It was not what Ghanaians bargained for. It was not what the Black Stars strappingly pledged! Sadly, that is what we have to settle with – willy-nilly!
So, like dust humiliatingly blown away by a blustery weather, Ghana exactly a week ago, was flushed out of the 32nd edition of the African Cup of Nations tournament being held in Egypt.
The Stars slumped to what has now become the nation’s hoodoo – penalty kicks – bowing 4-5 to Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles after 120 minutes of sweltering football that ended one apiece. Upshot of the game may have come as a distressing stunner to many Ghanaians, especially when Tunisia had never ever beaten the Stars at the Nations Cup – dating as far back as 1963.
In their seven meetings, Ghana had won six – sharing the spoils in the other. The Ghanaian optimism and buoyancy ahead of that 16th-stage tie had therefore hit the roof. It was predictable. Indeed, many were even thinking of Madagascar as the next hurdle – after finishing off with Tunisia.
But on that day, a different story was destined to be told and the Carthage Eagles would also smile for the first time as they served revenge cold over Ghana. Hearts were broken. The streets of Accra and the entire nation went desolate and barren. But the Tunisian capital of Tunis was wrapped up in freewheeling ecstasy – the Tunisians celebrating wildly for having been able to exorcise the Ghanaian curse.
Start of the campaign
Ghana’s campaign wobbled lamely to a staggering 2-2 draw with the Squirrels of Benin and then held defending champions Cameroon to a barren stalemate before accounting for Guinea-Bissau 2-0 to make it to the Round of 16 stage. What happened after this phase is known to all of us. The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia slammed in the dagger.
For the past six AFCON tournaments, the Stars have swaggered their way to the semi-final stage, and even made the grand-finale cut in both 2010 and 2015, the latter of which they lost via the lottery of penalties to Cote d’Ivoire.
The expectation in Egypt was, therefore, sky-scrapingly high, especially when head coach of the team, Kwesi Appiah, had told Ghanaians he had had the most peaceful camp ever in Dubai ahead of the tournament. Past preparations, we were hinted, were somehow surly, frosty and challenging. Not this one!
Truth be told, the general performance of the Black Stars was below par and white-bread. We did not see Ghana playing; the team-work was worryingly pallid, although there were some series of individual brilliance from some of the players.
Lust for money than result
Days before they left for Dubai for their training camp, concerns were raised as to how much money the Ministry of Youth and Sports was going to splash on the Egypt campaign. There was no proper response to that query, allowing the public to make lots of conjectures. Let us leave that for another day.
What probably was even more upsetting was the amount of bonuses or allowances (or whatever it is called) that was paid to the players after qualifying to the next stage of the competition. Indeed, deep-throat sources in the team confirmed that they were given a qualification bonus of $30,000 each for beating Guinea-Bissau to make it to the Round of 16 stage.
Why the sector ministry contrived to pay that stunning amount still beats the imagination of Ghanaians. Was that the way we promised to save the public purse?
Nigeria with all their oil money promised to pay each player $20,000 for qualifying to the semi-finals; and we thought it prudent to splatter more money for an underachievement, whilst other sporting disciplines cry for help? Does it make sense? Purely imprudent!
Why have we decided to dine with mediocrity all these years?
Otherwise, how on earth would Black Stars players be presented with brand new 4×4 Cherokee vehicles after they had finished second at the 2015 Nations Cup? Now, our players think getting to the last four is even an enviable feat. Going there to play and win the Cup is now becoming a matter of afterthought rather than a priority. Our taste for mediocrity is now legendary!
Today, we are not only known as the sleeping giants of African football; we have slipped into a nadir of shame and ignominy due to a disturbing culture of mediocrity and our players’ unparalleled lust for money.
If the players are not ready to show patriotism and the zeal to carve out something for the nation, do they expect to elicit support from Ghanaians? Of course, some of them have managed to bulldoze their way into the Stars’ camp without a bead of sweat at the expense of more conscientious quality players and so do not care a hoot about the performance they churn out.
Our sports officials have turned themselves into a bunch of hypocrites, preaching virtues and perpetuating vice.
Fact is, whether they play well or not; whether coaches are changed or not, their positions in the team are heavily guaranteed – so far as they have their godfathers at the upper echelons of power! That is one pathetic state of our football. It has to change!
Indeed, if Ghana was able to win its four Nations Cup trophies in less than two decades, what at all has stalled our progress since the glory of ’82? Failing to clinch the Golden Fleece for the past 37 years is, undeniably, a huge indictment on our image as a super power of African football.
Dying for the Ghana shirt
The Ghana shirt is not for sale! Whoever wears it must earn it and be ready to die for the country; be whole-heartedly committed and dedicated to the national cause.
It is distressing that we have failed woefully to learn from the mortifying Brazil 2014 experience where some of the players took the nation to ransom – and ran the team’s camp rugged. We have been told there was an apparent lost of control in the team’s camp in Egypt as female visitors lumbered in and out with cloying pleasure, giving the players little time to rest. This must be investigated!
If this unfortunate account is anything to go by, then clearly it tells you the players’ disdain for Coach Appiah – just as he was treated in Brazil. Truth is, he does not command the respect of the players. Again, what was the job of the Black Stars Management Committee chairman headed by Dr K.K Sarpong, in Egypt? As they say, footballers will respond to what they see and feel.
2021 Nations Cup in Cameroon
As usual, the attention has been shifted to the next AFCON tournament to be hosted by Cameroon. Our officials are now telling us they would make amends in that country and break what would now become a 39-year-old ‘trophy-less’ jinx. Well, some of them do not deserve to be at their post. Truth is that we need an irresistible revolution in the Black Stars. There are too many square pegs in round holes – and they have got to be flushed out!
Cameroon 2021 may be two years away, but let us not slump into any physiological state as we always do. Preparations must start now because the battle ahead would be more challenging and exhausting.
Perhaps, the most immediate task now is to start off a Black Stars revolution by investigating into the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against some of the players; finish off with the normalization of our local football and build on from there.
Ghana football can resurrect again, but the renaissance will start first from officialdom!
BY JOHN VIGAH