Fourth floor in the St. Gallen Kybunpark. The Ghanaian Lawrence Ati Zigi (23) appears in his apple-green work dress for the interview appointment. In addition to the neon-colored clothes, he wears yellow studded shoes and holds his yellow gloves in his hand. The greeting handshake is surprisingly gentle for a goalie. Zigi's fingers could be that of a concert pianist. Only the little finger of the right hand shows a noticeable bend. The consequences of a break, says Zigi in English.
VIEW: Lawrence Ati Zigi, over 50 different languages are spoken in your home country Ghana. How many do you master?
Lawrence Ati Zigi: Four or five. In addition, English, French and German.
If Zigi's story had continued as usual in the past month, he would enjoy his day off on Sunday in the French workers' town of Sochaux. Two days earlier, he would have sat 90 minutes as the number 2 goalie in the away game of second division FC Sochaux-Montbéliard in Valenciennes on the Belgian border. But at the beginning of the year everything suddenly turns out differently for Zigi (and the FCSG).
January 8th. The FCSG is preparing for the second half of the season in the training camp in La Manga, Spain. And suddenly stands there without a goalkeeper. Regular goalie Dejan Stojanovic (26) changes bang on case to English second division side Middlesbrough. Transfer fee: CHF 1.2 million. St. Gallen’s mammoth problem: The two substitute keepers Jonathan Klinsmann and Nico Strübi are long-term injuries. The FCSG would have to bet on number 4, the only 17-year-old Armin Abaz. Panic in the training camp!
The search for a Stojanovic successor is in full swing. Trainer Peter Zeidler remembers Zigi. He trained the student of the Red Bull Academy Ghana at Salzburg's FC Liefering branch, later also in Sochaux. FCSG goalie coach Stefano Razzetti watches application videos all night. There are three candidates to choose from. Zeidler: «The day after, Razzetti said like Pep Guardiola once:‹ The one or none! ›»
Three days later, Zigi is at the gate of St. Gallen for the first time in a friendly against Urs Fischer's Union in Berlin. In the championship, the new one quickly became the fans' favorite. "Zigi, Zigi!" - calls echo through the stadiums. The FCSG climbs to the top with Zigi. Last Sunday, he saved the three points in St. Gallen with four brilliant parades. Trainer Zeidler: "I was so calm, nothing can happen to Zigi." On Sunday, Zigi will stand between the posts during the away game in Lucerne. By the way: Zigi is a real bargain for the FCSG. The transfer amount? "Ned six digits," says Zeidler in his Swabian dialect.
Mr. Zigi, take a look at the white hills behind the stadium roof. Do you love snow as an African?
It's nice to look at. But it doesn't suit me so much to be inside.
When was the first time you saw snow in your life?
First on TV. Then in Austria.
When you were transferred from Red Bull Academy in Ghana to Red Bull Salzburg in 2015 ...
No, I almost forgot. Before I came to Austria, I played with Red Bull Ghana at a tournament in France. That was in winter, I really saw snow there for the first time.
When you talk to your loved ones back home in Ghana, what do you tell them about St. Gallen?
You don't really know the team.
We meant the city of St. Gallen, the mountains, the snow.
My problem is: I haven't really been able to go into town since I've been here. We almost always had training.
Where do you live?
Like Musah near the stadium.
Your compatriot Musah Nuhu comes from Accra like you. You both don't speak the same language, do you?
Yes, in my family we speak “Ewe”, Musah doesn't understand that. I talk to him in «Twi».
How was the first day in Europe for you?
I think it was a little difficult. Because of the language. When we arrived in Austria we couldn't speak German. I was very young then.
Yes, but luckily other players from the Academy in Ghana accompanied me.
Have you been a victim of racism in Europe before?
I've seen forms of racism, some people who have behaved racially, but I've never been a victim myself.
No, but I don't really deal with such things either.
But they are very religious. Is this common in Ghana?
It depends on the circumstances under which you grow up. I grew up in a Christian family. We always pray, we have this belief in God.
Do you pray every day?
One or two times?
It can also be more.
Do you also pray for a victory?
Yes. You pray for everything in life.
On Facebook you wrote “Lord Thank you for the victory”.
It also says: «In the same boiling water, potatoes become soft and the eggs hard. It's not the circumstances that count, but what you're made of. Stay humble. Respect!"
Yes, that's motivating for me.
Everyone raves about Zigi
"Zigi is a really, really good goalie," says ex-YB and -GC manager Ilja Kaenzig, who works for VfL Bochum today. It was Kaenzig who transferred Zigi to FC Sochaux in summer 2017 at the request of today's St. Gallen coach Zeidler. Kaenzig on SonntagsBlick: “African goalies always have the wild component with them. Not so with Zigi. His incredible bounce, the reflexes, everything was great. I've wondered a few times why no one brought him. It is a bargain for St. Gallen. A very exciting story in perspective. If things go well, the FCSG will do the big things. » St. Gallen Sports Director Alain Sutter:"I am extremely happy that we managed it that way, Zigi was my absolute dream." The Swiss ex-international Philipp Degen, who has been Zigi's advisor for three years: "I am convinced that if Zigi stays on the ground, he will really get started in his career."
How does it feel to be the darling of the fans at the first game? They played their way into the hearts of the green and white fans in their first appearance in the St. Galler Dress.
It was a very good feeling for me. I joined a new team in the middle of the season, with new players, a new game philosophy. And received such support from the start. The reception by the St. Gallen fans was very warm. It was great, really, really nice for me. I couldn't imagine what to expect.
In your first game, away from Union Berlin, you were the darling of the St. Gallen appendix.
It's incredible, isn't it?
Yes. I believe in God. And behind everything is God.
They also wrote on social media: You give me more than I deserve, thankful sir.
Yes, that's my opinion.
What conditions did you live in Ghana? Was your family rich or poor?
We were neither rich nor poor. We were happy with our situation.
What did your father do?
He was a farmer. But he died when I was 12.
How old was he?
Surely a big blow for a 12 year old?
It was difficult, but it did happen.
Zigi then grew up with his mother, two sisters and a grandmother.
Are you sending money home to your family?
Yes, from time to time. If you need anything.
Let’s talk about football. How important is trainer Peter Zeidler to you? You worked under him in Liefering and Sochaux.
For me he is an important person, he is really very good to me and he is also a very good coach. He is like a father to me. He loves to support the players. He is always there for his players. He is really very good to me.
With St. Gallen you have been leaders in the championship for two weeks. Do you believe in the possibility of winning the title?
We still have some games to play. We cannot decide what will happen. We just have to focus on every game now. Game by game. And then we see what comes out.
How much do you rate the Super League compared to the Austrian or French championship?
I'm still relatively new here in this league. But I know FC Basel and YB from the Champions League. These two clubs have some good players. The league is a bit tougher because there are only ten teams.
Have you already tried a St. Gallen veal sausage?
No not yet.
But if you had to catch up soon, this sausage is very famous in St. Gallen.
How is it done? With pork?
Yes, it also has a small amount of pork in it. But veal must be more than 50 percent.
I do not eat pork.
It is our family's custom. In our religion there are people who eat pork, but not in our family.
What are you eating here in St. Gallen?
What the players get at the buffet. And at home I sometimes try to prepare Ghanaian food.
The specialty is called Jollof Rice, isn't it? Spicy rice with vegetables and tomato sauce.
Are you a good cook?
It works. But I keep trying. When I'm cooking, I often have to call one of my two sisters or my mother. And then they tell me what to do and how to do it. I'm not that good after all.
You don't drink alcohol either, why?
Because it's not good for health.
But do you know what Schützengarten means? The lettering is on the upper arm of the games.
That is the name of a St. Gallen brewery.
(Press chief Daniel Last explains to Zigi that Schützengarten also produces non-alcoholic beer).
And cigarettes? You now know very well that "Zigi", your surname, is the reduction form of cigarette in Swiss German.
Yes I know that. And no, I don't smoke.
Lawrence Ati Zigi was born on November 29, 1996 in Accra, Ghana, to a farmer. The goalie is trained in the Red Bull Academy in Sogakope. He left Africa at 18 and joined Salzburg's FC Liefering farm team in 2015. There, as at Sochaux, he worked with today's St. Gallen trainer Peter Zeidler. He has been under contract with FCSG as the successor of Dejan Stojanovic since January 2020 and was number 1 for the first time in his career. In 3 games he celebrated 3 victories. He played 5 caps for Ghana .