The good book says, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.” – Ecclesiastes 10:19.
Having watched the Black Stars exit the ongoing 2021 Africa Cup of Nations [AFCON] in Cameroon is one of the days perhaps I don’t think I will ever forget. After the draw for the tournament was held, most Ghanaian sportswriters, broadcasters and fandom felt this is the best group for the Black Stars to make an impact in Cameroon after exiting at the Round of 16 during the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
As part of government’s agenda to ensure the team end the country’s 40 years trophy drought, President Akufo Addo in a breakfast meeting with corporate Ghana at the Jubilee House announced that his administration has decided to inject a whopping $25 million into the Black Stars prior to the AFCON and ensure the team qualifies for the 2022 World Cup and play in the semi-finals of the Mundial in Qatar having missed out in 2018 in Russia. Kurt Okraku, who is the President of the Ghana Football Association, CK Akonnor, who was the then head coach of the Black Stars and Samuel Osei Kuffour and the Sports Minister, Mustapha Ussif were all present at this meeting.
At the meeting, President Akufo Addo revealed that government has already committed $10 million out of the $25 million that the team will need for both competitions. A committee was put in place to ensure the remaining $15 million is raised from corporate Ghana. This was strongly defended by the Ghana Football Association. Why? Because there is cash!.
The decision by the president to raise such an amount for the Black Stars attracted a lot of backlash from the public space with many questioning the quality of players and the materials available. Mustapha Ussif, however, in an interview with Citi FM tried to do a damage control job which eventually backfired. Mr Ussif insisted that the money quoted by the president was not meant for the Black Stars only but for the various national teams.
Having watched the Black Stars preparations ahead of the 2019 Cup of Nation in Egypt, the team had all the necessary support from GNPC among other agencies ensuring that the team has a smooth preparation ahead of the tournament. Former Ghana coach, Kwesi Appiah, having arrived in Cairo for the tournament said the team had one of its best preparations and is confident the team will excel but the team exited at the tournament at the Round of 16 losing to Tunisia on penalties shootout despite all the money injected into the team and the promises made by the president. With this at the back of my head, I knew the Black Stars were on the path for another disaster in Cameroon.
With Milovan Rajevac now in as the head coach of the team replacing CK Akonnor after a shaky start to Ghana’s 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, Kurt Okraku assured the entire country that success is guaranteed due to the rich experience of the Serbian trainer. Milovan without a doubt made an impact at the Black Stars in his first stint from 2008 to 2010, playing in the AFCON final and guiding the team to play in the World Cup quarterfinals in 2010 was a massive achievement for him and for Ghana as a country as the only African country to achieve such a result but the player quality at the time is never the same as we have today. Milovan at his unveiling was tasked to win the AFCON trophy and qualify the team for the World Cup. During his unveiling, I asked Kurt Okraku if his administration has a plan in ensuring the team succeeds.
“We want to win the Africa Cup of Nation next year. We believed that needed to change the pilot and we have done that. We believe we have the right pilot for the Black Stars now in place, right the right support system, we believe that our Black Stars will have a stable character going forward.”
These were the words of Kurt Okraku when I asked him if his administration has a plan following the reappointment of Milovan. After navigating his way out to book a qualification with the team for the 2022 World Cup playoffs, the ordinary Ghanaian had the belief that it is highly possible that Ghana can now win the AFCON in Cameroon following Milovan’s impact at the Black Stars and the results he has chalked in a short period.
Fast forward, the preparation scheduled for the Black Stars for the AFCON was announced by the Ghana Football Association. The team camped in Qatar and opened their camp with five players after a 30-man provisional squad was announced by Milovan Rajevac. The team had 17 debutants but with a blend of experienced players. The team was expected to play three friendly games ahead of the tournament but only had the chance to play just one preparatory game. After suffering a defeat against Algeria, the quality of the team was again questioned. However, there were still high hopes that the team will succeed in Cameroon.
Shockingly, the Black Stars failed to make it to the next round of the tournament for the first time in 2006. With Morocco, Comoros and Gabon in the same group, the Black Stars under Milovan Rajevac finished at the bottom of Group C with just a point and shamefully failed to win a single game. Prior to the team’s final group game against Comoros, each player was promised a $30,000 qualification bonus should they win but the team suffered a 3-2 embarrassing defeat to the tiny island who are tasting AFCON for the first time in their history as a country. The team’s early elimination from the tournament has caused outrage in the country with many calling for the dissolution of the Ghana Football Association and disbanding of the Black Stars team. The sacking of Milovan Rajevac at the moment is inevitable after the horrendous performance. Kurt Okraku after the team’s elimination said government did everything in their power to ensure the Black Stars win the trophy but they disappointed the country.
But the question is, why is our Black Stars steadily retrogressing? Why is it that the countries that we perhaps disrespected are now making an impact? I believe that we have what it takes to regain our pride on the continent and on the globe as well but how can it be done?
- Have a plan
When I asked Mr Kurt Okraku if his administration has a plan, I was not impressed with the answer to my question. When Hugo Broos was appointed as the head coach of the South Africa national team, he was awarded a six years contract and was asked to build a team for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations scheduled to be hosted in Ivory Coast and qualify the country for the next edition of the World Cup. This is a proper plan which has been well communicated to the entire country so even if they are struggling to win games, the country have been told the coach is building a team for the future. In our case, what is the plan? There is no plan but we still want to achieve successes that do not work in any way.
It is admissible that without a plan, you will always plan to fail and always be a failure. There was a plan for the U-20 team that won the Africa Youth Championship and proceeded to win the Fifa World Cup and it should be the same for the Black Stars. What stops the Ghana Football Association from communicating to the country that we are putting a team for the next three or four years and during that time, we are building a team but we will still compete for every tournament? With this in place, should the team even fail at any tournament, the ordinary Ghanaian is aware that there is a plan in place for building a team and therefore the team is a process but raising the hopes of the country and consistently failing to deliver on your promise is problematic. Having a plan is a key element in this regard.
- Invest and build a good local league
The four Africa Cup of Nations trophies that have been won were won by players playing in the local league. The U-20 team that won the World Cup in 2009 was dominated by players playing in the Ghana Premier League. Again the U-20 team under Karim Zito that won the CAF Youth Championship in 2021 in Mauritania was also dominated by local players. It tells us that when things are done in the right manner, we will get a strong Black Stars with a blend of local players.
Yes, sometimes local players who are invited to the Black Stars fail to impress but that is not always the case. We have seen Felix Annan, Fatawu Mohammed, Gladson Awako, Justice Blay, Kwame Poku and lately Fatawi Isaahaku all emerging from the local league to make an impact at the Black Stars. It is always good to have players playing at the highest level to make your national team better in all areas but the inclusion of local players also help in proper team building and trickles down to the local league.
Teams in the country cannot compete in the CAF interclub competitions and make an impact. The norm has been that every club is nurturing their players and sell them to their direct African rivals. This has been consistently been condemned by club administrators have insisted that is the only way clubs in the country will survive. When government decided to raise that money for Black Stars, it was suggested that government should also consider investing just $1 million in the local league. In the past when there was enough sponsorship for the GFA and local clubs, players were happy and always preferred to stay and continue to play in the local league. This made it possible for players to earn a call up to the Black Stars because of the competitive nature of the league but because there is no money in the league, Ghanaian players prefer to play in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Ethiopia among countries that are not interested in football development but because of money, they prefer to move there which weakens the local league.
- Avoid nepotism in player call up and build competition among players
Despite his influence and the power he had, one thing that was not synonymous under Kwesi Nyantakyi’s administration was influenced on player call ups to the Black Stars. During Mr Nyantakyi’s reign as the Ghana Football Association president, the Black Stars was strong and made an impact on the continent despite failing to win any trophy with the national team. Nyantakyi was lauded and eulogized for how he elevated the brand Black Stars. Under his watch, every player that was handed a call up to the team perhaps merited the call-up. I am not insinuating Mr Nyantakyi is a saint and therefore the Black Stars did not have any issues during his era but his impact was massive and cannot be overlooked but he still had his loopholes.
It is no doubt that the Black Stars is the biggest brand in this country and therefore anybody will prefer to be associated with the team. When Kurt Okraku took over office and fired Kwesi Appiah after the 2019 AFCON in Egypt, people agitated against the decision but the FA defended their decision. CK Akonnor who had then worked with Kurt Okraku at Dreams FC had the nod as the new Black Stars gaffer. An appointment that many felt it is not worthy despite Akonnor’s services for the national team as a former player. Following Akonnor’s appointment, Kurt Okraku in an interview with Joy FM reiterated that the era where player selection was made only by the coach and the technical team is a thing of the past and therefore there will be a meeting to scrutinize and interrogate the call-up. He added that if he [Kurt Okraku] is not able to attend the meeting, he will appoint someone to represent him. Kurt Okraku was taken to the cleaners after uttering such words. Fast forward, rumours consistently emerged that players were imposed on CK Akonnor. These rumours went rife and no member of the Executive Council of the FA made an attempt to quash these rumours. Indeed, Benjamin Tetteh, John Antwi, among other players that Kurt Okraku agitated for their constant exclusion from the Black Stars when he was not the president of the FA all earned call up to the national team when Akonnor was appointed. Their inclusion was questioned by many but the question was did they merit their call up? I believe we know the answer.
Again, one player whose constant inclusion got Ghanaians irritated was Philemon Baffour. This is a player who was a member of the U-20 team that won the CAF Championship but his call up got Ghanaians talking. Prior to the 2021 AFCON, Baffour had earned seven straight call ups to the Black Stars but has not featured in any of those call ups. His inclusion was ironically defended by Kurt Okraku and some members of Dreams FC. It is openly known that Kurt Okraku owns Philemon Baffour.
Milovan Rajevac who was tasked to win the 2021 AFCON shockingly named Baffour and in his 30-man provisional squad for the tournament but failed to again feature in of the three games played. What am I driving at, until we avoid nepotism, the Black Stars will remain in its current state. Players must work to earn the jersey. Yes, every player dreams of playing for the national team but they must earn it. The fact that you have a close relative or you are being managed by the president does not mean you earning a call up should be your birth right. Players must sweat and prove their worth and what they will offer the team before they earn a call-up. Again, what has been Baffour’s impact at the Black Stars? Is he not wasting space and resources?
In terms of building competition among the players within the team, one decision that I believe many Ghanaians cannot get over was Laryea Kingston’s exclusion from the Black Stars squad for the 2006 and 2010 World Cup. This decision by Ratomir Dujković and Milovan Rajevac was indeed mind-boggling abd got many Ghanaians pondering but their decision was justified by the performance of the team on the pitch. Especially in 2010, Laryea Kingston was playing a top-level game and his impact at the Black Stars was impervious. When Laryea was excluded from the squad for the Mundial in South Africa, Milovan in a meeting with the Executive Committee was asked to justify his decision for Laryea Kingston’s exclusion from the squad. Milovan tabled his squad before the Executive Committee and asked them to tell him which player deserves to be left out for Laryea to return to the squad. See, no member of the Executive Committee uttered a word. This indicates the squad in-depth and the competition within the team and among the players.
Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah who played a vital role in the qualifiers prior to the Mundial and at the time playing top level football were all starting games from the bench during the tournament. Yes, you need to have key players that the team will be built around but it should not be that when those players are not around, the team will fail. When there is enough competition among the players within the team, every single player will work for his position knowing that every player is working to earn a slot in the starting line-up.
I’m sorry to say that we are not seeing any competition with this current Black Stars. Kudus Mohammed was injured but he was still named in the squad hoping that he would recover for the tournament but Ajax made their stand clear that the midfielder is not fit enough to play. Are we telling ourselves that without 21 year old Kudus, the Black Stars cannot grind results? Yes, Kudus is a talented player but without him, I don’t think the Black Stars must suffer in any way. The likes of the Ayew brothers, Partey, Amartey, Djiku, Kamaldeen, Paintsil among other players are ready to play but there should be a competition among themselves. It should not be the case that even when the player is failing to perform he will still earn a call-up and still play. If the players are aware that there is competition, when they step on the pitch, they will die for the country to be able to keep their place in the team.
This is our Black Stars. The team that was once chased by expatriate coaches but it is not so today. We should not tickle ourselves and hope we will win anything meaningful if we don’t change our focus and do the right thing. Comoros, The Gambia, Mauritania, Gabon among other countries who were far behind us in terms of football are now making impact and we are now steadily retrogressing.
President Akufo Adoo, Kurt Okraku, let us change the focus if we want the Black Stars to make an impact once again if not, we will continue to waste money and make promises which will not yield any results.
If it is about money, the North African countries will be dominating and winning every AFCON tournament.
By: Samuel Ekow Amoasi Appiah
Facebook: Samuel Ekow Amoasi Appiah