Another Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has come with another disappointment. For thirty-seven years and counting, and we have never laid hands on the trophy. This time round we were full of hope that we will bring the cup safe and sound to Ghana. And this time again, we got eliminated, even at a much earlier stage in the tournament. So what could the matter be?
Captainship Issue could be a problem, even if people think it could not be one of the reasons. One of the ways for safe cohesion among the playing body is to release the captain off his rank well before a major tournament, or, at best, let him retire from soccer as captain.
In 1992, ten years after we last won the cup and missed out in three straight competitions, prior to that year we went to Senegal full of revenge and determination to win the cup and restore our honour. Then it happened; just before the tournament, the captainship of the Black Stars was stripped off Kwesi Appiah and given to Abedi Ayew, and this set up some divisions among the playing body.
Even though we got into the finals and missed out on penalties, something was also missing. Instead of playing total football, our players played sectorial soccer.
A captain has his constituency and may be loved by some players and not loved by some. Samuel Osei Kuffour was once handed the captainship when C.K. Akunnor was stripped off that rank. He flatly refused, with an explanation that C.K. was his bosom friend, and he did not see it fit to take over from him while he was still in the squad. This clearly shows that some players believe in their captain.
And again, in 2019, on the eve of another tournament, the captainship was stripped off Asamoah Gyan and given to Dede Ayew. One could wonder what that did to morals and patriotism within the players. Asamoah Gyan turned down the offer to join his team mates, only to rescind his decision after H.E. President Akufo-Addo intervened, should have rang alarm bells that all was not going to be well.
Imagine you being a manager in an office, but demoted to work in the same office with your junior as a manager, what would be the overall work rate in that office. With all the contributions Asamoah Gyan had made to the Black Stars and Ghana, why should he not be retired with the rank of captainship?
Rumours of Sexual Immoralities came rife with, social media stating that girlfriends of the Stars had invaded the camp and offered what they have to the players in the night when they should be sleeping. If this is true, then the Black Stars management and the captain have let this nation down.
In sports you do not allow such a thing to happen, never! I still hope it is not true, because in a much disciplined team, such distractions are kept miles away from the players or athletes.
One very important thing in sports is sleep. Sleep refreshes the body and the mind, and coupled with the right diet, the sport person is right to go. Waking up fresh after a long uninterrupted sleep the mind stays focused on what is ahead. The body is more relaxed and ready to take the toll and strain of pressure, enabling the sport person to push it to the limits during the game. A body that has worked out all night long, and for all the wrong reasons, will be unable to deal with situations on the field because it is tired.
We heard of an England manager in one FIFA World Cup banning the players’ wives and girlfriends from getting anywhere near the players. I still hope it is not true, because any serious sport person in a competition will avoid any sexual relationship, because it has damaging effects on the body and mind. You even have some athletes and players avoiding sex all together when they start training towards competitions, and maintain that discipline during the games.
If this is true, then Andre Dede Ayew has failed his first test as captain; Kwesi Appiah has failed as a team manager, and all the members of the management team have failed in their role to instil discipline in the Stars.
And talking about discipline, is it that the players do not want to show respect to a local Ghanaian coach but would rather respect a white coach, as they do abroad as professionals? We have won all our four Afcon cups under Ghanaian coaches.
No Fighting Spirit could be found in the Black Stars’ approach in most of the matches as compared to the days of Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien, Abedi Pele, Prince Polly, Tony Yeboah, and the many others. Those were the days when the Stars were always hungry for goals, and launched attacks after attacks just to hit the back of the net as many times as they could.
These days it seems the players are just taking a stroll in the park, and we still expect them to seal the deal. By Black Stars’ standards, I want to believe that the men are no longer there.
And this can be traced to the origin of players, the home league. These days local soccer is nothing to write home about. Gone are the days when you go to watch a match and see quality soccer, and you enjoy every bit of the game, that even if your team gets beaten, you still go home happy and much fulfilled.
Gone are the days when any match at all attracts lots of fans, with people besieging the stadia at dawn and wait patiently till the gates open by mid-day. Within a short time the stadia gets packed and the carnivals would begin hours before the match. These days, we usually have an average of five thousand fans sitting in the 40,000-seater Accra Sports Stadium to watch top matches. And they go there to sleep in the open space through one and a half hours of boring game.
Gone are the days when names of footballers were on the lips of Ghanaians and were always discussed. Those days no one knew or cared about Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, PSG, Bayern Munich and nobody was interested in European or foreign players, except those who featured and were outstanding in the FIFA World Cup. Just about two or so names, like Pele, George Best, Gordon Banks and Stanley Matthews (who incidentally featured once as a guest player for Accra Hearts of Oak), were on the minds of people.
The Dying of Real Soccer today in Ghana has shifted attention to games abroad, and a typical Ghanaian soccer fan would rather pay and watch an European soccer match at a ramshackle heavy-packed video house, than go and watch a league match in a stadium nearby. And it is heart aching to hear only names and teams of these foreign leagues being discussed on local sports talk shows. Meanwhile, during such programmes, little or nothing at all is mentioned about our local league and players, even if a top match is pending.
The Effect of the Dissolution of the GFA has taken a toll on the already poor soccer in the country. Over a year ago last June, the Ghana Football Association (GFA) was dissolved because of corruption allegations which are yet to be proven in court, and with that the soccer league went to sleep. A Normalisation Committee was formed to organise the game, and what do we see? No clear way of the kind of soccer competition we used to have. Least said about this Committee, the better, for it is as if its term of reference is not to do what the GFA used to do by way of organising proper league and FA cup matches.
In fact, the government was in too much of a rush to portray itself as a no-nonsense, anti-corruption one, and most likely never thought things through as to what will happen to our soccer without a GFA in charge. Soccer in Ghana is now comatose, and that is not good for unearthing potential stars.
With the Exiting of Stars like Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari and those glorious boys who raised Ghana up and presented near excellent soccer during the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, the eclipse started falling on Ghana soccer.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup was a disaster and we missed out in 2018. With the kind of players we have now who lack the fighting spirit, I shudder to even think that we shall miss out in the 2022 FIFA World Cup as well.
The Proper Nursery Grounds for Players is our local soccer competitions, which are no longer fertile. We do not have properly developed players before they step out to play professional abroad. When they eventually do, most of them play for lower leagues or just warm the benches of top teams all season long.
We need to have Ghanaians rubbing shoulders with the stars in top European leagues as the likes of Sadio Mane of Senegal and Mohammed Salah of Egypt have been doing, and even won the 2019 UEFA Champions League for Liverpool.
As long as we do not have a strong home-based league, we cannot have a strong national team. We go hunting abroad for any player of Ghanaian descent to play for the Black Stars, and many have disappointed us. If we build strong players here, apart from the competition to join the Black Stars, irrespective of where one plays, we shall have players who can never play for any other nation.
Other African nations are taking their sports, including soccer, very serious. Proper management, discipline and strong focus on continuity are what we need now, if we are to top Africa again and create waves in the world.
Hon. Daniel Dugan