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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Coaching Legacy (Part Three) – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2010)

Shameful Precedent

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 Ghanas 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 didnt, but paid the price anyway. Gyamfis 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 – Ghanas 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 Eguavoens 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”.

Wasted Opportunities

Camerounian goalkeeping hero Thomas Nkono agrees. “One of the problems of Africa is they dont 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 doesnt 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 Slumbers

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.