Togolese goalkeeper, Steven Foly Mensah, described his experience at the Antalya camp as “special” after wearing the national team jersey for the first time in his career during this meeting of the Sparrowhawks of Togo last month in Turkey.
Below is the interaction between the 19-year-old goalkeeper and his club Hamburger Sport-Verein, published by the latter on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.
The Club: Steven, congratulations on your first appointment to the national team. How strong are the impressions still a few days after your return?
Mensah: They’re still very present, even though the derby against St. Pauli was coming right after my return, which overshadowed it a bit. (laughs) The trip was an incredibly special experience for me. Physically and mentally exhausting, but associated with a lot of happiness. I’m going to feed on it for a while.
You played against Tajikistan (1-0) and Malawi (3-0) with the Under-23s, but you were also part of the squad as a reserve goalkeeper. What was the basis?
We were 38 players in total because part of the U23 squad was also planned for the A team and was therefore also part of the team. We should play together first so the coach gets a first impression. We were together in Antalya for ten days in total, I played for the U23s and was on the bench for the senior national team. We trained together. With two sessions a day, then a game and full training the next day, it was very physically demanding, but it was also great for getting to know everyone.
Your parents are both from Togo and most of your family still lives in this West African country. What was your relationship with the local football association: had you ever had any contact with the coaching staff or your teammates before?
No, only now as part of the appointment. The coach had observed me several times, but we did not know each other personally before. The main thing was that the coaching staff could now have a direct impression of me and that we got to know each other. I didn’t know any players either, so that was pretty exciting for me. But I felt very well cared for and was much more relaxed after the first dinner. Everything is very familiar, many players know each other’s families and are closely related to each other. It’s a beautiful bond.
What has been the biggest challenge for you?
At the beginning, we mainly dealt with the different languages, it’s really crazy. (laughs) Ewe is spoken in Togo, it’s the national language. At the same time also a lot of French. Our coach Paulo Duarte is Portuguese, so he gave a lot of training instructions in English, which were then translated into French by our team manager. It was the same with goalkeeper training: the goalkeeper coach doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak French. So my playmates always translated for me from French into Ewe. This mix of three different languages is exciting, but it works surprisingly well.
How did you perceive football as such?
Tactically it was something completely different from what we play here at HSV. Both in terms of the orientation of the outfield players and the position of the goalkeeper. The understanding is different: in the national team, the goalkeeper is simply there to keep his own goal. He is challenged in the penalty area and on the line. But he does not participate in the build-up of the game, is not intended for a face-off position or an extra fielder. I had to adapt to that in the first game, but it went well.
Finally, let’s look ahead: what’s next for you?
I don’t know exactly yet. Overall I’m very happy with the trip and of course I wish it wasn’t the last. The qualifying course for the African Cup is scheduled for the end of May, so I hope to be able to participate again. Until then, we still have three important league games and the cup game ahead of us with the U19s. This is my goal now. We will see everything else in May.