The consistent failure of the Black Stars of Ghana to go beyond the group stages of the African Cup of Nations since 2019 raises serious concerns over our poor management culture, which is driven by a lack of proper planning and lack of vision for the future. Thus, we have frequently failed to build on past achievements, largely due to the impunity of those entrusted with leadership responsibilities.
Since 2019 when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) increased the number of participating teams from 24 to 32, the Black Stars – once revered as the powerhouse of African football – have struggled to get pass the group stages. Many people, including yours truly, have been pondering why Ghanaians often fail to build on our achievements. Anytime we set a record, complacency sets in and allows others to learn from us and eventually overtake us. Not only does this happen in sports, but it has also been a recurring canker in all fields of endeavour – from national development, business and entrepreneurship, education and other fields of public and private initiatives.
Apart from confronting the economic pressure in the country, the persistent failure of the Black Stars to rise above the water has caused many heart failures and high blood pressure. In fact, many Ghanaians are silently suffering from the recent abysmal performance of the Black Stars. In the past when politicians and public policy-makers failed to deliver the public goods, it was football – and to some extent boxing – that healed our broken hearts. That is no more.
In 2006 the Kufour Administration started the process of reviving Ghana football after the Black Stars’ terrible performance at the CAN in Egypt. An assessment of the decline of football and its impact on the national psyche compelled the Kufour Government to invest more resources into reviving Ghana’s number-one sport. Efforts were also made to inject a sense of patriotism into our footballers through motivation and prudent management. At that point the national interest dominated individualism, selfishness and egoistic interests. This culminated in the selection of players based on their current form and their commitment to the national cause, rather than the current practice of imposing players on national coaches to market them for sale. Consequently, in 2006, Ghana qualified for the World Cup for the first time in her history.
The Black Stars’ impressive performance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany raised the brand of Ghana football globally and attracted support and admiration not only in Africa, but also in Asia, Europe and the Americas. It was at this point that the spirit of patriotism was rekindled in Ghanaians. With a powerful brand from the successes in Germany, Ghana gained the right to host CAN in 2008. In my estimation, CAN 2008 marked the resurgence of Ghana football, though the Black Stars failed to win due to bizarre and biased officiating against the country. Those were the days where every sports paraphernalia in Ghana colours were sold out. Every well-meaning Ghanaian was proud to wear the Ghana colours, irrespective of the existing social and economic problems of the time. Divisive politics and ethnic sentiments were overshadowed by a common sense of unity and national identity. Ghanaians of different backgrounds and persuasions rallied behind the national emblems and stood chests out as the national anthem was being played, largely due to the excellent performance of the national football teams.
It came as no surprise when the Black Satellites responded to the national duty against an obviously biased referee and became the first African team to win the FIFA under-20 World Cup in Egypt. Once more, the players and their managers sacrificed their personal interests, egos and the pursuit for money in favour of the national cause. The Black Satellites still hold the African record as the only team to win it for the continent. Sadly, the Under-20 Cup remains the only major Cup Ghana has won since 2009.
Due to proper player transition at the time, the bulk of the Satellite players made it into the Black Stars. The proper transition was the result of Ghana’s impressive performance at the CAN 2010 in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa in the same year. Amid daunting challenges on and off the field, the Black Stars did not only make Ghana proud, but they also became the brand for African football. They carried Africa on their shoulders and became the Black Stars of Africa. In fact, South Africans renamed the Black Stars “Baghana-Baghana. But just when all Ghanaians and Africans expected the Blacks to build on their performance, the team began to flounder.
Events took a turn for the worse in 2014 when our national team began to lose its lustre. The Brazil 2014 World Cup Player Bonus scandal, which culminated with the government airlifting US$2million to Brazil, remains a visible scare on Ghana football administration. The Brazil 2014 scandal embarrassed all Ghanaians and Africans, who had expected the Stars to build on their impressive performance in South Africa in 2010. Unfortunately, as I indicated earlier, the bane of Ghana football – as in other endeavours – is our failure to build on successes. The downward trend of the Black Stars and the Black Satellites attests to my assertion. And this has been the main feature of Ghana since independence in 1957. Nonetheless, the team managed to reach the final of the CAN in 2015 in Guinea Bissau and Gabon, but lost to perennial revivals – the Elephants of the Ivory Coast.
Ghana football never recovered when Anas Aremyaw Anas, published his seminal investigation. The investigation which was released in 2018 highlighted the level of corruption among football administrators and referees in Ghana. It revealed how match officials openly negotiated and took bribes to help teams to win matches. This negative revelation unmasked the poor leadership at the helm of Ghana football at the time, and decimated whatever little respect was left of the sport. Unfortunately, some African referees, perhaps in solidarity with their counterparts in Ghana, began to punish all national teams – including women’s teams – with biased officiating. This further worsened the plight of Ghana football.
Ghana football witnessed a steady decline in performance when the current football administration, led by Kurt Okraku, unexpectedly assumed office in October 2019. In one of his highly publicised interviews on Joy FM, Mr. Okraku loudly proclaimed that he wasn’t going to allow the technical handlers of the national teams, especially the Black Stars, to select players alone. Impliedly, the so-called football people have a high stake in player selection, regardless of whether the players can fit into the coach’s strategy or not.
Ghana is the only country where football administrators have a quota to select players into the national teams, without anyone in government raising the red flag. Stories of GFA officials demanding money from players before guaranteeing their inclusion in national teams abound. If, indeed, players are imposed on coaches, then the results of the matches do not matter as far as those players are marketed for huge transfer fees, which the administrators have a stake. One result is predictable poor performance and poor results. That is why the Black Stars have failed to progress beyond the group stage since 2019, in addition to the failure of our junior teams to qualify for any major tournament.
Undoubtedly, the failure of our football is causing many people to develop heartaches and high blood pressure, but our public officials could not be bothered. If unfit players are imposed on a coach who lacks the courage to resist unnecessary interference in team selection, the results are what we have had since 2019. So pathetic is Ghana football that the Black Stars have become the whipping boys of Africa football, with smaller countries like Comoros, Cape Verde, Gabon and Mozambique having little respect for our national team.
In fact, the performance of some players in national colours amounts to lack of patriotism or outright sabotage of our efforts to break AfCON cup drought. The first time Cameroun won the AfCON was in 1984 when the Black Stars were the defending champions. Cameroun has subsequently won it four times to bring her tally to five, while Ghana is still wallowing in past glory. This is what I mean by our failure to build on our success.
As things stand now, sports – especially football – may well be a major failure of the Akufo-Addo Administration. The decline of Ghana football is even painful because it is the taxpayers’ money that is used to finance the sport under the poor supervision of the current Ghana Football Association management. Therefore, sacking the coach amounts to putting the cart before the horse, which is not the solution. Indeed, Kurt Okraku and his management should have resigned before Chris Hughton’s dismissal. The entire system at GFA needs complete overhauling to stop the so-called football people or those who own clubs from managing Ghana football.
The current practice of club owners managing football promotes conflict of interest, corruption and nepotism, as they tend to favour their own players over competent players. This is at the heart of the failure of the Black Stars and other national teams. The government is too quiet over the decline of football and sports in general. Ghana football needs to be salvaged from the ‘football people’ and agency managers. Enough of the pain and disgrace to our national psyche and brand!
By the way, do we have a Sports Minister?