With the 2018 World Cup qualifiers starting in September, Citi Sports’ Benjamin Nketsia examines how our previous trips to the globe’s biggest footballing gathering have been used to cover the glaring weaknesses of our football structure.
Making three successive appearances at a competition as prestigious as the World Cup is enough to make any nation complacent and give them a sense of entitlement and Ghana is no different.
Ghana’s last World Cup campaign in Brazil can best be described as an amateur operation that capitulated into global embarrassment for us back home but for the global audience, it was comic relief that was worth cashing in on by those at Hollywood.
Simple discussions over money eventually opened up a can of worms which included blatant disrespect by some players towards the head coach Kwesi Appiah and a full blown brawl between Sulley Muntari and a management member Moses Armah ‘Parker’ which nearly turned bloody but for the intervention of some key figures in the team.
The final outcome of that episode is a feeling of indifference and even resentment that has developed between Ghanaian’s and the football team that was once the soul and passion of the country.
The Playing Body
The Black Stars begin their journey towards Russia 2018 on October 3, they will have to emerge the best team in Group E which also has Egypt,Uganda and Congo.
The personnel available for the job has changed in a number of the departments. In defense, only five members out of the nine that made the Brazil 2014 trip will be available with goalkeeper Razak Braimah the most conspicuous due to Ghana’s inconsistency and struggles at the position in the past few years.
The midfield has also evolved over that period with the most notable absentees being Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari who have both played very little significant top flight football since due to fitness.
Juventus enforcer and a one-time talisman for the squad, Kwadwo Asamoah is likely to make a return to the team after what has been 18 months on the physio’s table.
He has lost some of his explosiveness and will require uninterrupted play time to get back to peak level but his real strength when playing for Ghana has always been his vision as a play maker and the thrust he provides when the team requires a surge of energy and motivation from the middle of the park.
After being away for so long it will be unfair to expect him to be the engine room which puts into sharper focus the absence of Andre Ayew who has steadily grown as a player and in stature since the last World Cup.
His 12 goals and 2 assists means that his thigh muscle strain injury on his debut for West Ham will see him miss the home match against Uganda and the first leg away to Egypt.
Another area of concern is the attacking department led by Asamoah Gyan whose lack of fitness has seen him make only 11 starts in 20 appearances,scoring 7 goals during that period.
Gyan has always been willing to put national football ahead of his club career but has always turned up to camp ill or carrying an injury every time he has been invited to camp since Afcon 2015.
The backup cast that includes Jordan Ayew,Majeed Warris and David Accam have not shown enough to prove that they can be trusted the entire duration of the qualifiers.
The technical frame of the team currently looks like one that will crumble with a nudge even before spanners like winning bonuses are thrown into the mix.
If the words of former Black Star winger Laryea Kingson are to be taken seriously money means everything to these players especially with a World Cup on the horizon.
The money topic has since become like a hot potato that nobody wants to discuss but it remains that minefield that could derail the entire process
“Everybody likes to earn income for the work that they do.
“The bonuses were very instrumental in our qualification to the World Cup in Germany.
“Our bonuses were always waiting for us before we went in to play our matches and it motivated us to go out there to pick up all three points.
“The money was usually already at the hotel by the time we arrived from the match,”he told freelance sports reporter Samuel Bartels.
Its time to put the issue of bonuses to rest once and for all.
Footballers like every other group of humans like to be rewarded for their efforts but this reward must be sustainable and must also be in alignment with the resources available.
The Technical set-up
The errors committed by Kwesi Appiah in Brazil stemmed largely from his inability to command the respect of the playing body as a leader who has an independent mind capable of making decisions without external influence.
Multiple confrontations with Kevin Prince Boateng were preceded by a public accusation by goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey where he questioned the manager’s integrity after allegedly finding out that he had been dropped for the match against Germany on the advice of some players within the team.
The joy of mentioning him as the first Ghanaian coach to ever qualify the Black Stars to a World Cup dissipated quickly.
Such incidents are unlikely to be repeated under current Israeli boss Avram Grant who arrived with a bigger reputation and has been lauded by his players for his man management skills.
Handed the Black Stars job without any clearly defined targets meant that Avram Grant managed to escape criticism for failing to win the Afcon 2015 finals against Cote D’Ivoire with the general feeling being that second best was outstanding given the limited time afforded him to prepare his players.
Penalties present another opportunity for excuses but that Afcon final could have been won within 90 minutes with a few tactical and technical tweaks.
Grant kept postponing the substitution of players who seemed clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the occasion.
With qualification for the next Afcon sealed the Israeli’s biggest test yet will be getting Ghana to Russia 2018 among a plethora of distractions.
When forces beyond what meets the eye of the fans inside an arena determine the outcome of a football match then the purpose of sports is defeated and its greatest fear has manifested.
The encounter between Ghana and Egypt will attract global attention due to the history that exists between the two teams and the outcome of the the last World Cup playoff.
Allegations of the Egyptian Fa attempting to induce Ghana with monies to throw away those two play off games were made by Kofi Manu, a gentleman generally known to be a close ally to the GFA, and several of its members on a local radio station, these were swiftly rubbished,followed up with a warning to report Manu to CAF by the Egyptians.
The trail on those allegations went cold until more recently the Ghana Sports Newspaper reported in obscure language that evidence in their possession had revealed that the GFA had spent close to half a million dollars in bribes to enable Ghana qualify for the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
Ghana’s U-20 team’s elimination from the AYC qualifiers by Senegal sparked fresh bribery reports when Sports Minister Nii Lante Vanderpuye subtly suggested that he had been approached by the GFA to help influence the outcome of the game.
“The FA during the game against Senegal wanted me to do things which I refused. I stated clearly to them that I will not be involved in certain acts. And so I refused to do those things which they asked me to do during the game against Senegal,” he added.
“I don’t want to reveal things on air. I don’t want to say certain things on the radio. I don’t know the kind of motivation the Black Satellites Management Committee member is talking about,” .
In all this, the real hard work and effort that is put in by players who have sacrificed a lot to contest at this level is overlooked and will be cast in doubt.
The more interesting question remains why Ghana as a traditional footballing nation will pay, be willing or even entertain the idea of paying such huge sums of money when the foundations of the sports scream out for a little cash injection.
The colts football structure that birthed the few world class players Ghana can lay claim to is at the point of extinction with the nation’s top flight league still lacking a headline sponsor despite immense media attention and social media presence.
In establishing the Dzamefe Commission of inquiry after the disaster that was Brazil 2014 Ghana as nation had resolved to purge its football and sports of corrupt individuals and to follow procedures that are transparent in the administration of sports.
However, the comprehensive report which spells out the mishaps that transpired and the individuals who perpetrated them has been cast aside and left to gather dust while its custodians look on.
Perhaps, it was all a charade to hoodwink the people of Ghana into believing that the State is bothered about cleaning the sport.
As things stand, Ghanaian football is going through a gradual decay that is masked with appearances at the World Cup.
No finished product materializes without a factory and the reality of this will eventually catch up.