Titi Camara – The Guinean Cult Hero

How many of you knew that his full name is Aboubacar Sidiki Camara? Probably not many. He was known as ‘Titi’ long before he joined Liverpool, which in many ways suggests he was always destined to join the club, given the Scouse feel to his nickname. In many ways he is the definition of a cult hero, given that he only played thirty-three league games for the club and yet is looked upon favourably by anyone who saw him play.

Signed by Gérard Houllier from Olympique Marseille for £2.6 million on the first of June 1999, he got his debut alongside other new signings such as Didi Hamann and Sami Hyppia in a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday on the seventh of August that year. Whilst he scored more golds later in his career and even became the Guinea manager after he retired from playing, Camara never really hit the heights that he enjoyed at Anfield where he is still considered to be a fan favourite.

Before Liverpool

Titi Camara’s career began at Saint-Étienne, who he started playing for in 1990. He earned a reputation as a flamboyant and exciting attacking player, full of verve and with a sense that you never knew quite what he was going to do next. Sixteen goals in ninety-four league games wasn’t the world’s most impressive tally for a forward player, but it was enough to earn him a move to Lens in 1995. He carried on in the same mould, scoring fourteen league goals for the French club in one hundred and eleven appearances.

From Lens it was on to Marseille, where Camara helped the club reach the UEFA Cup final in 1999. That was his last appearance for the French side and, in the days before the internet, the first chance for Liverpool supporters to get their first glimpse of a player they knew was arriving in the summer. As first impressions go it wasn’t the best, with the Guinean looking isolated and forlorn in a 3-0 defeat to Parma. A chance to win silverware went begging for the striker, but that didn’t mean that his move to Merseyside was in jeopardy and the Kop has always known how to give a player the benefit of the doubt.

Camara’s Liverpool Career

Prior to Liverpool’s opening game of the 1999-2000 season Gérard Houllier told supporters that it was going to be about character. Little wonder considering that Didi Hamann, Sami Hyypia, Erik Meijer, Vladimir Smicer, goalkeeper Sander Westerveld and Camara were all making their competitive debuts for the club. It would be entirely understandable if Camara had misheard him and thought the manager said that it was a match for characters, punctuating his performance with flicks, tricks and skills.

He was playing alongside Robbie Fowler and it was the player that the supporters called ‘God’ that gave the Reds the lead after seventy-five minutes. Camara had the Toxteth Terrier to thank for his own debut goal, tucking away a Fowler shot that the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper, Pavel Srnicek, had managed to parry into his path. If Liverpool supporters that watched his UEFA Cup appearance had been disappointed then his debut game in Red certainly had them intrigued by what sort of player, exactly, the club had signed.

”What Have We Got Here, Pele?”

Whilst he was never a prolific goalscorer during his career, scoring just seventy-four times in three hundred and fifty-nine league games for eight different clubs, it was the constant sense of not knowing what he was going to do at any given moment that adhered him to the Anfield crowd. Yes, he could be ludicrously frustrating. Yet at any given moment he could do as he did against Bradford City in November of 1999 when he turned his man, put the afterburners on and then finished beautiful past the Bantams’ goalkeeper.

Perhaps his entire Liverpool career can best be summed up by the words of Jamie Carragher, who said, “When he first came, the first three or four months, we all thought what have we got here – Pele? Every time you gave him the ball he was flicking it over someone’s head or scoring some great goals. Unfortunately it went a bit pear shaped for him towards the end”. In many ways it’s a sport on assessment and Camara’s Anfield career was certainly one that burned brightly before dying out completely. For that briefest of moments, though, he was a thrilling player to watch.

His Bond With The Kop Becomes Emotional

If Camara had already won over the Kop thanks to his flair, skills and general demeanour then he was about to cement his place in Kopite hearts for entirely emotional reasons. Liverpool Football Club is a club that understand tragedy, having it woven into the fabric of the club because of events such as Hillsborough and Heysel. When news emerged of the death of Camara’s father in October of 1999, therefore, no one associated with the club expected him to play in the home match against West Ham United.

Yet Camara knew that he was the only fit forward and, despite learning of his father’s death just hours before kick-off, the player insisted on being selected. He found the back of the net after forty-three minutes, giving the Reds a 1-0 lead. As the ball crossed the goal-line Camara sank to his knees and openly wept, with the Anfield crowd giving him an almighty roar of support in return. 1-0 ended up being the final score, so his contribution was an important one.

Sadly He was never quite clinical enough for Gérard Houllier and the player made his final appearance for the club in a 1-0 away defeat to Bradford City on the fourteenth of May 2000.

What Happened After Anfield

Camara left Liverpool to sign for, appropriately enough, West Ham United. Harry Redknapp paid £1.5 million for him, with the player declaring that he wanted to ‘play, play, play. Score, score, score’. Sadly he only played fourteen games for the Hammers, failing to register a single goal before being shipped out on loan to Saudi team Al-Ittihad for the second half of the 2002-2003 campaign.

Whilst his Al-Ittihad career wasn’t exactly stellar, failing to make a single start, it did at least earn him a move to Qatari professional side Al-Siliya when West Ham were relegated at the end of the 2002-2003 season. Far be it for me to say that the league was an easier one to play in, but Camara notched up fourteen goals in twenty league appearances in Qatar; by far his best return of his career.

He did manage one more stint in Europe before retirement, returning to France with Amiens from 2005-2006. He scored nine goals in twenty-six games for the Ligue 1 side. Camara was equally as respected in his native Guinea, widely considered to be part of the reason that African football began to be seen as a viable proposition after his three goals in the group stage of the African Cup of National in 2004.

His Post-Playing Career

Camara was briefly linked with the Guinea managerial post in 2005 and then in 2009 the President of Guinea, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, announce that he wanted him to take over as manager. In the end he was appointed National Technical Director and in June of that year he was made the head coach of Syli National.

He only lasted three months in the job, with ‘lack of cooperation and understanding’ being cited as the reason for his dismissal. Then, at the end of 2012, Camara was appointed to the post of Sports Minister of Guinea by Alpha Condé, the newly elected President. He lasted until October 2012 in the post, being the first former sportsman to be given a job in the Guinean government.

He’ll always hold a place in the heart of Liverpool supporters, as evidenced by the fact that an account bearing his name on Twitter has more than thirty-six thousand followers, despite no one knowing if it’s actually run by the real Titi Camara.

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