Lost Boys

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 26th 2014)

Disarray

Where did it all go wrong? The Black Stars have crashed out of the World Cup after an acrimonious campaign that turned them from quarter-finalists four years ago to propping up an admittedly tough group today. Many feel that Ghana got exactly what they deserved this time. Players demanded and got £1.76m for appearances. John Boye was later captured in a crass photograph kissing his money.

Hours before the vital match against Portugal two players were sent home in disgrace by the Ghana Football Association (GFA). Sulley Muntari had assaulted GFA member Moses Armah and Kevin-Prince Boateng had verbally abused coach James Kwesi Appiah. Ghana were beaten 2-1 by Portugal, leaving the Black Stars with the wooden spoon. Difficult group or not it was a spectacular descent from four years ago when they lost in the final of the African Cup of Nations and the quarter-finals of the World Cup. And in 2006 they were the only African team to reach the knock-out stages – the last sixteen.

Adopted

The Black Stars were adopted as Africaʼs team just four years ago when they were the last African team standing in Africaʼs World Cup. Victimised by a player many love to hate, Luis Suárez Díaz, Ghana had most of the worldʼs sympathy vote too. Suárezʼ handball denied Dominic Adiyah a certain goal and a first appearance of an African team in a semi-final of the World Cup, but Asamoah Gyanʼs penalty struck the bar and Uruguay went through on penalties.

Suárezʼ ban for that semi-final was scant consolation for Ghana, whose World Cup hopes were in tatters. The Black Stars were inconsolable and Africa cried with and for them too. Suárezʼ cheating – many others would have done the same – earned him hero status in his country, but it was cheating and it cost Ghana and Africa dear.

FIFA did nothing to prevent repetition of Suárezʼ offence. Ghana got nothing but sympathy and even that wasnʼt unanimous. Awarding a penalty and sending off was seen by many as punishment enough. But an unseemly row over money and two players being ejected from their squad wrecked their preparation for the crucial match against Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal, which they lost. It has also cost them support.

Team of the Decade

Six years ago we interviewed an African legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, arguably the greatest coach in African history – only the Egyptian Hassan Shehata has won as many African Cup of Nations trophies. Gyamfi was an integral part of Africaʼs Football Revolution – a time when Ghanaʼs first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah developed a plan implemented by Gyamfi and Ohene Djan1 to use football and its power to demonstrate African achievement.

Half a century ago it was all so different. Ghana had just won the African Cup of Nations under Gyamfi in 1963. He had learned to coach in Germany and brought those newly acquired skills back to Ghana. He not only became the coach – inheriting József Emberʼs team – but shared his knowledge with other former players and those reaching the end of their careers.

Two years later Gyamfi replaced ageing players and set the foundations for future success as the Black Stars retained their title. The coup that toppled Nkrumah in 1966 forced Djan out and Gyamfi was demoted to assist a fitness trainer who had just passed his coaching qualifications. Ghana lost the 1968 final unexpectedly to Congo-Kinshasa and to hosts Sudan in 1970.

Ghana was the African team of the 1960s and Gyamfi played a huge part in achieving that honour. His views on football in his heyday as a coach bear a striking resonance today.

Success

“In football it is not a question of succeeding all the time”, Gyamfi says. “You can’t get that. It all depends on the unity and unifying the people together and the understanding. If the understanding comes in within the people, then you go ahead. When we started moving everybody was happy, everywhere happy that we were winning championships. When we talk about Africa we are number one and everybody was happy about it, but how to get there”?

Nkrumahʼs vision and Djanʼs delivery of that dream played a very large part in turning Ghana into the team to emulate. Gyamfi was aware of what was needed. “You know, to get there politically, you have to get people who would understand what was going on”, he said. “You see if you send somebody who is not interested in the game – not interested in football – and came in from outside then he can’t deliver. He cannot deliver, but when you send somebody who understands it, he will be more useful, then it can work and you can move forward and he will deliver”.

The Demise of Ghanaian Football

Gyamfi has a simple explanation of where and why things began to go so wrong. “Football became money”, he said. “Motivation was not for the team – infrastructure and all sorts of things. You see it became very difficult in handling the national structure and you know this is the country where the cake must be shared – even not equally, but it must be shared for everybody to get it, because we have football: we have athletics, we have boxing and hockey and other sports you see”.

But now it is even worse. Obscene money is available in football and a threatened strike was averted by paying players £1.76m. Gyamfi foresaw these problems. “If the cake is going to be shared it must be shared equally among them, but the money that comes in is not sufficient and to be all in football if the money is not there, then you don’t have the culture there”, he says. “This is how things started to go wrong”.

It could and should have been so different even then. “To hear my boss, who was then Dr Kwame Nkrumah, tell us what we were capable of inspired us” Gyamfi told us. “He talked to us about what we could do totally. He believed in us and in football. He helped me greatly”. But then disaster struck for Ghana, its football and for Africa – the coup that overthrew Nkrumah. According to the great Zambian leader Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Africa never recovered from it.

“A lot of things went wrong after he [Nkrumah] was overthrown”, Gyamfi said. “At that time they said they would call me back, but they never call me back. I went away. They wanted to play for money and things went wrong. Later they said sorry and called me back”. It wasnʼt just Africa that never recovered from the 1966 coup.

 

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