by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2010)
Even the greatest coaches are treated abysmally by African federations. Charles Kumi Gyamfi won the African Cup of Nations at the first attempt in 1963. He retained it in 1965. Following the military coup that deposed Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966, Gyamfi was shamefully demoted to be the assistant to a recently qualified Brasilian fitness trainer, Carlos Alberto Parreira, for the 1968 Cup of Nations.
It was a disastrous decision that cost the Black Stars dear. Ghana lost 1-0 to a Pierre Kalala goal for Congo-Kinshasa in one of the biggest shocks in the history of the tournament. Parreira deserved the sack. Gyamfi didn’t, but paid the price anyway. Gyamfi’s great football knowledge and popularity with the team was thrown away. They played for Gyamfi – wanted to – but Parreria had none of that. It was not the Brasilian’s fault that he was appointed above his abilities – Ghana’s coup plotters bear ultimate responsibility for that and much more besides.
The sacking of Gyamfi set an unfortunate precedent that happened again forty years later to Augustine Eguavoen. The Nigerian number two was sacked after Berti Vogts’ failure in the 2008 edition of the African Cup of Nations, but Eguavoen’s fate cannot compare to Gyamfi, who had achieved something that took more than forty years to be matched – retaining the African Cup of Nations.
“I think it defies imagination”, says one of the young players that Gyamfi brought through in 1965, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, who went on to follow his mentor into coaching. “63 he won it as head coach with his assistant. 65 he won it again with the same assistant. 68 the two of them were relegated and Parreira took over. He had to go back as assistant, so you see the African mentality is the problem here. Terrible”.
Camerounian goalkeeping hero Thomas Nkono agrees. “One of the problems of Africa is they don’t have consciousness of yourself”, he told us. “We have ideas about white people – yellow people. For the African, the first thing to do is to give the confidence of the people to the coach. Give him all possibility”.
But this doesn’t happen for African coaches. They are held to short-term contracts and do not receive the support they need. It happened to Attuquayefio more than once. Despite a four-year contract with Ghana in 2000 he was dismissed in a year.
In 2004 he managed to take Bénin to the African Cup of Nations finals for the first time in their history. They lost every match and Attuquayefio was sacked, but he created a legacy in the tiny West-African nation. Sadly it was squandered by the late Reinhard Fabisch.
“They decided to go for a white man to come and coach them again”, said Attuquayefio. “The white man arrived and he has held them to a long contract, whereas when I was there I had a contract that was from fear. It is the African way and I don’t like to be doing that because I personally want to change the will”. But how?
The revolution, or at least the understanding of the power of football was rediscovered, ironically by General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong. His investment paid off for the Black Stars, but not himself. Fred Osam Duodo won the African Cup of Nations in 1978, but it did little for Acheampong, who shared Nkrumah’s fate. A few weeks after Ghana won the tournament he was overthrown in yet another coup.
Further coups and counter-coups brought the controversial Jerry Rawlings to power. Acheampong was executed by firing squad in 1979. Ghana won the African Cup of Nations for the fourth and so far last time in 1982 – Gyamfi’s third and last triumph. They lost in the final in 1992 and again in 2010, but the February 1966 coup cost Ghanaian football far more.
The counter-revolution was consolidated and Ghanaian coaching regressed. The model that had produced Gyamfi and enabled others to learn from him was lost. Top coaches were ostracised as the military governments did not invest in football or its potential and the next generation of African coaching talent stagnated before it was allowed to develop.
The principles of the Football Revolution and opportunities that it gave talented Ghanaians were thrown away. They had to be rediscovered. So did the accomplishments of Osagyefo – Dr Kwame Nkrumah.