Hogging all the cash: Tales from Grassroots football in Ghana

Note: This piece first appeared on Allsports.com.gh, which is now Pulse Sports, on the 21st of November, 2013.




LIBYA QUARTERS, Accra – The retreating Sun spreads a beautiful scene across the clouds above Zurak Park as youngsters from as little as nine years of age upwards train passionately, every kick of the ball splashing the sand beneath and filling the atmosphere with dust as thick as their resilience to still carry on playing despite its potential harm.

Colts football – as Ghanaian grassroots football is termed – has long been considered a system that has lost its relevance and vibrancy in an ever changing footballing system. Though its fruits are ultimately enjoyed at the higher most echelons, it has been woefully starved of attention and support. All this notwithstanding, there are some people who still believe colts is the gospel that it really should be.

Changing lives

The grass-less, fenced Zurak Park – named after Alhaji Zurak, a prominent football administrator — is home to Top Ten Football Academy, a 20-year-old community football club inside Libya Quarters; a Zongo-like settlement just behind North Legon in Accra. This very team and this very field have changed the lives of many young footballers.

It is here that talents have been strategically spotted and systematically developed for the world market. Young boys whose families could barely afford three square meals have been developed here and turned into rich bread winners playing for clubs in Europe.

Yusif Raman Chibsah, who plays for US Sassuolo in Italy is one of such boys. He made his senior Ghana National team debut against Japan in a 3-1 friendly loss in Yokohama in September, aged 20.

“Oh Chibsah, my boy!” Mohammed Nurudeen, affectionately known as ‘Pounds’ – the coach of the Academy – cries out with a beam that tells a story on its own, the story of a proud man,  as he sits down for an interview.

Pounds is a slim, middle aged man, a former footballer whose failure to make it to the highest level has motivated him to dedicate his life to grooming youngsters. “Chibsah is making all of us proud. I still remember him, right here, on this very pitch,” he adds, staring at the dusty pitch in nostalgia. “I always knew he’d make it, because his mind was big for his age. Maturity showed in his game-play very early in his development. He was so hard working. He never complained when most others did. God should bless that boy.”

Chibsah’s story has been an inspiration for most of the boys at Top Ten. “I don’t think there’s anyone here that doesn’t like him,” Emmanuel “Aduri Jay” Matti, a prominent u17 player, says. “He’s been through a lot. A lot. He used to live in a very, very small structure with his parents and siblings right down this path. Football has done a lot for him. He recently got his parents a fully-furnished apartment, I heard. They deserve. He deserves it.”

Everyone wants in on the fairy tale too; to make it out of the slums like Chibsah has done. Every day, when they gather to undergo energy sapping training sessions, their will to endure is fueled by the dream that a life in Europe as a financially well-to-do footballer at the very least is achievable. “We all dream of that. It’s difficult cos very few people will make it. If you don’t meet the right people and get favours, it’ll never happen,” Matti adds, rather gloomily.

Nothing coming back

Chibsah is not alumini of Top Ten living the dream, there’ve been others. Abass Alhassan, a highly rated youth player at Chibsah’s club, Sassuolo, also used to strut his stuff at the park too.
Then there’s the duo Mohammed Kasola and Razak Mohammed, 27-year-olds who have both naturalized for the Qatar national team after years of playing in the Qatari top flight. Both, defender and striker respectively, have notched up 48 caps between them for the 2022 World Cup hosts, with seven international goals in between.

Razak, who has been prolific at club level over the years, is the younger brother of Anas Mohammed, formerly of Asante Kotoko and who was one of the first footballers who player for Top Ten. “He was a goalkeeper,” Pounds reveals of Razak. “I used four months to turn him into a striker. And it makes me proud.”

In March 2010, Kasola made his debut for the Qatari National team, the Al Annabi, with Razak making his a year later. “Seeing them play for Qatar, though not ideal obviously, was one of my proudest moments. I had so many [phone] calls, ‘Pounds, your boys are playing for Qatar!.’ It was something else,” Pounds says proudly of his Qatari based players, who are raking in millions of euros, very little of which have found their way back to Top Ten.

“It’s sad,” says Pounds, summarizing a painful feeling that hovers around his thoughts daily, threatening to suck the kindness out of his heart. “We’ve had players buy balls and bibs, stuff like that for the various categories. But a significant expression of appreciation to me for all I’ve done? All the sacrifice? No, not at all. But I know it’ll come one day, because I believe. So far as more players are coming through. Besides, some might be thinking of doing something like that, but maybe it hasn’t materialized yet. Maybe they’re waiting. I always pray for myself and pray for them. I don’t like to complain too much. ”

That’s of course, trying to be diplomatic. Pounds is really hurt by the lack of appreciation, his unfair, ironical reward for close to 20 years of selfless dedication to build the future of most of his boys. Even though he has won countless trophies across all categories, churning out some really good players in the process, his labours don’t seem to have materialized to effect change in his standard of living. The hurt is visible.

“I have a quarter plot [of land] on which I’ve always planned to come up with just a single room structure,” he says, emphasizing ‘single’ by raising his right index finger, sadness in his eyes. “Just so I can finally, finally stop paying rent and have a small place to call my own. But man, I haven’t been able to do so all these years. I have single-handedly funded under 10, under 12, 15 17 up to the senior team, and nobody, nobody helps out. Boots, jerseys, transportation, even food sometimes. It’s hard. My family always complain ‘you’ve been in this business for years and we aren’t seeing anything!’I’ve sacrificed for so many people and most of the time all I’ve got is betrayal.”

“But we’re still in it, and we’re hoping,” Pounds, who still proudly rides a bicycle, adds, nodding. “We know that hopefully one day, one player will come through and help out. I remember a year before Chibsah left for Italy, a move to Qatar had fell through and it crushed him. He cried. I remember jokingly telling him. ‘Chibsah, I know if I had nine cars you’d add one to it to make ten. That if I had 99, you’d make it 100.’ He laughed. I know that thing is still in his mind.”

Dark secrets

Pounds’ tone changes when the topic shifts to another one of his famous products, Inter Milan’s Joseph Alfred Duncan. Affectionately referred to by his local name Ato, Duncan was part of the bronze-winning Ghana Under 20 team at the World Cup in Turkey earlier this year as a high profile member, and is now playing on loan at Livorno, though he’s already represented Inter at senior level.

“Hmmm,” he begins, in an effort to be tactful. But he lets go in the end. “He was my captain, for the u17s. He won the league with us and later, he told me he was going for a justifier, so I released him. Later, he said they were camping and the people there wanted to help them travel and all that, and I was like ‘oh, don’t worry.’ I was even calling him for league games as and when, like he did when he was in boarding school. I was told if he’d be picked, the people would come and negotiate. Then it all happened. I had travelled to Wa and upon my return, he was gone,” Pounds becomes silent, looking away.

“I was confused. He’s gone to Italy? How? But at least, I should have been given a notice or something?! I was like, no, no, no no no. This shouldn’t be like this. I can tell you, up till today, I still don’t understand. People are fighting over his monies, whilst we, the owners of the player, are just here. All we’re asking is a little to help us push the rest of the boys here. But we have taken thankfully taken measures to get what’s due us, which is in the pipeline.”

There’s more to the Duncan saga. On his official profile, there’s not a single trace of Top Ten Academy. Pounds believes it’s a grand conspiracy to deny the club of the mandatory, FIFA sanctioned solidarity payments when he’s transferred. The Solidarity payment is a rule that stipulates that if a professional player transfers to another club during the course of a contract, 5% of any transfer fee, not including training compensation paid to his former club, shall be deducted from the total amount of this compensation and distributed by the new club as a solidarity contribution to the club(s) involved in his training and education – from his 12th to 23rd birthday -- over the years.

Conspiracy? By who? Apparently, it’s a common practice within grassroots football. Faceless agents manipulate records of players to deny the people who groomed them their share of the financial bounty that the players’ transfers generate. These scheming agents, who weave their way deceitfully via connections with power players on the Ghanaian football terrain, hog all the cash; a classic case of ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.’

Pounds says he’s been through that many times previously, but he and Top Ten were too personally involved with Duncan’s development to just let go.

“These people hijack the players from us and turn them against us. Ato [Pounds refers to Duncan by his alternative local name] once granted an interview where he was asked where he was discovered, and all he could say was; 'they picked me from school',” Pounds says, a contagious feeling of disappointment helplessly discernible from his speech. “When I was told, I was like are you sure?! How?”

“I remember thinking; This boy has been very ungrateful. At least, raise the image of where you started from; it’s only right. Even if you won’t give us anything, to recommend or endorse us is even better. What he did meant we’re nothing. That all that we’re doing amounts to zero.” At this point, his eyes seem like they are preparing to be welled up with tears, but he keeps his cool amidst the outburst.

Denying the past

Joseph Duncan (first from right), from his Top Ten Academy days. There’s no record of this on his profile, sadly.

“Now, I have to say this,” Pounds pulls himself together. “I want the media and everyone to know this. This is bad! People go to the FA to clear people’s records so they can sell and benefit selfishly. That is enslaving. It’s bad! It means people are being made to look like fools amidst their labour. Look at the number of these kids we took from the streets! We try to give them guidance and training. Nobody pays us. And when it’s time to get rewards for our efforts? Nothing. If it were you, how would you feel? How would you? The people need to be brought to book, if not, very soon Ghana will lose a lot. Because most of these players will be made to look like say Italians or Germans when they lived and played here.

“Let me tell you something else; you see Chibsah? His youth career section reads Bechem United. He has never played for the club before, as far as I know. It’s the work of the same people. People working with other powerful people within the FA. There should be processes where time is given publicly for people to lodge complaints about players and ownership during international transfers. Otherwise, this kuluulu (underhand dealings) will continue.

Duncan’s denial of his past – whether done under blackmail, influence or duress – has not hurt only Pounds. Many other boys in the team are disappointed with how everything has turned out. Some are even disappointed for different reasons; according to them, that sort of behavior is not beyond Duncan, who they opine has been greatly influenced negatively by all the money and fame. “Ei Duncan,” one player, who prefers to remain anonymous, exclaims as he shakes his head in disbelief.

“It’s hard to understand. It’s hard. He doesn’t even come to say hi when he comes around. Last time, we saw him in the area when he’d come for the vacation. Can you believe he just walked past us? Not even a wave. Last, I called him and he told me not to call him again. I thought he was joking so I whatsapped him just to be sure and he went like; ‘is it English you don’t understand?’ My jaw dropped. I just couldn’t believe it.”

“He’s changed. He doesn’t seem to be as humble or respectful anymore. There’s been rumours that it’s his friends who in a bid to win him over and enjoy some of his cash have turned him against all of us. Others also say his father is putting things in his head. There are so many theories. It’s messed up,” another former teammate adds. “For some of us, it’s not that we want him marching around here splashing money. Sometimes, it’s the little acknowledgement; the little respect. You see, Chibsah comes around and he greets everybody, even people he doesn’t know. Anytime he’s around, we’re happy and proud. It feels like he’s not forgotten us.”

Duncan’s attitude seems to have sparked a wave of disapproval and dislike amongst his former comrades. There’s an argument for the fact that it might just be an innate character that his new found status has unleashed after years of dormancy, but at the same time, there’s every chance his whole psyche has been tampered with by the agents who call the shots in his professional life, the very same people that have turned him against his humble beginnings and denied Pounds and Top Ten their due.

'ɛbɛyɛ yie' [It shall be well]

Fortunately for Pounds, he has evidence of Duncan’s involvement with Top Ten; pictures, videos, his colts card…the whole nine yards. “I have it. It’s in my possession now. Even he knows.

“It really hurts. If you asked him to point where I lived, he wouldn’t be able to. He doesn’t even know where I live. But I don’t mind. I won’t look for him. You know why? Let me tell you this; when a child comes back from school, he has to go to his father, his father doesn’t go looking for him. Except when he’s lost. If the child knows where you are, why should you go looking for him?”

Despite all he’s been through, there’s an optimism about Pounds that is admirable. There’s a chronic temptation to wake up one morning and go “Ok. I’ve had it!” but someway, somehow, Pounds has managed to evade this for years. “I have promised to help my community raise talent for the benefit of their family and people in their surroundings,with all my strength and wealth no matter how rough and tough the situation will be; either by reward or by criticism; I shall be there for my community because that is were I belong,” he wrote on facebook a few weeks ago.

He seems to be addicted to his job, and will soldier on till the day his efforts finally get rewarded with a few thousand pounds.

“The younger ones won’t disappoint. I know they’re planning for me one day to stop taking money from my pocket to finance the club. They’ll soon come to sponsor the club themselves,” he says as a group of under 10 players fascinatingly pass the ball around, innocently oblivious of what their coach is going through.

As night falls and the players disperse, disappearing into the darkness, Pounds' eyes are blood-shot from constant stress and tiredness as he gets up from a small bench by the pitch. We walk out, diagonally across the sandy pitch, where a Christian prayer group have arranged plastic chairs in preparation for prayers during the night.

“Come and join us and let’s pray one of these days,” the evangelist laughs, addressing Pounds as we walk by. “We have to pray so that more of your boys make it. Last I saw Ato on tv and I was so, so proud. I believe most of these boys are too good to still be here, let’s pray and make it happen. After all, it’s the same God we serve. Or?”

“Yoo mate [I’ve heard you],” Pounds, a Muslim like many others in Libya Quarters — an Islam community — smiles. “I’ll pray for the boys,” the Evangelist waves.

The success of the boys at Zurak already seems to be a unifying collective desire, transcending boundaries with sensitivities very well-documented.

"Yes,It’s the same God,” Pounds whispers as we bend beneath the torn fence entrance cum exit. “That’s true.”


Ghana qualifies for a third straight World Cup

By
Fiifi Anaman



2014 World Cup Qualifier, 2nd leg of play-off, 30 June Air Defence Stadium, Cairo: 


Egypt 2-1 Ghana [Amr Zaki 24, Mohammed Nagy 83, Kevin Prince Boateng 88']

The first time, in 2006, was laced with ecstatic relief. After conquering the
continent on four different occasions in the space of 19 years, the Black Stars
of Ghana had finally, finally, qualified for a FIFA World Cup. It was a dream
that had outlived most of it's cherished proponents, an obsession that had
proved chronically elusive.

After Ghana had finally caught the "snitch" after years of
frustrating futility, little did Ghanaians know that the first would open
"the floodgates."


On Tuesday evening, at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo and against African
football's most successful nation Egypt, Ghana -- the "Brazil of
Africa" -- made it three World Cup qualifications in a row. If the first
had been sweet, and the second sweeter, this was, by far, the sweetest, given
it culminated arguably Ghana's most devastating run of form in a qualifying
campaign in it's history.

Eight matches played, six won, and 25 goals scored. It didn't come easy though.
Ghana were made to look deep within themselves to find the strength to scale
the final hurdle.

Six minutes into the game and with a five goal advantage from the first leg in
Kumasi last month, one would have thought the Egyptians would have had the
first chance. Wrong.

Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah had said before the game that his team will go out.
"The best way to defend -- and I've always known -- is to attack," he
had said. Seems his boys got the memo, with Majeed Waris getting the first shot
of the game after being brilliantly played through by 'veteran' Michael Essien.

On nine minutes, Egypt had their first shot -- the incomparable Mohammed
Aboutreika, on his 100th cap and last ever international game, hitting low and
wide, a free kick from about 30 yards.

On the bench, Egypt's substitutes looked on quietly, most with hands on their
chin, staring at ongoing events on the pitch with an uninspiring gaze. Despair
visible through their eyes. But beneath all that, though, there was a scintilla
of hope, which helplessly showed in the way they would stagger from their seats
anytime Egypt attacked.

And they attacked well, with finesse too. They piled on the pressure on the
Ghanaians, who themselves looked dangerous on the break, determined not to let
the atmosphere -- 30,000 fans in full voice -- intimidate them. Amidst the
charged noise as well as the blatantly visible and distracting laser beams, the
stars, on the brink of achievement, kept their composure.

Egypt coach Bob Bradley, at the end of that humiliating 6-1 first leg defeat,
had said qualifying for the World Cup at that point was "nearly
impossible." Of course, that was just being realistic, but it was also a
way of relieving pressure. Of secretly harbouring aspirations of a miraculous
comeback."We have to create a miracle before going to the World Cup,"
he said before the game. And it was evident in how he gesticulated animatedly
as he paced up and down the touchline, impatiently waiting for goal number one
to kick start it all.

Goal number one did come on 24 minutes. Aboutreika's beautifully accurate cross
was missed by Fatau Dauda, the ball coming off striker Amr Zaki into the goal.

That goal was fully deserved, as the Egyptians were in authoritative command of
the duel. Their passing was enchanting in it's seemingly rehearsed patterns,
and the fusion of speed and intent with which they moved the ball was unreal. They were everywhere, covering every single inch of
grass like they were possessed. They suffocated the Ghanaians with their
intricate technical brilliance. There was very little to lose at this point,
and everything to gain.

For the likes of Zaki and Aboutreika, part of the "Golden generation"
that won three consecutive Afcon tournaments (2006, 2008, 2010), a last chance
to qualify for the World Cup, that single elusive feather they want so bad in
their caps, was at stake and they were going beyond themselves to make it
happen.

Amr Zaki, who had been a threat throughout the opening exchanges, lashed in a
powerful shot on 34 minutes that was expertly tipped over by Ghana goalie Fatau
Dauda. Ghana were shell-shocked and powerless amidst the waves of dangerous
attacks, losing at every department of the field, especially the middle. The
Pharoahs were were determined to rise from the dead.

They came out of the blocks in the second half too, signaling the beginning of
one of perhaps the most important final 45 minutes in their recent history.
Coming back seemed as impossible as coach Bradley growing hair on his
signature, flawlessly bald head; but they were not prepared to throw in the towel,
if their attitude was anything to go by. They picked up where they left of; all
guns blazing and determined to starve Ghana off the ball.

Kwesi Appiah by this time was beginning to feel the heat, taking off his black
vest that he had worn on his trademark white long-sleeved shirt. On the pitch,
Ghana tried to slow down the tempo anytime they had the ball, but the Egyptians
were too good. Fatau Dauda meanwhile, was Ghana's brightest spot, dashing out a
few occasions to avert danger. Egypt had a notable chance, Aboutrika's scissor
kick from a Hosni Rabou through ball looping over the bar.

The Ghanaians defended for their lives, with the same inexplicable zest that
the Egyptians attacked with; opposing forces cancelling out each other
explosively in a grueling encounter. The Egyptians deservedly got goal number
two, with Ghana's nemesis Mohammed "Gedo" Nagy lashing in a second in
a crowded box from close range.

Kevin Prince Boateng did get to make his return for Ghana for the first time in
two years -- a controversial retirement in between -- when he came on in the
78th minute, just in time to join the party. Approximately 12 minutes to World
Cup qualification.

"This is a man whose beard length seems to suggest he wants to be the
Moses to lead Ghana to the promised land," remarked ace Ghanaian
commentator Christopher Opoku, as Boateng, all-smiles, jogged on.

Ten minutes later, he did just that, slamming in an Asamoah Gyan cross to
crush Egypt's hopes of a miracle.


Egypt XI:
Ekrami – Hazim Emam, Rami Rabia, Mohammed Naguib, Abdel-Shafy –
Hossam Ghaly, Ahmed Fathi(Hosni Abd Rabou 55'), Mahmoud Kaharaba (Mohammed
'Gedo' Nagy 40'), Mohammed Aboutreika, Mohammed Salah - Amr Zaki (Shikabala
61')
Ghana XI: Fatau Dauda - Harrison Afful, Jerry Akaminko, Rashid Sumaila, Daniel
Opare - Andre Ayew (Mubarak Wakaso 56'), Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari
(Agyemang Badu 73'), Kwadwo Asamoah; Asamoah Gyan, Majeed Waris (Kevin Prince
Boateng 78')

Interview with an African football coaching legend

Fiifi Anaman | Ghanaian Football Writer

 NORTH KANESHIE, Accra - Ghana’s first  African Cup triumph occurred almost 50 years ago.

The man who was in charge of that team went on to win it a further two times, in 1965 and 1982, making it a then record hat trick of triumphs, cementing his place in the pantheon of not only African but world football coaching legends.

Charles Kumi “CK” Gyamfi, now 84, looks back on his achievements and feels proud, and humbled, in a beautiful emotional paradox that can only be appreciated if you see how he talks about it. He sits in his living room, close to a cabinet that holds many FIFA documents from his time as a technical director in the late 90s, as well as many framed photos from his playing and coaching days.

“I thank God for making me so because I never thought I will get to the place I am today. I feel very happy and feel blessed by the almighty,” he tells Goal Ghana in an interview. “I don’t stress too much about what people think about me. I do things to make myself the people around me happy.”

CK has long been known for his achievements from the dugout, but unknown to many, he was equally as good on the pitch. His talent shown as early as when he was a 7 year old, playing with the senior team in his school. With his talent in hot demand, he would later represent Accra Great Argonauts, Koforiduah Sailors Football Club, Accra Standfast, Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs as well as both of Ghana’s two traditional giants, Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak.

“I was a very young boy when he played football. Everyone talked about just how good he was as a footballer. He was a star. He’s one of Ghana’s greatest ever footballers,” Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, celebrated Ghanaian coach who cites CK as his biggest influence and mentor, tells Goal Ghana.
Learning the trade

CK left for Germany in August 1959 after German top division club Fortuna Dusseldorf had played a friendly with his club Hearts of Oak. He would become Ghana’s first ever footballer to play professionally in Europe, dazzling German fans with his breath taking talent and earning the nickname "Tunda Vita” (Thunder weather) for his powerful shooting ability.

Interestingly, Ghana’s then Amateur Football Association, under the leadership of legendary administrator Ohene Djan, arranged for him to be groomed as a coach in Cologne, which was at the time the world’s most reputable center for the training of coaches, inspired by the great German coach Hennes Weisweller.

It was all part of then Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah’s grand scheme of things; a plan to express pan-africanism through football. Ghana’s Black Stars was to be Africanized; a native team managed by a native coach, to spread Nkrumah’s popular refrain that “the black man can manage his own affairs.”

“Nkrumah was such a great man, he loved sports so much. He loved us (the Black Stars) so much too. We worked for him. Whenever we were beaten, he would become very upset,” CK says, looking at a framed photo of Kwame Nkrumah and himself, where the former has his hand on the latter’s shoulder, seemingly congratulating him for his good works. “He was always there and supportive of everything we did. He liked the players very much, whenever he met you, he would talk to you. This made us so energetic. We were always prepared to die for Ghana.”

On CK’s return in September 1960, he was made a player-team manager of the Black Stars, as well as given the opportunity to under study expatriate Josef Ember, whom he eventually succeeded. His ascent to head coach status, the first black to achieve that in the Republic of Ghana, occurred when he was barely a 34 year old. He started out as a player-coach, eventually phasing out his on the pitch duties to fully concentrate on training the team. Public expectations of the team – “you always had to win!” - like today, were high, and young CK knew he had to have no distractions. He knew he had to leave no stone unturned.

In June 1962, CK was sponsored to go and study the training methods of Brazil’s National team, a team including the game’s greats such as Pele, Garrincha and Didi, who had won two World Cups. Ghana’s football top hierarchy wanted to know what the Brazilians had done to become so beautifully dominant. They wanted in on some success too.

“The players are dedicated and the programmes are tough and stiff,” CK had observed then. “They run through mountains and valleys regularly before starting with tactics. It is no joke at all. I prize this opportunity highly and I hope Ghana players will benefit from my experience.”

His players did benefit from his experience. CK, though with a team many claimed had been prepared by Ember, went on to win the Uhuru Cup in Uganda, the West African Gold Cup, and finally, the holy grail; the African Cup, hosted by Ghana in 1963. At that tournament, CK was the only black coach – his winning of the trophy representing victory and justification for Nkrumah’s beliefs.

Tribute to a fellow legend

The team that won that historic first African Cup for Ghana unfortunately missed one influential member.

Baba Yara, affectionately known as the “King of Wingers”, had been part of the contingent of Ghanaian top flight power club Real Republikans FC (formed with the best players from every other club, in Nkrumah’s image) that had suffered an accident after a league game in March 1963.

Yara, whose legendary name is now on one of Ghana’s biggest stadiums in Kumasi, home of his club Asante Kotoko, had not been lucky. He became paralyzed after the accident, and was flown out for treatment to the UK for treatment. He returned later, his once magical legs immobile and helplessly confined in a wheel chair.

CK Gyamfi talks about Yara with so much respect, so much admiration, so much awe. He thinks Yara is the best footballer Ghana has ever produced.

“Has to be him,” he says with, without a scintilla of doubt or hesitation. “Baba was always careful and he had so much understanding. You could always work with him the way you liked it. He would go so hard; he would never tell you he’s tired, no matter what.”

CK had played with Yara before later coaching him. “He was a great player, very stylish. He was very humble and respectful too.

“Whatever you would teach, he would try to learn. When I was leaving the football scene, I was very much disturbed about my exit because of him. He was such a nice boy.

Unfortunately, that accident and the subsequent paralysis signaled the end of an iconic career for Yara. It was a cruel arrangement by fate that it happened nine months before the National team, of which he was arguably its marquee star, won its first African Cup.

“We all called on God to have mercy on him. Sometimes we would pass by his place after close of training. It was very painful. Very painful.

“When he was taken out from hospital, we were there for him. Anything that he wanted was supplied to him by management. We had to give him a chance to relax. A few yrs later he died. That was the end of him.”

CK’s glowing tribute of Yara is deep, something he barely thinks about before saying. Something that flow naturally. Something so engaging.

“He liked laughing a lot. I cannot even describe him. We were lucky to be very close with him during his playing days. We know just how good he was. He was so flexible, and if a player is flexible, he can do anything you would like him to do - bending, jumping and other things that necessary for the team. He could do all things by himself. It was very sad what happened to him. Very sad.”

Insight into success’s salient ingredients

Talking about Yara, CK tries to reflect on how the brilliant King of Wingers’ values was a microcosm of how every player was during his coaching days, and also of the spirit in camp. Hard work, humility, respect, focus, commitment.

“Most of the young players these days don’t put all their heart in it, so they climb a little and they start falling. Some don’t respect their elders too. And that’s very bad. Otherwise we would have a lot of good players over here in Ghana these days.”

CK goes on to talk about what he discovered is the key to a successful National team, something that the current generation seem to lack. Ghana has gone 31 years without the African Cup since he last won it.

“It all depends on the contact between the players and management; that’s very important. If the management is ok, then the playing body will also be okay. Vice versa. Whole thing depends on the team, management, players. You have to have people who are concerned with whatever happens and take it serious. They must know each other, work together and play together so that when they get on the field, the fluidity will be there.”

He talks about the little things that made his team a delight to watch, and a constant threat in every competition they played in. “We loved each other. There was nothing like arrogance and disunity; no one would say “menim bo kyen wo!” [I’m a better football player than you are!] No.”

“Everyone in the team was a star. I had certain boys in the team who were very very good, and you had to use your head and try to get those people into positions that they loved and that worked for them and for the team. If you went in and you used who you liked where you wanted, then you would obviously be destroying yourself.

“If you did the job very well, you’d find out that you would have your players support, trust and confidence – that way, things would fall into place and they would do whatever you ask them to do.”

And his job was made much easier with the intelligence of his players. “When I used to travel, I would bring back many systems for us to learn and try out. The players had a deep understanding of the game, it was so easy to impart knowledge.”
Faith and confidence in our own

CK is disappointed with Ghana’s constant preference for expatriate coaches, something that seems to have become entrenched in our thinking. The culture, he argues, basically says the black man can’t manage his own affairs, a blatant lack of adherence to Nkrumah’s belief in the 60s that made Ghana a fearsome force. A force which became widely known as the “Brazil of Africa.”

The matter is most dear to his heart because he’s been a victim of it before; he was surprisingly a second choice on the scale of preference when the Ghana Football Association was about appointing a coach for the Senegal 1992 African Cup. German Burkhard Ziesse was preferred over CK – despite the latter’s glowing and much superior C.V.

“Why should we sit down and have a white coach come and dictate to us? What they have to do, they’ve done it already, we’ve seen whatever they want to do with football in the country.

“Anything we have to learn from them we have done. I can’t see anything more important thing that they can add, honestly.”

The Brazilian connection

CK would prove his competence two years after the 1963 triumph, assembling an almost totally new team in his own image and ideas to clinch a second successive African Cup in Tunisia. That squad, which was tuned to employ the 4-2-4 formation that CK had picked up during his time in Brazil, included the likes of 1965 Ghana footballer of the year, Osei “Wizard dribbler” Kofi, Ben Acheampong, Frank Odoi, captain Addo Odametey and a young Jones Attuquayefio.

Condescending whispers that he was a clueless beneficiary of Ember’s foundational work ceased, with Ghanaian fans developing a deep admiration and respect for him. His momentous African Cup three-peat in 1982 would come at a time when his pedigree as one of Africa’s most competent and successful coaches was already indubitable.

Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966 saw CK assume a relatively quiet professional life. He had however helped a then 24 year old student named Carlos Alberto Parreira, a future World Cup winner, to prepare Ghana for the 1968 edition of the African Cup.

“I met Parreira in Brazil. He was a nice person and serious about his job. When I came back, I said very good things about him to the authorities. Then it became necessary at some point that he came over,” CK says.

In 1967, Ghana, under the National Redemption Council - the military junta that over threw Nkrumah - had approached the Brazilian foreign ministry for a trainer, with Parreira being selected. He was considered the brightest physical education student at Rio State University.  “Together with my assistant Ben Koufie, I decided to help him out in preparing the team,” CK, whose recommendation played a part in the Brazilian’s advent, says.

Ghana would win silver medals at the African Cup in Ethiopia. Parreira, who also led Asante Kotoko to a runner-up finish in the 1968 African Champion Club’s Cup, would go on to become a physical trainer for Brazil’s golden team that won the 1970 World Cup, as well as winning the World Cup as coach himself 24 years later. He is now one of the biggest names in world football, and Ghana, through CK,  played a vital role in his formative years as a coach. “That experience abroad in Ghana really helped my career,” Parreira would admit years later in film Director Baff Akoto’s Ghanaian football documentary Football Fables.

CK himself was then a much bigger name than Parreira. His exploits from Ghana’s bench had made him high profile coach on the globe. He was famously selected to be the head coach of an African XI side that played in a tournament featuring other strong nations as Japan, Italy, France and Argentina.

Legacy

Now known as Nana Kumi Gyamfi I after being enstooled as a chief by the people of Okorasi in the Eastern Region of Ghana (1999), CK’s importance to football history and development in Ghana cannot be over emphasized. His influence grew from the landmark genesis of being part of the Gold Coast XI team that toured Great Britain in 1951, where Ghana lost eight of its ten matches playing barefooted. CK, then a young 22 year old amongst senior players, scored 11 of Ghana’s goals. “It was a sign of good things to come.”

Very few athletes have made the successful transition from exceptional player to exceptional coach. CK would later play for both Kotoko and Hearts, Ghana’s biggest clubs as a star player and captain, as well as once forming his own club (Great Ashanti 1954, after breaking away from Kotoko) through to being a founding member of the Black Stars, captaining and coaching it to many laurels.

“We did our part,” he says, nodding, staring reflectively at a clay sculpture of himself on top of his cabinet. That wonderful piece of art was done when he was approaching the twilight of his playing career, and he says it reminds him of how he looked like in his youth. It aids all those nostalgic memories to flow back. To be relived and looked back on with pride and satisfaction.

“We really did.”

CK says he is close to completing his memoires, which will be on bookshelves before the close of the year.

This article first appeared on Goal.com. You can follow me on twitter - @fiifianaman - for the best in Ghanaian (and occasional world) football news and opinion.


From Bawku to Buenos Aires - The inspiring story of young Bayan Mahmud

Special

By Fiifi Anaman | Ghanaian Football Writer

Bayan Mahmud is a Ghanaian footballer whose trajectory has been special.
A boy whose innate will to endure has seen him triumph against the
odds.

The 18-year-old now trains with Boca Juniors’ youth side and gets to watch every single game of Los Xeneizes
every single week. And it has come with its perks, like personally
meeting great names and famous stars such as Juan Roman Riquelme, Ariel Ortega, Juan
Sebastien Veron, Fernando Gago and the great Diego Maradona,

 Stuff dreams are made of.

“One time, I saw Messi play live too,
against Venezuela. I was so happy! It's incredible how I've met all
these great players,” Bayan, who despite speaking fluent Spanish now
still remembers his Twi and English, tells Goal Ghana during an interview.

“Especially
with Riquelme (club captain of Boca), there's this myth here that he's
very snobbish and hardly relates with anyone. So everyone is quite
surprised how we get along so well. He advises me a lot too.”

“I'm
very happy. Boca is one of the biggest teams in the world. Playing in
Boca Juniors is a big deal here in Argentina. I'm very happy and proud
of myself.”

You can't begrudge this talented attacking
midfielder-turned-right full back for being this happy and fulfilled.
One can't imagine what he went through to be where he is. His past. His
difficult, but inspiring past.

The tale

Bayan was born in Accra, spending
his formative years in the modest suburb of Awoshie. He moved with his
family – father (former footballer), mother (housewife) and a senior
brother one and a half years older than him - to Bawku, a town in the
Northern region of Ghana. It was there that things took a turn for the
worse in his life.

The infamous violent conflict between the
Mamprusi tribe and Kusasi tribe led to the killing of both his parents
when he was barely 11, in 2005.

“We had returned home one day
only to find them dead. My brother was the one who saw everything,” he
painfully recalls. “I don't even know how to properly explain it. I
don't want to remember it.”

Tears well up in his eyes as he recalls the
ordeal.

Himself and his brother had to live in an orphanage. His life had
changed drastically, and he became desperate to escape from the darkness
of what had happened to him. He began living on the edge, looking for
every opportunity to flee the North. He got in luck at some point in
2010, when a cargo truck driver was kind enough to give him a free ride
to the Southern part of Ghana - Cape Coast to be precise.

He left
his brother, Muntala Mahmud, behind. He couldn't find him when leaving.
Little did he know that would be the last time they would be in contact
in a long while.

On a mission

Bayan was
on a mission. He did not know exactly where it would take him, but he
just wanted to go. To move far away. To forget. Most importantly, he had
to escape. Escape from possibly suffering a similar fate like that of
his parents.

“I just wanted to go, to escape. To flee. I just
wanted to go somewhere different and new. I had to beg a lot of people
and ride on my luck. I knew I had to survive.”

This drive
resulted in him making friends in Cape Coast, who helped him get unto a
ship in the neigbouring Takoradi as a stowaway. The riskiness was not a prospect that deterred him.
He was scared of the possible repercussions of being caught, but he did
not let his apparent fear serve as an obstacle course in his quest to
leave the country.

“I did not even know where the ship was
going!” he remembers and forces a laugh. “I was afraid because of that.
It was very dangerous. But I was determined. I hid in the ship with the
hope of not being caught and hopefully, it taking me to Europe. I took
some gari and water on board, but it all got finished. I had heard
stories of how some people died on board. I was scared. But I wanted to
survive, I knew I would."

The ship, contrary to Bayan's guess and wish, was not heading to Europe. It was headed for South America. Argentina.

He
eventually did get caught - but by a good Samaritan. A crew member on
board saw him and was kind enough to listen to his story and sympathise,
eventually providing his food and water needs and caring for him. Lady
luck had smiled on the young boy. "He gave me everything," he says
gratefully. "Sad I never really saw him again. He was a good man."
Bayan, with the assistance of the man, hid successfully on the ship for
three weeks.

"I remember he asked me, 'Do you know what you are
doing; where you are going? You don’t know anyone. You're a small boy.
How will you even cope?' "

"I looked at him and said, 'So far as God is everywhere I will survive'."

“The
ship docked at a certain place. I didn't know the place. But I got off,
wandered around and met a family who offered to give me food. I slept
at a station for three days. I hardly spoke. These kind people decided
to put me on a bus to Buenos Aires because they wanted me to meet more
blacks since they couldn't relate to me," he remembers.

"I was in
luck. Getting off the bus, I met two Senegalese people, one of who
spoke English, so they listened to my story and sent me to the
immigration. I was then sent to a refugee shelter in Flores."

New Life

At
this point, he knew a brand new life beckoned. A new beginning, a
chance to overpower his dark past with a bright future. He began playing
football in the town square, and his unique talents immediately shone.

It
was beautifully poetic. It was almost as if his life had been scripted
meticulously, with the script writer knowing his football talent would
finally become a definition of his potential and the avenue through
which his inspiring trajectory would reach dizzying heights. He was
discovered playing football by an enthusiast, Ruben Garcia, who was awed
by what he saw.

Garcia did not hesitate - he knew potential and
he saw it in its pure form. He decided to send Bayan for trials with
Boca, and Bayan didn't disappoint. "He's a very good man, and his family
- his wife and two daughters - are like my family. I spend time with
them most of the time," Bayan says.

Boca were impressed with his
raw quality and drive, and quickly took him in. Bayan passed the trials
and was subsequently registered as a footballer with Boca, entitling him
to accommodation in the club's facilities at Casa Amarilla.

He's
now on the books of the Under-21s, awaiting a possible contract and a
chance to become the first Ghanaian to play for one of the most
successful teams in South America and the world at large. He cites
Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves as his role models.

And like the
duo he has the talent, his license to aspire. Boca’s Youth team
technical handlers have recently praised his enormous talent, with head
coach and legend Carlos Bianchi also impressed with his progress.

“I’ve
met him several times and we've talked a lot. He likes me so much,”
Bayan said of Bianchi, one of the most successful coaches in the world
with a record four Copa Libertadores titles.

Amidst all the
drastic change of fortunes, Bayan missed his brother, and always
wondered where he was, or what he could be doing, and how he was faring.
He finally tracked him down, and had Mark Zuckerberg to thank for it.

He found his brother on Facebook.

“I
miss him a lot. We have been chatting thankfully. He’s also playing
football," he said. "I'm planning to come to Ghana by the end of the
year to visit him, and my friends too."

Bayan’s story has made
him a super star in Argentina. Many websites, newspapers, magazines,
radio and television shows have featured him to share his incredible
journey of realising his dreams against the odds. "A lot of them," he
says, smiling. "They all want to talk to me. Even to a point when I can
hardly talk anymore."

And the girls can't have enough of him.
Bayan's twitter and facebook pages have girls singing his praises and
always wanting him to interact. He has got good looks and a good
physique to match his admirable story. He laughs when I asked him. "They
do worry me a lot. I've even had to stop using my facebook pages
because of that. But what can I do, I have to take care of the
situation,” he laughs again.

Bayan has no girlfriend, because -
according to what he told Boca's official programme some months back -
"it's now just football, football and football." He says most of his
mates have started teasing him as being gay because he doesn't take
advantage of the many girls that swam him for attention and autographs,
and rarely goes out to party.

"I know why I'm here. I know where
I'm coming from, how I got here. I have to think about my future. I
always say to them, 'You people were born here, you've always been. Your
parents are around. I have none of that'."

"If I say I want to
concentrate on girls I'll stop playing football. I have to be very
careful," he says. He further says most girls, owing to his popularity,
throw themselves at him, even offering themselves for him to take
advantage of. But he knows where his priorities lie. And it's not as if
he has a choice too.

"You have to be serious everyday here.
Training is very important and I have to give it the maximum focus. They
(Boca) don't joke at all."

Eyes on the prize

The sort of attention Bayan receives - the TV coverage, radio presence,
magazine covers, the social media fame, the autographs, girls and all
that - can easily distort his focus and hurt his ambition, and also make
him a target of envy too. But he has his eyes firmly on the prize. He
wants to finally walk through the tunnel of the iconic La Bombonera, out
emotionally to wild cheers from 49,000 fans. He knows that first team
dream debut can only come with hard work and focus.

And prayers.
Bayan does not joke with his praying time as a Muslim. He believes Allah
saw him through his ordeal, and has granted him an opportunity to be
great. "I never miss my prayers. I never joke with it because I know
that God is helping me."

"I'm very lucky. I never even thought
I'd end up in Argentina. I never slept and even dreamt about playing at
Boca. I believe God knows why I'm here. Because playing in a club like
Boca?" he sighs. "That's a big deal. It's very difficult to get into a
club like this one. Many players come here for trials and they are sent
back. I've been here for three years."

Bayan has come a long way.
From orphaned street hustler to teenage footballing sensation within
the space of eight years. He has met the right people along the way, and
has endured remarkably. His experiences serve as a guide to him in his
quest to reach the top. “Life has not been easy for me,” he reflects.
“I’ve suffered a lot. I’ve been there before. Now look at me, I might
not be okay, but my life has changed.”

“At times I remember those
days I lived on the streets back in Cape Coast, hustling and suffering,
and 'Oh God, thank you so much'. It wasn't easy. I did all that to
survive. When I got here too, within one year, I had had all my
documents sorted. It’s like I'm living with luck. It follows me
everywhere I go. And I believe it's the hand of God."

And then
the big question. Ghana or Argentina? "Ghana," he says. "I want to play
for Ghana." He says his favourite Ghanaian players are Michael Essien
and Sulley Muntari.

"Argentina have been good to me, it has given me all of this. But Ghana is my home, where I was born."

Bayan's
parents will be proud of their little boy wherever they are. And Bayan
knows what to do to make them even more proud in the coming years.

This article first appeared on Goal.com Ghana and has since featured on almost all of its International editions, including being translated into multiple languages. It was also featured on countless other websites across the internet.

You can follow me on twitter, @fiifianaman, for the best in Ghanaian (and general) football news and opinion.


Analysis: Medeama and what could have been

Moses "Mospacka" Armah, Owner of Medeama Sporting Club

Medeama SC had a largely blissful season that ended in despair. A season that ended contrary to the plan.


The Tarkwa club were on top the Ghana Premier League table as the most consistent of three inconsistent title chasers from late in the first round to the middle of the second round, spanning 10 match days and close to four months.

And when they were finally knocked off their perch, on match day 24, they failed to recover from the shock of the fall.

Until the penultimate match day, the Mauves and Yellows were still in the hunt. A trip to Cape Coast to face Dwarfs saw them lose by two goals to one - effectively ending their hopes of winning a first ever Premier League title.

That disappointment cut deep - it was a representation of a deeper sense of letting not only themselves down, but the whole of Wassaman, and the whole of Western Region of Ghana.

The Western Region has failed to produce a league champion since 1977 - when the traditional Sekondi Hasaacas won a unique first-round only league.

Medeama, for a huge chunk of the season, seemed to be that club that would bring joy to the people of the region after close to four decades of a trophy no show, with fellow regional clubs Wassaman United, Hasaacas and Eleven Wise all languishing in the lower divisions.

Ambitions, Investments

Owner Moses Armah wanted to see results; he wanted an indication that his investments were working. He had bought the erstwhile Kessben FC for a record $600,000 in 2010, just so he could get access to premier league football, and after tasting it for two seasons, the thirst for success began to rise.

They had began this season on the back of two consecutive fourth-place finishes, and this season was supposed to see them upgrade their ambitions, given the fact that the Brong Ahafo based duo of Aduana Stars (2010) and Berekum Chelsea (2011) had won the league, laying bare a realization relatively newer and non-traditional clubs could lay hands on the title with the right attitude and preparation.

Massive motivation landed in the form of a three year deal with mining giants Goldfields worth $384,000 at the beginning of the season (and in fact, another major deal in mid season, signing a one year deal with Ghana Manganese company worth $80,000). There was added pressure to live up to the belief and confidence reposed in them.

The club sensed an opportunity, and took steps to be in the position to take it. The transfer market was keenly screened, with as many as 10 players being brought in at the beginning of the season, including Tema goalie Joseph Halm, defenders Samuel Enzoemaba, Richmond Nketia, Victor Ayire and Henry Entsir, midfielders Bismark Asiedu and Joseph Gordon - who all went on to prove to be influential squad players.

Coach Bashir Hayford decided to stay on for another season with the club, his superiors at the board level knowing his track record of winning the title before (with Kotoko in 2008) would prove crucial in their own ambitions to make history.

They started the season well, actively and constantly being in the mix of the top three teams occupying the top of the table in shifts week in week out, each struggling to establish consistency that would provide an edge to establish a gap. By the end of match day 14, Medeama emerged table toppers, going on to consolidate their place at the top by beating Tema Youth 1-0 at home on the final day of the first round. "

Stability unexpectedly disturbed


Bashir Hayford




Coach Bashir Hayford left, quite quickly and mysteriously, four months before his contract was due to expire.

Mysteriously because, well, he left a club that was on top of the table and with a genuine chance of winning the title to a club that was struggling to claw back into the top four race. Quickly because he signed for them as fast as he quit. Hayford's only public reason he gave was the fans were unappreciative of his massive efforts.

The board decided to promote assistant coach Shaibu Tanko to head status. Tanko found the seat Hayford left behind hotter than he had thought it was.

His first game saw Medeama travel to Tema to defend the 1-0 loss they had inflicted on Tema Youth in a return encounter. Tema Youth were struggling, flirting with the relegation zone. But they managed to thrash Tanko's side by four goals to nil.

Barely three matches and a single win later, the board dropped a bombshell and sacked Tanko, citing his inability to show a desired level of commitment. Assistant to Tanko, Evans Adottey (who had previously been head of youth development at the club), was given the nod to finish the season. Thrown in at the deep end.

Medeama had actually changed coaches two times right in the middle of a title pursuit, but still somehow managed to personalize the top spot by making it their own, with close challengers Kotoko and Berekum Chelsea simultaneously slipping when they did.

Adottey - Medeama's third substantive coach of the campaign -  knew anything apart from maintaining top spot till the end would result to him being compared to, and judged on Bashir Hayford's standards

Adottey got off to a winning start, beating King Faisal 1-0 in Kumasi. It was particularly interesting, as Hayford's Medeama had failed to beat Faisal at home in the first round.

Things looked good. Adottey himself  acknowledged the fact that they held the keys to their own destiny. “I’m determined to fight hard and maintain top spot. My boys are also similarly determined,” he said.

"We have ourselves to blame if we fail to win [the league]" defender Henry Entsir similarly echoed after a -1- draw with Berekum Arsenals in one of their numerous games at the top.

Medeama had the ball in their court. There was only one thing that could mess up their most priced dream, and this was themselves.

Derailed

The raging pressure eventually consumed Adottey and his charges. Maybe being at the top, or the constant awareness of it's significance, coupled with their title inexperience, weighed on their displays. The anxiety. The responsibility. The fear.

Asante Kotoko and Berekum Chelsea, both previous winners who just knew how to chase a title, went hard, breathing down their neck, feeding off their inexperience and insecurity.

Two consecutive losses to Amidaus Professionals and Liberty Professionals on match day 23 and 24 respectively resulted in Medeama relinquishing the top spot.

They slipped to third, and from then, won only two out of six games leading up to the end of the season.

One of the games they failed to win was a crucial clash against fellow title challengers Berekum Chelsea on match day 27. That game, played in Berekum, saw Medeama lose inexplicably by three goals to nil. “Things just didn’t work for us the way it should," coach Adottey summed up.

What made the loss even weirder was the fact that they had gone into the game on the back of a morale boosting 3-0 home win against RTU, and that Berekum Chelsea had themselves lost by the same margin to a strong Hearts of Oak team coming into the game.

That, coupled with the fact that they (Medeama) had beaten Chelsea 1-0 in the first round and also knocked them out of the FA Cup, meant they clearly had the mental upper-hand.

That loss proved pivotal. Including the points they lost from that game, they lost in total eight points up until the season ended. Adottey and his boys would have - per what subsequently ensued - won secured the title had they not dropped these eight points.

They eventually finished fourth on the log with 50 points, six points off champions Kotoko. And like Entsir had said, they knew they had themselves to blame.

Adottey v Hayford, in search of the cause of failure


Evans Adottey




This argument was inevitable. People had always had this as a comment in waiting - waiting to be aired when  the relatively inexperienced Adottey lost control and lost the title. And it didn't help that he eventually did lose control and lose the title.

But he didn't do too bad either, given the circumstances, and more importantly, compared to Hayford. The differences didn't represent a gap that huge, but sometimes even the smallest differences prove to be mightily significant.

Both coaches were generally inconsistent to be fair, and both oversaw spells that saw a low number of goals scored (13 in 13 games for Adottey and 18 in 15 games for Hayford).

In fact, there's an argument for the fact that despite Hayford seeing them to the top before his departure and Adottey unfortunately leading them off it, Hayford's rise was largely dependent on the failings of competitors Kotoko and Chelsea. So much so that he topped the table after the first round even though he had dropped as many as 15 points.

But Hayford was the more consistent, relatively, going four games without a loss on two different occasions as well as winning two consecutive games on four different occasions. In fact, he managed to keep Medeama on top despite multiple injuries that hit his squad; there was a point, match day 11, that they had as many as nine key players on the injury list

Adottey could not manage two consecutive games on a single occasion.

His 13 league games in charge of Medeama was co-incidentally against the same opposition Hayford faced in his first 13 league games (of 15) before leaving the club (reverse of the same first round fixtures in the second round). This interesting situation makes it hard not to compare their output.

Whilst Hayford bagged 24 out of a possible 39 points (W-7, D-3 L-3 GF-14 GA-8), Adottey bagged 19  (W-5, D-4, L-4 GF-13 GA-8). This meaning Adottey's tally trailed Hayford's by 5 points. Those five points would have, per the points tally of champions Kotoko, placed Medeama second on the log.

A further two points and they would have won the league. There's something interesting here.

Adottey took over when Medeama had garnered 31 points. This meaning even if he had managed Hayford's tally of 24 points from those 13 identical games, Medeama would have (with 55 points) still - per Kotoko's league winning tally - fallen short. They would have still needed two more points to better Kotoko's winning tally of 56. Where could they have gotten these points?

You get the sense from this perspective that one of the critical periods that led to Medeama losing the league title was during that short era that saw Hayford leave and Tanko come in. A hiccup that cost them dearly. During that time, spanning two league games, Medeama dropped 5 points, against Tema Youth (4-0 loss) and Hearts of Oak (1-1 draw).

Hayford had won those two same fixtures (3-1 against Hearts and 1-0 against Tema Youth) in the first round. If he had been in charge, Medeama would have surely amassed at least two points - those two points they needed (from a possible nine) which, with the benefit of hindsight, would have won them the title. Sometimes, it's the little details.

Essentially, the difference was not only that Medeama failed to rise up to the occasion at vital points of the season (a feat that experienced teams like Kotoko - who won the title last season - took advantage of) but also because of Hayford's premature departure.

“We can’t say his departure has not affected us. He had been with the team for close to seven years,” Medeama chief Anthony Commey admitted. “From Kessben FC right through to Medeama and so knew the ins-and-outs of the team.

“And so naturally when he left there was a gap and that I believe it has affected us a bit."

The inexperience was telling. That is where the Hayford argument becomes strong. Given his title winning experience, it's logical to think he might have just edged it for them. Indeed, if Hayford's tally of 30 points out of 15 games had been replicated in the second round, the title would have headed to the Western Region.

Looking back and looking forward

It's been a long ride for Medeama, a journey they can learn a lot from. The disappointment was harsh, but they'll be grateful to it when they finally get their hands on that elusive league title.

The key to winning a marathon is to know when to be careful not to lose concentration; to know that it's essentially down to how hard you finish, and not how well you start. Medeama in the end, lost the title. It was practically theirs for the taking.

But that mentality to pursue a league title actively over 30 games without messing up at key points can only be acquired with experience.

Coach Adottey's loss of the control of the steering wheel proved costly, but there's potential in him. The gaffer impressively handled the team all the way to the FA Cup final after all the instability that rocked the club.

Adottey has learned. And he wields that passion for the club, having been there when Hayford 'abandoned' the club and when Tanko's commitment's as a lecturer prevented him from discharging his duties to the maximum. It also says a lot how he managed to beat his former boss Hayford when AshGold met Medeama in Tarkwa.

A few good buys and this priceless experience of having been in a title race will help him turn most of Medeama's eight draws and eight losses into wins.

There are lessons to be learnt from how changing coaches disrupted their league progress and momentum,  eventually costing them the title.

A positive that could be lost in the engulfing disappointment, but that can serve as a source of inspiration and strength looking forward, is the fact that despite their failure to seize a priceless opportunity, they still managed to reduce the gap between themselves and the title by 11 points (as they finished 17 points adrift of Kotoko the season before this one.

Continuity at this point is essential.

Fiifi Anaman, 233 Football
@fiifianaman on twitter.


Matured Gyan on the path to legendary status

MASERU, LESOTHO — Asamoah Gyan got back to the Hotel, checked into his room, and saw it.

One of his bags, cut to pieces. His $10,000, gone.
But his credit cards and expensive watches (running into thousands of dollars) were all on his bed, all intact.

The receptionist at “The Sun” hotel in Maseru, Lesotho, where the Black Stars of Ghana were lodging, later revealed that a man had come in whilst Ghana were playing Lesotho at the Setsoto National Stadium in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday, June 16 – a match in which Gyan scored – and claimed to be Gyan, so he had been given the keys to the Captain’s room.

No prizes for guessing what this mystery man – well, thief in fact, later found out on CCTV cameras – did.

But Gyan will fortunately not be too worried about what happened. And this is not because he earns over 20 times more of that amount (a reported $200 000 plus a week – no tax – at Al Ain), but because he is in red-hot form for his country, and is loving every bit of the praise and recognition he’s getting.

And boy, does he deserve it!

After scoring 31 times in 24 games for his club in the recent season, fans clamoured for Gyan to replicate that same form on the national level – at the same time claiming he wouldn’t be able to, as the Arab league, per a wide spectrum of claims and arguments, is a ‘cheap’ league where goal scoring can become the métier of incompetent marksmen.

But Gyan begged to differ.

He scored twice as Ghana secured a difficult win in Omdurman against Sudan – a match that saw him reportedly equal and break legend Abedi Pele’s record haul of 33 international goals – and scored once again in Ghana’s 2-0 win against Lesotho in Maseru, a win that sent Ghana to the top of Group D of CAF’s second round of qualifiers ahead of the last Match Day against Zambia.

The claim that he had broken the record was challenged, and later proved wrong – with records showing Abedi Pele had scored 19 goals that can be verified in the archives of Ghana’s International matches.

The ground-breaking research, done by renowned Ghanaian football statistician and historian Thomas Freeman Yeboah, also revealed that Ghana’s true record scorer, per the records available in the archives, was Kwasi Owusu, a former striker and captain of the team, who scored 36 verified goals in just over a decade of playing for Ghana (1966 to 1977).

Gyan must have heard what had happened with his alleged record and went, “Really? I just have to score more then!”

And that is exactly what he did against Lesotho, scoring Ghana’s second goal in the 2-0 win, his 35th goal in 73 caps since making his debut in 2003. This meaning he is a goal away from shattering the ‘new’ record, and re-jumping over a raised bar.

At 27 and presumably with more years of national team football ahead of him, Gyan might not only jump over this bar, he might end up setting it so high that it would take years for another to jump.

Currently, the closest active player who trails him in the goal count for Ghana is Sulley Muntari, who has amassed 19 goals (6th highest scorer for Ghana, per the new findings) in 78 caps since 2002. And it is hard to see Muntari scoring 16 more goals before hanging his International boots, and even harder to imagine Gyan not extending his tally whilst Muntari is trying to do so.

Gyan has come a long way. His career at national level had always been under intense – perhaps unfair – scrutiny, motivated by the effects of Ghana’s seeming inability to churn out clinical finishers. Gyan for a long time has been Ghana’s singular source of hope – and he has messed up that hope a good number of times.

At AFCON 2008, hosted by Ghana, Gyan almost left the team camp, after his talent had been insulted – himself insulted even – following a bad start to the tournament. Gyan had scored 13 international goals by then, but Ghanaians couldn’t give a toss. All that mattered at that moment was just how “useless” and “hopeless” they saw Gyan to be.

Gyan would later rescind his decision, returning to the squad and scoring only twice in 2009 – a brace against Japan in a friendly. Ghanaians had never really been convinced of his talent – he seemed the real McCoy anytime he scored, but then he would relapse into goal-scared mood every now and then, showing a lack of confidence in himself and around the 18 yard box, where he was supposed to be most effective.

But Gyan would grow. He would learn. He would score three of Ghana’s four goals at AFCON 2010 (Angola), and three of Ghana’s five goals in the World Cup in South Africa, making it six goals out of nine goals Ghana scored in both crucial tournaments in a year. He would score in a 4-1 friendly loss against the Netherlands, making it seven goals in 2010 – his most prolific year for his country yet.

Most prolific yet? Gyan just revised that last Sunday in Maseru. 2013 is barely half way through, but the “Baby Jet” has already equaled the tally of seven goals, from just 11 games.

Gyan, who temporarily retired from International football after AFCON 2012, where he had missed a crucial penalty in the Semi final and had come under brutal public verbal abuse, returned from retirement only to be named captain of the team by new coach Kwesi Appiah in October.

The captaincy has matured his play, and elevated his commitment – fueling a contribution so significant and never really seen in his game– as seen in how Ghana has nailed 8 wins out of 11 games he’s had the armband on.

The striker is enjoying his most successful spell yet in his career –in front of goal and inside his financial books too. The dollar millionaire has scored 56 goals in two seasons at Al Ain, leading them to two league titles. His two-year tally of goals surpasses the number of goals he managed at Udinese, Rennes and Sunderland combined, that being close to eight years of football.

Ghana are now in pole position to qualify for the last round of qualifying for Brazil 2014, and with a possible qualification will come Gyan’s third World Cup appearance, after scoring four goals to power Ghana to its first ever World Cup in 2006.

He has scored four in this current qualifying campaign too, three in his last two games alone. The man who famously denied Africa its first ever World Cup semi final with a dramatic late penalty miss in the quarter final of the 2010 World cup (against a Suarez-hand ball inspired Uruguay) is finally coming of age.

And with close to ten years of national team action – spanning two World Cup and four AFCONs – he is the second most experienced member of the current team whose average age is 23. It seems like only yesterday when Asamoah Gyan was actually a baby faced 17-year old player making his debut in a World Cup qualifier against Somalia in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

He scored in that game too – a debut goal for a young striker who had dreams of becoming a legend for his country, following in the footsteps of the likes of legendary scorers Edward Acquah, Wiberforce Mfum, Osei Kofi, Kwasi Owusu, Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah.

Two goals more, and he will be forever immortalized in the pantheon of Ghana legends, mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned players who brought immense joy and sparked pleasant awe in many Ghanaian households and stadiums across the globe.

And it is frightening how he would attain legendary status without even winning a major trophy with Ghana. Gyan, after Muntari, has turned out to be the second longest serving member of Ghana’s golden generation (class of 2006).

Sadly, his mother passed on to eternity in November last year.

Madam Cecilia Amoako had been waiting at home with open arms when the public rage was too tough for a 23 year-old Gyan at AFCON 2008, and was also there to lend her motherly support when Ghanaians cursed her son into a temporal retirement last year.

It’s sad she won’t be there to see her little boy become Ghana’s greatest ever top scorer.

This article first appeared on BackPage Football 


You can follow me on twitter - @fiifianaman


History: How Ghana's first ever Women's League climaxed

Hasaacas Ladies captain Samira Suleman being handed Ghana's first ever Women's League trophy

Captain Samira Suleman was named best player of the entire season shortly after the game.

She smiled. She was tired. Happily tired. “I don’t know what to do now. I feel so…so excited. Being the best player in the first ever women’s league? I don’t know what to do. This calls for celebration.”

Suleman’s Hasaacas Ladies had just won the first ever National Women’s league, beating arch rivals Fabulous Ladies 2-1 in the champion of champions’ game at the Accra Sports Stadium. Suleman herself was overwhelmed by the occasion that also saw her emerge as joint top scorer of the competition with 14 goals from 11 games. She had not scored that afternoon – midfield dynamo Jennifer Cudjoe had scored both their goals via the spot in the 35th and 83rd minute – but she knew what she and her team-mates had accomplished. The joy that filled her eyes as she lifted the trophy said it all.

Echoes of Hasaacas’ famous “Dooo!” chant filled the air as she did so. As she lifted the first ever women’s league trophy. As she made history.

The victory not only meant a cash prize of $1000 and a giant trophy for the ladies from the west, it also meant a first ever victory against Fabulous Ladies after five previous tries. “It was always going to be about current form and not past records. We were not depending on past records,” coach Yusif Basigi said after the game.

Fabulous Ladies started the game as the stronger side. They had piled on the pressure from the blast of the whistle and had seen their efforts rewarded when Hasaacas’ Regina Antwi brought down star striker Agnes Aduako.

Aduako wasted no time on the ground, she got up and immediately walked towards the ball, picked it up, and placed it on the spot. The keeper stood ball watching as the ball flew from her deadly right foot into the net to give the Reds the lead. The goal took her personal tally to 14, meaning she had joined Suleman as joint top scorers.

Frustrated Agnes


Fabulous Ladies star striker Agnes Aduako




Before the game, Hasaacas Ladies coach Yusif Basigi - who works with Aduako as assistant coach of the Black Queens - had said most of Aduako’s goals, compared to Suleman’s, had been penalties. Aduako had this to say; “I don’t know what he means by that. Even if you look at top scorers in Europe, they score penalties amongst their goals.”

Fabulous Ladies saw their confidence and dominance gradually diminish after the goal. They played second fiddle to their opponents from then on till the end of the encounter. “The person I was playing up top with (Captain Fatima Adjei) wasn’t supporting me enough, because if she was, their back four wouldn’t have been able to hold us,” Aduako complained. “Anytime I took the ball, I wasn’t getting the support so it was easy for them to overcome me. Their back four rarely moved because they all know how I am and what I’m capable of.”

Lack of support was not the only reason Aduako failed to click. Diminutive Janet Egyir was in the number five jersey for Hasaacas Ladies. On the day, she was far from a lady. She was a beast, one that had been specifically tasked to mark Aduako. And she did it so well. “I know Janet very well,” Aduako revealed. “We’ve been to camp several times. I know how she is, how she tackles and all that. But you see in football, if you figure out a defender’s weak points, what will enable you overcome that defender is adequate support from your team mates; especially your midfielders and the striker you play alongside. But if you’re up against it alone, it becomes very difficult, no matter how good you are.”

“I’m with her in the same camp (Black Queens) so I really know how she operates. The coach had instructed me to mark her out, and that’s what I did.” Janet said of Aduako, with a friendly smile. “I feel so proud about what we’ve achieved today,” she added, arms spread wide open, soaking in the emotions.

Janet and her team mates celebrated with the trophy as Fabulous Ladies coach Nana Owusu Sekyere looked on in despair. His side had failed to carry on their performance after a fired up start. “They’ve won, so we’ll give them all the credit,” he began. “But we’ll give the proper credit to the assistant referee,” he continued sarcastically. There was bitterness in what followed. “You see how he has undone us. Look at the unnecessary penalty that he awarded our opponents. You all saw the situation; it’s bad. I was even told he’s from Takoradi (where Hasaacas Ladies are based).”

“Imagine. We’re playing such a final and you give them such an unnecessary penalty? He frustrated us.”

The emotional moment

Elsewhere, Elizabeth Cudjoe stood, satisfied. Happy. Coach Sekyere’s complaints weren’t going to worry her. She had flown into the country from the US just to honour her team’s invitation to help them in the final. She did not regret flying in.

The cherry on top for her was that her little sister, Jennifer Cudjoe, had made the day perfect with her brace. Elizabeth herself would have been in anyone’s list of top performers of the game. She was simply immense, dazzling fans with her breathtaking attacking play. “That was my role, to play as a libero. So I was able to do what the coach told me to do.”

“I’m so excited. This is the first time ever that a women’s league has been held and we’ve won it. This is history,” Cudjoe, who is a level 300 college student in the US, added emotionally.

Fabulous Ladies, for once, had been forced off their thrown as Ghana’s women’s team to beat. Not even an impressive display from defenders Portia Boakye and Ama Saabi had been able to save them from a Hasaacas team that was determined to make history. A free-scoring team that stayed unbeaten throughout the season.

“Our secret was that we trained hard, twice a day in fact,” Hasaacas Ladies welfare officer Michael Frimpong said. “We were also determined to make the people of Western Region proud.”

And just how proud the people of Western Region will be. Their men’s team last won a league title in 1977.

Coach Basigi was optimistic about the team’s future. “The future looks bright for us. We look forward to winning more trophies.”

This article first appeared on Goal.com

You can follow me on twitter - @fiifianaman - for the best in Ghanaian football news and opinion.


Yussif Ayoma: A full back full of potential

Yussif Ayoma
The first time I saw Yussif ‘’Yo-Yo” Ayoma, Liberty were playing RTU in Kumasi. It was an away game for the Dansoman boys, and they were up against a side that had mastered the art of failing. Ayoma was a small figure at right back. I had never seen him play. I remember being in the stands (I was one of about 50 people in the over 40,000 capacity Baba Yara Stadium) and listening to radio just so I could get most of the players names. I didn’t regret being at that game.

Ayoma’s name kept on being mentioned. He saw most of the ball that day, and he used it so well. I’d look down the pitch and see him running all over, down the byline joining attacks, back into defence making interceptions. He sold himself as a workaholic that day, to me at least. I remember thinking – “Who’s this guy? Boy he’s serious!”

I just knew I wanted to know more about him.
I met Ayoma again in Accra weeks later. I was covering their game against Hearts, and he was injured. He happened to be sitting by me. Liberty lost that game three goals to one – and all throughout the match, he run me through his team mates, their weaknesses, strengths, game plan, what he thought, etc. I took his number after the game.
Ayoma has big dreams, like every Ghanaian footballer – except unlike many others, he’s willing to work hard for it. He knows where he comes from, and more importantly, where he wants to go. Born in Tamale to a former footballer, Ayoma’s childhood was normal - middle class normal. “We weren’t that rich, but we were okay,” he says. His father, Michael Ayoma, had been a goal keeper who had played for Real Tamale United, Dawu Youngsters, Accra Great Olympics and teams in Togo and Cameroon. He also represented the Togolese National team. Young Yussif lost his dad when he was in second year in Junior High.
Like his father, Ayoma set his sights on becoming a footballer. He was lucky to have been part of the prestigious Right to Dream Academy aged 14 in 2008 – by the help of a friend he remembers as Amos Acheampong. There, he experienced what he describes as the best moment in his life so far – traveling to the UK in 2009. He had been part of the Academy team that had traveled to the Netherlands for a tournament, after which they qualified for its final in Manchester. Ayoma, being a Man United fan, had the time of his life “I met many Manchester United players.  I met [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Rooney, Evra..most of them. I was so happy.”
Life at Right to Dream was good. “Our coach [Gareth Henderby] always told me I’m a hardworking guy and that he liked my simple game and my crosses too.” Yussif was in camp with the likes of Abu Mohammed, Razak Nuhu and Abdul Majeed Waris. “They were all my friends from Tamale. I had a good time.”
He was nurtured under the club’s state of the art facilities, and felt very lucky too. But he had to leave after a year – the club transferred him to Division One club D’International along with some other mates of his. He set his sights on making his way up to the top flight. “It was no easy but because I was always serious and played good football the team manager liked me and was so good to me. He took care of me.” 
Ayoma was training in Burma camp with his team, and lived with his friend in the Accra surburb of Nima. He missed his mother and elder sister back in Tamale. But he knew he was out to prove himself. “After a season a D’International, I promised myself not to play in the lower division again. I always dreamed of joining the club I supported (Liberty Professionals) or any other Premier League club because I believed in myself and knew I could play in the top flight.”
One Sunday, he recalls, a friend of the late Liberty Professionals Owner Alhaji Sly Tetteh saw him in action playing ‘Sunday special football’ in Tamale. The man, Ayoma calls coach Alala, was impressed. “After the game, we talked. I later found out he was a friend of my Dad’s. He promised to get me to Liberty,” he says. “He asked if I liked the club and I said yes.” Ayoma says Liberty is the club he’s “always supported.”
Kotoko’s 2011/12 Ghana Premier League winning coach Maxwell Konadu was then the coach of Wa All Stars. He informed the man who had ‘discovered’ Ayoma that his side was coming to Tamale to try out some players. “He was happy because he believed in me and told me not to worry,” Ayoma recalls. “and that by the time I’ll finish the justifier many more teams will come for me.”
What he said turned out to be true. Arguably Northern Ghana’s biggest clubs Wa All Stars and RTU registered an interest, but Alhaji Sly Tetteh himself placed a call to the man. He wanted Ayoma at Liberty.
“During my time in Tamale, I kept on telling my mum that I would never go back to Accra if not to go and play for a premier league club,” Ayoma says, the essence of the promise drawn on his face.
Ayoma signed a three-year deal at Liberty in July 2010. He is now in his third season. After 9 matches in his first season, he played 22 matches in his second, and has notched up 15 appearances this season so far. He scored two goals last season, against Heart of Lions and Bechem United. 
19 year old Ayoma is his club’s first choice right back.
“My role model is Dani Alves,” he smiles. “He’s good going forward, and he always gives some good crosses, plus he tackles well too. In fact, everything of his is good!”
Not even unsuccessful trials in France that did not work out in 2011 has dampened his spirit. Ayoma had been given an agent by Sly Tetteh to go for trial at French club Lyon – even though he was 17 at the time. His coach had thought he was too small for the first team, but Sly Tetteh saw a big brain in a young body.
As to why that didn’t work out, he says “For that, I can’t tell. Only my agent and Alhaji can tell.”
Ayoma says he knows one day, he’ll make it, so he’ll be able to fulfill his dream of taking care of his mum and elder sister back in Tamale. “For now, any time I get any money, I try to send them some. I know by all means there’ll reach a time where I’ll take care of them. But for now, they rarely ask for money because they know I don’t have it.”
His first game for his boyhood club came against King Faisal in Kumasi. He describes it as one of his most memorable games. “Coach [J.E] Sarpong was so proud of me after the game, he kept on saying he was happy for me and since that game started calling me his son. He believed in me so much. I’ll never forget the fact that he gave me a chance.”
Godfred Saka was transferred with Ayoma from Right to Dream to D’International.  Saka is now the most famous players in the top flight, plying his trade with 2009/10 league champions Aduana Stars. “We’ve not talked on phone for a while but when we do meet, we have a good talk,” Ayoma says. 
Saka is now considered the best right back in Ghana. What does Ayoma think about this, considering he’s also a right back? “Hahahaa I can’t tell oo,” he says laughing. “But I do know he’s doing very well.”
Saka is not the only ‘old pals’ of his making it big. 
Ayoma knows the levels his colleagues he started playing football on the dusty pitches of Tamale have reached. 
Majeed Waris became the first Ghanaian player to top score in a major European league (Sweden) since Tony Yeboah and was named their player of the year; 
Mubarak Wakaso now balls in Spain (Espanyol), and is now a main stay in the National team.
“Waris calls me all the time. Wakaso does too. He in particular was older than us but we all lived as brothers back in Tamale when growing up.”
“Even up till today, when we all find ourselves in Tamale, we get together and play.
“They still respect me like how we used to hustle since. They don’t think of themselves as superior, they behave like we’ll all equals,” Ayoma says.
Deep down, Ayoma wants in on that success too. He knows it’s all about time.

This article first appeared on AllSports Ghana.

You can follow m on twitter - @fiifianaman - for the best in Ghanaian football news and opinion.


Ghana 4-0 Sudan: A vital win and breathing space for Appiah- Thoughts

Kwesi Appiah and his boys calmed pre-match anxieties with an
assured display in Kumasi on Sunday. Four goals and three points against Sudan
meant getting Ghana’s World Cup qualification dream back on track, after the
scare that was Zambia being awarded three points and three goals. The Black
Stars cut down the point gap between themselves and the Zambians to one, and
also increased their goal tally to 11 in just three games.

The 40, 000 fans in Kumasi had their money’s worth, in a
game that brought many talking points to the fore.

Waris – Ghana’s new
man upfront
Majeed Waris was superb on the day. Maybe he did not do a
lot with the ball as much as people anticipated, as he had relatively less
access to it, but his off the ball movements and work rate was very typical of
a pure striker. The man who top scored last season’s Swedish Allsvenskan with
23 goals in 29 games had his best game in a Ghana shirt yet, after four
previous appearances that had most fans and journalists alike wondering if he
was all hype. A goal and an assist on a day he got things right dispelled the
myth that he is not up to scratch. At 22, and improving season by season, Waris
could end up hitting the back of the net for Ghana even more times than the man
who played behind him on Sunday.
Baby Jet!!
The man who played
behind him on Sunday
– who else? Ghana’s captain and Arab millionaire
Asamoah Gyan. Despite concerns over his fitness (he sustained a thigh injury on
Thursday in a friendly), Gyan was excellent in the first half, linking up well
with his new strike partner and protégé Waris. The baby Jet scored his 32nd
goal in 71 games for his country, meaning he is only a goal away from equaling
legend Abedi Pele’s tally of 33 goals for Ghana. The goal he scored, which was
Ghana’s first on the afternoon, was also his first ever goal at the Baba Yara
Stadium in 10 years since he made his debut. An eventful afternoon for him
ended with him pulling a hamstring, but he knew he had played his part. He knew
he had triggered the love part of his famous love-hate relationship with
Ghanaian fans. Gyan, who has scored 24 goals in 19 games for his club side Al
Ain this season, proved once again he’s still Ghana’s man for the goals.
Muntari – Joyful
Return
Sulley Muntari returned for the team on a turf he played his
last game before injury. The AC Milan midfielder, who captained the side (Gyan
handed it to him out of “respect for a senior colleague”) won his 76th
cap for Ghana, a statistic that takes surprise out of the fact that he was
Ghana’s oldest most experienced leg on the pitch on Sunday. And his experience
shone conspicuously on the day. Under his leadership, the team recorded a goal
harvest, just as they did against Lesotho the last time he played (and
captained) at the same venue. Sulley, who is enjoying a great season back in
Italy, was substituted amidst applause from the fans. Pity he couldn’t get on
the score sheet, again, as he had done the last time he played.
Goal machine
Mubarak Wakaso. A name that most Ghanaians were unfamiliar
with until late last year, when Kwesi Appiah handed him a debut against Cape
Verde. Not many then could foresee just how influential he would turn out to
be. Wakaso was Ghana’s top scorer at afcon 2013, with four goals. He had scored
2 goals in three games before that tournament, and Sunday’s goal was his 7th
strike in just 10 caps. The Espanyol winger has had one of the best starts to
an international career by a Ghanaian in a long while, not only scoring goals
but also proving to be an almost flawless dead ball specialist.  And oh, the resemblance in passion and style
of play to Muntari makes him most definitely his heir apparent.
Defensive flaws
In as much as the score line portrayed a lot of positives,
there was a worrying trend amongst Ghana’s central defensive pair of Isaac Vorsah
and John Boye. Both seemed too one dimensional, choosing to live off their
genuine reputation as no-nonsense, hard tackling defenders. When they weren’t
busy being no-nonsense, they were passing the ball between themselves, back to
Dauda or hoofing it up the pitch. None of them seemed to possess the will and
ability to bring the ball from the back and actually initiate an attack.
Considering Ghana scores too many goals these days, it’s probably not a major
source of worry, but building attack from the back most certainly has more pros
than cons.

And then there was Richard Kissi Boateng, who, has to be
said, put in a brilliant shift at left back, a role which Ghana’s had
chronically struggled to find a permanent fixture for. Kissi Boateng, since his
days at Berekum Chelsea, has always loved to attack. He attacks so well – a
plus which is also, ironically, a minus. His affinity for overlapping saw him
figured out intelligently by the Sudanese, who launched incessant attacks that
left him grossly exposed for most parts of the second half. Kissi would surely
watch the game again and notice his weaknesses and being the good learner that
he is, correct them.
Kwesi Appiah – Not
going anywhere, yet
What a way to destabilize rumours that he’d be sacked after
the game if all went wrong. Kwesi Appiah, who has for the past few weeks has
had to endure speculations over a future many feel is gloomy, got most things
right on Sunday, if not everything. He grabbed the three points, and did so
with style.

Ghana under him have now scored 33 goals in 15 games, an
impressive average of two goals per game. The clean sheet at the Baba Yara was
also the 9th under his 15 game reign, a period that has seen him win
10 times, draw three times and lose twice.

The message is clear – despite all the criticisms, some of
which sound genuine, the stats favour the boss, and that remains his trump card
in a much publicized attempt waged by some journalists and fans alike to get
him relieved off his post.

GFA stirs up controversy ahead of AFCON 2013

GFA President Kwasi Nyantakyi
Ghana’s build up for the Africa Cup of Nations in South
Africa next year has been anything but uneventful.
Close to a month ago, news
broke that the Ghana Football Association had presented an $8 million budget to
the Ministry of Youth and Sports to be considered as the proposed expenditure
for the tournament (via a confidential memo that leaked).

The reaction, considering the heftiness of the sum, was more
than expected. The public were quick to make their opposition clear, well; at
least the majority voice was that of those who opposed it on the basis of it
being overly extravagant. There were heated debates across board, on radio,
television, in print etc. People argued that the Ivory Coast, who spent $10
million for AFCON 2012, were beaten to the trophy by Zambia, who spent less
than $2 million. Essentially, the point was that spending big was not going to magically
(or so to speak, automatically) end Ghana’s over three decade AFCON trophy
drought.
Patriotism, deceit,
blackmail
Moreover, others – more like the nationalists - argued that
it would be unwise for the Nation to spend that amount on a football
tournament, when it currently faces deep lying problems such as power
inadequacies, unemployment, infrastructural problems et al. To be fair, the
people arguing against made very logical points. Interestingly, it emerged that
it was the players themselves who had actually demanded for an increment in winning
bonuses, thus inflating the budget. "The figures we sent were based on
negotiations with the players" GFA President Kwasi Nyantakyi told
SuperSport.com.  And this was after quite
a number of them had year in year out laced the ears of Ghanaians with sweet
talks of being patriotic and ready to die for the nation no matter the cost –
even if it meant doing so on insufficient wages. Basically, they had
pretentiously tried to make Ghanaians believe that they were motivated by the
pride, and not the money.
Details
With time, startling revelations were made, which only went
far to justify the concerns of the skeptics.

A staggering $1,06 million was budgeted for a plush training
camp in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates from 7-16 January next year. The winning
bonuses, which was at $10 000 per match at CAN 2008, through to $12 500 for CAN
2012, was going to go up to $15 000 FOR can 2013. Each player and official-
yes, and official - was to receive
$17,500 at the quarter-final stage, $20,000 each at the semis, $22,000 each for
a third-place playoff and $25,000 each should they reach the grand final in
South Africa. Additionally, the budget made a $70 000 provision for media relations
(and this was after media accusations of a $50 000 media relations designation
for South Africa 2010 being unaccounted for). Even further, there was $15 000
for laundry services, $200 000 provision for unspecified protocol,  $100 000 for scouting, $20 000 for food and $5
000 for entertainment.


Conspiracy theories, Arguments
In the ensuing debate that erupted, many Ghanaians accused
the GFA of trying to ‘twist the State’s arms’ by using the nation’s intense
desire to taste continental success once more to make money. In all fairness, some
of the amounts were(in comparison with previous figures, as well as in relation
to the task they were ear marked for) ridiculous, even so much so that there
were some people belonging to the in-support-of-the-budget minority who agreed to that
fact.

The argument for was based on the fact that the players needed
a kind of motivation that was ambitious enough to bring out the extreme
commitment in them. Moreover, they argued, if it meant bringing the trophy
back from South Africa was guaranteed, then why not?
No Guarantees
The fact remains that there are no guarantees about Ghana
winning the tournament. Apart from the country’s own peculiar mistakes that
have cost it the trophy over the past three editions, there have, is, and will
always be the element of luck. No amount of money can buy luck. So in effect,
the money could end up being practically wasted should Ghana miss out on the
trophy. Also, the structure of the earnings suggested that the players could
afford to reach, say, the quarter final only and still earn a substantial
amount of money. That in itself sabotages the goal of going for gold. 
Sports Ministry, GFA
respond
The Ministry of Youth and Sports overlooked the leakage and
pledged to review the budget in a critical way to scale it down if possible.
According to GFA source who spoke to SuperSport, the GFA owes the Ministry some
$400,000, which they received during the AFCON in January, after players
(again) demanded for increments as they progressed through the tournament. The
Minister was going to "use as a bargaining chip to force the FA to consider
the amounts they are demanding" the source added. Meanwhile, Kwasi Nyantakyi
was accused by many for using the players and their reported demands for
increments as a cover up for something they suspected was an attempt to benefit
incessantly. He, naturally, defended himself and his outfit, as well as some of
the figures, like that of the media relations :" We thought we were extending
a helping hand due to cases we witnessed at certain tournaments where you would
see journalists surrounding top officials requesting for money to support
themselves"
The Ministry has since, via Deputy Minister Edward Omane
Boamah, said they have reviewed the budget fully and have arrived at a figure
left for the Government to approve. "The Ministry after its revision have
arrived at a figure which is relatively different from what the Ghana FA
presented. We analyzed what the state can pay and have arrived at this
decision. Our findings have been contained in a document which has since been
forwarded to the government" He said.
Good thing for Ghana,
nonetheless
Regardless of the tension that this issue created, primarily
via the manner in which the information broke out, the situation went a long
way to promote transparency, and to some extent, accountability. Ghanaians were
deservedly in the know with regards to how much their players and officials
were going to earn – which is always a vital factor in ensuring that the whole
nation is on the same page ahead of a tournament that will require full,
unadulterated support from every citizen. The information in the public domain also
equipped citizens with the confidence to participate in the debate, which by
the way, was predominantly insightful and objective. Moreover, it heightened
the anticipation for the AFCON, raising expectations as well as taking the
whole nation’s mind off the intense politics that had enveloped the country
ahead of the general elections – albeit for just a while.

Fiifi Anaman.
@fiifianaman