by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 27th 2010)
Africa’s World Cup will have a legacy and part of it should include a better deal for African coaches. They rarely get a chance on their continent. It isn’t fair, but part of the blame must be laid at the door of African Football Federations and their failure to learn the lessons of Africa’s Football Revolution and apply them throughout the continent.
Half a century ago the first President of independent Ghana Dr Kwame Nkrumah had a vision. He developed a blueprint for African achievement – a revolution through football. It gave African administrators the opportunity to shine.
The greatest African organiser was his Minister of Sport Dr Ohene Djan who reorganised football in Ghana – establishing league competition and a new cup and a team Real Republicans that allowed the best Ghanaian footballers to play and train together regularly.
Black Faces of the Football Revolution
Djan also supported the African face of the Football Revolution. It needed a black face in the dug-out, but one that could inspire the team and produce results. There were no prizes for second place in 1963 in Ghana and two years later it was ready to be exported to the rest of the continent, but only if the Black Stars delivered once more in Tunisia. They did under their gifted young coach, who had only just hung up his boots.
Charles Kumi Gyamfi was the captain of the Black Stars when he left to join West German outfit Fortuna Düsseldorf, but he went to Europe to do more than just play – he was there to learn to coach and bring what he learned back to Ghana. Other ageing players trod the same path too. On his return Gyamfi was incorporated into the national set up and allowed to learn from Ghana’s European coaches as well, especially Jozef Ember.
Football was more than just a sport in Ghana at this time – it was an essential part of a social project that would change not only the sport that Gyamfi had dedicated his life to, but the country and continent that he loved.
“We were always planning ahead, like we wanted to plan and organise here in Africa”, Gyamfi told us exclusively. “We wanted African organisation – an organisation that is African – to be the African team through organisation. It happened”.
It was far more than a football strategy – it was proving to a country emerging from colonialism that Africans were organisers, tacticians and could compete and achieve their goals on merit. Gyamfi was among the first to benefit, but he brought his newly acquired skills back and passed them on to other Ghanaians. The revolution was spreading and a new generation of coaches and administrators was developing.
“They looked at me then – the training there and in Europe – and because of that a lot of them played professionally and train as coaches”, he said. “We had to demonstrate that there was a special way of coaching. There were a lot of beneficiaries, so really in the end they tell me that – the people in the country – and they give me the time”.
Osagyefo and the Director
Gyamfi wholeheartedly believed in the revolution. The respect he has for ‘Osagyefo’ [Nkrumah] remains as strong as it ever was half a century later. “To hear my boss, who was then Dr Kwame Nkrumah, tell us what we were capable of inspired us”, he said. “He talked to us about what we could do totally. He believed in us and in football. He helped me greatly”.
Vital as Nkrumah’s support was Gyamfi recognises the importance of Djan to the revolution. He was already on the path to greatness – achievements that would take more than four decades to equal – but even after winning the African Cup of Nations at the first attempt in 1963, Gyamfi faced absurd calls for his job. It was Ember’s team, not his, they claimed. He inherited it and learned from the Hungarian, but he still had to deliver and did.
Djan ignored the calls to sack Gyamfi. He was no stranger to courageous decisions. During colonial times he stood up to corrupt and incompetent officials and organised resistance that was eventually overtaken by events. Even before the Football Revolution Ohene Djan was a respected visionary.
“Nkrumah asked one of the younger ministers to be the Director of Sport – not of coaching – and that was Ohene Djan”, Gyamfi told me. “The stadium is named after him – a very hard working man. He organised the administrative side and he did a lot. He used to tell Kwame a lot and he cared about football, because he could see that we have so much there that he wanted us to develop it to move forward, so we can do whatever to achieve that. I remember him very well”.
Djan also proved that he was an excellent judge of talent by sticking with Gyamfi. The young coach realised that he had take hard decisions – ones that could end long friendships. He took a successful team that was ageing – ending the international careers of players he had recently captained himself – and brought young players through. Among them was a young man who would follow his mentor into coaching and become an African legend himself, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio.
The test of Gyamfi and Ghana’s Football Revolution would come in Tunisia in 1965. Egypt was the only team thus far to have retained the African Cup of Nations, but Gyamfi’s task was harder. He had to deliver in Tunisia in a different format as more teams contested the finals than had when Egypt won in 1957 and 59 and no coach had ever won the trophy twice let alone retained it – an achievement that Hassan Shehata matched in Gyamfi’s homeland in 2008 and surpassed in Angola in 2010.