Former Crystal Palace striker Kwesi Appiah opens up on AFC Wimbledon exit

BY SAM SMITH

Kwesi Appiah is excited for the next challenge in his career – but reckons the coronavirus pandemic has prompted several unprecedented questions.

The South London striker, 29, is a free agent after being released by AFC Wimbledon upon the premature end to the League One campaign.

Camberwell-born Appiah scored 15 times in 72 appearances during his second spell with Wimbledon.

A hamstring injury suffered soon after signing from Crystal Palace hampered his time at the Cherry Red Records Stadium. He was signed by Neal Ardley in May 2017 before also featuring under both Wally Downes and Glyn Hodges, but says he shared a better working relationship with the former.

“My personal circumstances were difficult,” said Appiah. “In the first season I got injured. It took way longer than it needed for me to get back. The decision for me to have my operation took too long.

“We wasted a lot of time on that and I ended up being out three months longer than I should have been. That killed the end of my first season.

“My second season started well, that was when we had our famous FA Cup run. We played West Ham and I scored. Ultimately, it ended with us pulling off the great escape. That was a good achievement for the club.

“Last season was good for me. I was fit the whole season and unfortunately it all came to an end a bit sooner than expected. I would have liked to have done a lot more and played in a lot more games. Due to the injury in the first season, that curtailed a lot of my appearances. There were lots of ups and downs, going forward it’s just one of those things where you take that experience with you and try to get the most out of your next situation.

“I had a great relationship with Neal Ardley, he was the reason I signed for the club in the first place. His departure was a tough time for the club because his history with the club was vast, having played for the club and also managed the club.

“When Wally Downes came in, things picked up on the pitch because the performances had changed. I didn’t have much of a personal relationship with him, similar with Glyn after he took over once Wally had to leave. Sometimes it’s like that in football but you’re a professional so you get on with the job.

“It’s not that we had a bad relationship, it’s just that we didn’t share the relationship that I had with Neal Ardley. That’s fine, not every player has that relationship with the manager so it’s not a problem.”

Appiah is by his phone waiting for his next challenge.

“There are a lot of agents trying to contact you,” he says.

“They’re contacting clubs on your behalf and it’s a lot of back and forth on the phone. It’s a busy period but it’s exciting because people come up with different options. Different people want to mention different things. It’s an interesting time but it comes with a little bit of uncertainty.”

Clubs may have a shorter pre-season than usual to ensure all matches fit into the new campaign, with a likely mid-September start.

“Right now, the dates for the start of the new season haven’t been announced so teams don’t necessarily know when they’re going to be back,” said Appiah. “They don’t know what their budgets will be because we don’t know how long until fans will be allowed back into stadiums.

“People are adjusting because of coronavirus.

“Obviously the circumstances are going to be a lot different, in terms of how are you going to get to the stadium? Are you going to have to get tested still? Are you going to be able to mingle in groups? Is it still going to be very segregated?”

Appiah did not want the 2019-20 season to end. He had started the final three matches and wanted a crack at another successful survival bid.

But he says the decision to end the season based on points-per-game was correct – the Dons finishing a place above the relegation zone.

“I love playing football so I would have wanted the season to carry on,” said Appiah. “Our position was under threat, in terms of staying in the league. It would have been nice to have finished it and to have that sense of achievement again.

“But it was decided on points-per-game, which was tricky for a few other teams. We were fortunate that it still ended up being in our favour.

Appiah seals the win

“Ultimately it was the right decision. It would have cost clubs a hell of a lot of money to get all the testing done twice a week, or however often it would have been. It would have cost a lot just to get the games on when not many teams were playing for anything. There were only a few teams who were able to make the play-offs and there were only a few teams who had a chance of being relegated, so the cost of finishing the season would have been far superior to the actual benefit.”

The Ghana international has been on his own training regime since the official end to the season. He has also been watching the football but describes seeing games behind closed doors as a “sad scenario”.

“A lot of teams and players and football clubs, they thrive off the fans. If anybody didn’t realise the value of fans before, they certainly do now because on TV they have had to put fake crowd noise just to make it seem a bit more authentic.

“You can see the difference it makes with a little bit of crowd noise playing over a game, compared to watching the game without any crowd noise.

“It’s the same on the pitch, without a crowd there is a totally different atmosphere.

“Fans create the atmosphere in the stadium. It’s important that they do come back as soon as possible. It’s nice to be up close and personal.”


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