s a whole other experience to play in front of a 40,000-strong crowd.

“I have to be honest. During my early years in Serie A, I wouldn’t say I was fearful, but I was a little more stressed when we were up against Napoli because their supporters know how to rile an opponent.

“If a player takes responsibility, a certain kind of support can act as a motivation." 


"Up to now, my friendships haven’t changed over the course of my career. I’m quite a serious guy. I’ve always had the same friends, and that’s not changed.

“Of course, some things have changed from their side. They show me more respect because they see that I’m playing at a higher level than I was before. I’m playing in Serie A against great footballers. They always watch me on TV.

“About 15 years ago, they would have seen me walking around the neighbourhood, having a kickabout with friends. Now they see me playing at a high level and show me respect, but I always try to make them understand that even though I’ve got to this level, I’m still the same. I’m still the same guy they’ve known since we were young. I still do the same things with them that I always have. 

Nothing has changed." 


"Certainly, over the course of your career, there are people who you are more drawn to. They’re not just your team-mates but friends too. I’ve formed a number of these kinds of friendships. In football, you find people who are genuine and those who aren’t. Over time, you come to understand that. I’ve stayed in touch with lots of people.

“Friendships are important within a team. You might get on better with some than you do with others, but I think you discover your friends by what they do off the pitch too.

“I get on well with Igor because we are strangely similar. We have the same way of doing things. He’s a chilled guy, like me. He’s serious when he has to be, like me. He values family. He’s more of a homebody and doesn’t go out much, like me. We are in sync.

“I’ve had many other special friendships over the years. There’s Daniel Bessa, for example, who I greeted after the Fiorentina v Verona match. I met him when I arrived in Italy at the Allievi Regionali with Inter. We’ve known each other since we were 14 years old. We’ve remained in touch pretty much ever since and we often talk, including about personal things.

“It’s the same with Ibrahima Mbaye at Bologna, who I’ve always stayed in touch with. 

When we see each other, it’s always a pleasure." 


"It’s important not to take yourself too seriously. However, often to get the best results you need to be serious in everything you do. 

You can joke around and have a laugh, but there has to be a limit. 

Being serious is the most important thing in your work." 


"My relationship with the coach is good, and I think all the lads have a positive rapport with him. We know how tough he is. We know how much he cares about what we do, both on and off the pitch.

“He’s someone who always tries to lend a hand and help you, even outside of football. He forces us to exceed our limits, which is important. He is trying to make sure every player improves their game. 

That’s what we’re trying to do this year." 


"We have a special relationship with the fans. We like what they do. They let us know when things aren’t going well, and now that things are going well, they let us know that too. It’s right that it’s like that. 

“They want to get closer to the team, and that’s how it should be. We are a family and we fight together. 

They are always by our side and we go out there to fight for them too."   


"We also take to the pitch for President Rocco Commisso. He had a tough time when he came to Florence because of the results the team were getting, and you could see how much it meant to him. When things don’t go well for the club, he suffers too.

When he comes to speak to us and we feel how close and happy he is, it makes us give even more out on the pitch."


"I was already very familiar with Florence. Living 45 minutes from the city, I knew it well already, and coming here now, even more so.

“When I can, I go out a bit, but not much. I like being at home. I stay with my family, I play football, I feel calm and I think about work.

“I’m Tuscan: I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve played here, I’ve been based here for 14 years. 

I am Tuscan." 


"I often go back to Ghana. My parents and my sisters still live there but also all my friends. I try and go back as often as possible so that I don’t get homesick and I like living there. It gives me peace of mind and comfort.

“Whenever I can, I go back. My family and my friends give me that tranquillity but also that energy to keep doing what I’m doing. 

Seeing them and speaking to them is really important to me and I honestly try and go back as often possible." 


"One of my former coaches used to tell me that luck doesn’t exist, but when you can, you have to make your own luck. If you want to score goals, you need to be in the right place at the right time. My goal against Milan… I was waiting for that one for a long time. 

“I’m not a player who scores a lot of goals and I’m not really sure why. I feel like I’m missing something to my game that would allow me to score more. Perhaps my style of play doesn’t allow me to score much, but the few goals I do score make me really happy. 

It’s a liberating feeling and I usually celebrate like I’ve gone mad."


"I think every player plays for those kinds of moments. 

To play in front of a full crowd, against a team that is so strong, with some of the best players around it’s amazing. When you win a game like that the feeling is one you can’t describe. 

You carry these moments with you for the rest of your life and they are memories that stay forever."


"I am very religious. I believe God exists. People will say he doesn’t but for me he does. If we look around each other, there are things you can’t explain and you must feel that there is a presence that’s bigger than us. There are certain natural aspects that you can’t explain therefore there is something bigger than us.”

“I believe that anything God cannot do does not exist, because he can do anything. He can do but also chose not to do. People use blasphemy, for example, when they drop their phone. If they can call on God’s name, doesn’t that mean that he is out there? Why do we blaspheme and give him the blame? That means we believe he exists.”

“What God can do exists what he can’t do doesn’t exist.


"I invented this saying because there are ‘unintelligent’ people who try and take advantage of others. You don’t have to go naked on the streets to be qualified as not having a brain. One can be quite ‘ordinary’ in the way he lives but then become ‘abnormal’ if we look more closely at what he does. 

“Deeds are stronger than words: it’s what you do that defines you. 

“Not all people who are in hospital are mad. Anyone can be mad. 

There are also people in a position of power who don’t think." 


"Personally, I always find the time to look ahead at what my future will be like. I must always be organised – that’s just the way I am. I need to be as organised as possible even for the smallest things.

“When I sit down and reflect on my life, there are some projects that come to mind but also things I shouldn’t do. What I can improve or what I need to avoid. So, when I look at myself, I understand what I need to do. 

As a rule of thumb, what I do and what I say is based on my experience."  


"Racism is deeply rooted all over the world, as seen from analysing all these racist incidents.

“Some fans don’t do it out of malice, but rather to irritate opposition players. Some players even do it to other players. They do it because that’s the only difference that they have: we’re on the pitch as opponents; we both play in Serie A; we play for top teams, so there are no differences. At that point, it’s the only thing they can say to me to annoy me.

“Then there are the ignorant ones without any sort of education, but that’s not necessarily their fault. This is the thing I keep stressing. At the stadium, you might find a father who says certain things and performs certain gestures in front of his child, who then learns from and grows up doing what the father does. It’s inevitable that the child grows up imitating the father. People do what they do and they get it from their parents.

“You teach your children the values that they will carry with them throughout their lives. Children have to reason in their heads and do the right thing. That’s what I always try to teach. They need to learn how and why.

“So many parents say to children ‘he’s black’ or ‘he’s yellow’, distinguishing the difference with white straight away. White mustn’t be dirtied, you can dirty black. I think education is the basis of all this.

“The fact that people do it on purpose or to irritate others shows that racism will never be brought to an end in my opinion.

“There are so many possible measures to reduce it, but they aren’t being implemented, which means that the authorities don’t want to cut racism out, so we’ll always move forward like this. When someone wants to avoid something, they do everything they can to avoid it. If they don’t and they’re aware of it, it means they don’t really want to avoid it.

“Here’s an example, and I don’t have it in for the authorities: if a fan base boos a black player on the pitch and the club receives a hefty fine, the club will go to the fans and tell them to stop it. The fans don’t pay the fines, the clubs do. If there was a stadium ban for a big number of games, such as five, they would find solutions. If it were like that for the whole season, I do think the number of racist incidents would fall.

“That’s what I think just for starters, but if it doesn’t get done, it means something isn’t right.

“It’s happened to me on many occasions that racist things have been said to me, including by players, and I’ve been unable to react. Or to put it another way, I could react, but nobody else saw or heard what was said to me and if I spoke about it after, I’d be told, ‘No, I didn’t say that.’ Who would be believed? It’s my word against theirs.

“It’s not easy to react and when we do react, some people think we’re playing the victim, but that’s not the case.

“It’s not easy to be humiliated and abused. It hurts. I can’t understand the reason. We’re all different in this world, but we’re all equal at the same time. We live on the same planet, but some people see you in a different light just because of the colour of your skin. You have to be judged for the person that you are and not anything else.

“All I can do is move forward, but I don’t think it’ll ever end. It existed 100 years ago, it’s now 2022 and it’s still happening, which means it’ll always be the way.

“We always have to be the ones to suffer and nobody is doing anything about it."  


"I try to be honest sometimes. Sometimes we waste time as players. When we say ‘three important points’, it’s something that everyone knows. You won the game, you get three points, but if you post a photo each time… I have some friends whose posts are always a photo and ‘three points’ as the caption.

“If you win the league, you might post 40 similar photos… Change it up a bit!

“I don’t think social media is real life and we need to try to be transparent with it. There are people who always post fake things, photos that have been tweaked and filtered. I never see anyone post a bad photo.

“It makes sense to post photos. It is social media after all, but some do it just for the likes and I take no interest in that.

“When you post ‘nonsense’, you get millions of likes. When you post something beautiful, emotional and intelligent, it doesn’t interest anyone.

Everyone can do what they want. I have very little interest in social media, even though I do post on there every now and then."  


"I always try to be balanced when I give interviews. 

“Journalists ask questions when they already know the answers, but they ask them anyway. Sometimes there is a trap and players can fall into it. When they do, it’s a problem.

“We players almost always say the things that journalists want to know. Sometimes you have to be transparent. 

“Not the whole truth, but we try to be a bit realistic."


"I’m slightly indifferent. There are some matches I like to watch. I keep tabs on what’s happening in my spare time and there are some players I observe.

“It's a hobby but it's also a job, which never ends. Our work is not solely on the field. It's like studying – you get home and you have to do real self-examination, asking yourself how you've trained. 

“I'm not saying this because it's an interview, but when I get home – and my wife and friends know this – I'm not happy if I feel I haven’t trained well. I try not to get too down about it because the next day we start over again.

“I get pissed off when I lose a match or a little training game, because my team-mates and I make fun of each other.  But I come back the next day and try to win.  

“I also watch what other players are doing, so I can learn from those who are better than me and play at a higher level.

“Too much football is not good either – you don’t want to overdo it.

Every now and then I do other things to decompress and release some adrenaline."


"When I was growing up, there were many players I watched who made me fall in love with football.

“Igor [Julio] and the other Brazilians I've played with know this: when I see Ronaldinho, I stop what I’m doing, whatever it is. I go absolutely mad for him. He makes you have fun and he has fun himself. He does everything so naturally, without even thinking. He’s extremely relaxed in everything he does. He is football. 

“Growing up, I was crazy about Xabi Alonso. The way he played, how he saw things three hours before everyone else, his passing, the way he measured his passes, how he switched the play, how he dictated his team’s tempo. I was mad about him. 

“When I started training with the Inter first-team squad, I saw Thiago Motta. After that, I stopped watching everyone else. He was so impressive. He’d always play the ball first time and never messed up. I was stunned. 

“He's a player I've always admired. He was left-footed too, so for me he was the whole package."


"I play Call of Duty. I’m a massive fan – I go crazy for it.

“I like to read books every now and then, especially when I have a long trip or I’m on the beach, but 

I hardly ever read at home.

At home I spend my time doing other things."


"I don't play fantasy football – I don't like it. 

“Sometimes I think it's a nice game, but then I see people get too into it and it puts me off.

“You can joke and laugh, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Also, there are people who write stuff on Instagram, things like ‘you made me lose today’, or they post abuse.

“When I score goals it’s for myself and the team, first and foremost, not for fantasy football.

“I'm the one who is responsible for this – I'm the one who wants to turn in the performance, lay on the assist or score the goal.

“I have friends who write to me: ‘oh Alfred, score a goal.’ Nobody wants me to score more than me. It could never be a question of me not wanting to.

“Fantasy football is secondary to that. It can be an enjoyable game in moderation.

“If we want to joke around, that’s fine, but the line has to be drawn somewhere.I don't play fantasy football – I don't like it. 

“Sometimes I think it's a nice game, but then I see people get too into it and it puts me off.

“You can joke and laugh, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Also, there are people who write stuff on Instagram, things like ‘you made me lose today’, or they post abuse.

“When I score goals it’s for myself and the team, first and foremost, not for fantasy football.

“I'm the one who is responsible for this – I'm the one who wants to turn in the performance, lay on the assist or score the goal.

“I have friends who write to me: ‘oh Alfred, score a goal.’ Nobody wants me to score more than me. It could never be a question of me not wanting to.

“Fantasy football is secondary to that. It can be an enjoyable game in moderation.

If we want to joke around, that’s fine, but the line has to be drawn somewhere."


"It's hard to know. What I do today will decide the direction of my future. 

“I always try to do things properly and leave positive memories wherever I go. 

Then in a few years we'll see.

Intervista di Vieri Capretta

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