New age Ghana
Senegal, January 1992. At the end of Ghana’s seventh African Nations Cup final Abedi Pele’s emotions are scrambled. The captain and three times African Player of the Year had been pivotal in Ghana’s efforts, scoring against Nigeria in the semi-finals and being voted player of the tournament.
But he missed the final, suspended. He can only watch as team-mate Anthony Baffoe misses the decisive kick in a remarkable penalty shoot-out against Ivory Coast, consigning Ghana to an 11-10 defeat.
Thursday 22 June, 2006. Just after 4pm local time in Accra. The streets of the Ghanaian capital are rammed. Car roofs are used as dance floors. Flags praising Ghana and the Lord swirl everywhere. Children, office workers, beggars, street hawkers all hug spontaneously. Work has definitely finished for the day. A long journey into a night of partying beckons in celebration of Ghana’s landmark 2-1 victory over the United States in Nuremberg at the World Cup.
Fourteen slow years have passed since Ghana lost that final in Dakar. It is 24 even slower years since they won a trophy, the last of their four African Nations Cup successes, against Libya on penalties in Tripoli. Since that game in Dakar when Abedi Pele was forced to sit on the bench, Ghana have failed to reach another Nations Cup final. They have, though, finally made their mark on the world game. It has been a long time coming.
For the team known as ‚the Brazil of Africa’ it is a shocking record. That name was given to the Black Stars (named after the star in the middle of the flag) in the 1960s, when two of Ghana’s Nations Cup triumphs coincided with the era of the great Brazil teams who won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Ghana, coached to those championships of 1963 and 1965 by Charles Gyamfi, played a fast, extravagant, one-touch football that was similar to the style orchestrated by Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho and company.
During that period of Ghana’s excellence there was little recognition beyond their own continent: African football had no global exposure and not until 1970 did an African team feature at the World Cup finals. In the 1990s, Ghana raised expectations that they might burlington coat factory canada goose coat live up to their ‚Brazil’ tag with an astonishing run of success at junior level. But they failed to deliver. Until Thursday. Their win over the US ensured their progress to the last 16, the only remaining team in the tournament from Africa. Is the potential of Ghanaian football finally about to be realised?
The Brazil of Africa, the nation with a player named Pele as their totem, have a dream match. In Dortmund on Tuesday they play Brazil, five times World Cup winners, holders and the nation symbolised by Edson Arantes do Nascimento, the original Pele.
As the serious dancing and drinking and partying begins, and as the football gets serious – really serious – the twenty-first-century equivalent of Abedi Pele must sit out the story, just as Pele did 14 years ago. Michael Essien, one of this World Cup’s outstanding performers, finds it difficult to smile. The Chelsea midfielder is suspended, having been shown a yellow card against the US, his second of the tournament. He will miss the biggest game in Ghana’s history. ‚I’m happy for the team, but I’m not happy,’ he says.
At least Essien, at 23, can console himself that Ghana may have a longer-term future at the top of the game. Abedi Pele must have thought he same when, at 19, he experienced Nations Cup victory in 1982. But that turned out to be the highlight of his international career. It was the precursor to years buy canada goose coat uk of disappointment.
Why? In the 1990s, Ghana contested four Under-17 World Cup finals, winning in 1991 and 1995, defeating Brazil in the quarter-finals on the canada goose coat 1000 bulbs lamps first occasion and in the final four years later. As well as twice finishing runners-up, Ghana were third in best mens canada goose parka 1999 with a team containing some of the present senior squad, including Essien. That side’s nucleus went on to lose the 2001 final of the Under-20 World Cup to Argentina. The under-20s also lost against Brazil in the 1993 final and were fourth four years later.
So much young talent, but at senior level, nothing. Sammy Kuffour, Mohammed Gargo and Emmanuel Duah, members of the 1991 under-17 champions, were sold to Torino in a multiple transfer buy canada goose parka cheap of teenagers that caused a sensation.
African youngsters had never been traded in this way before and Fifa did not like what they saw, with murmurs of a ‚slave trade’, but the three were successful. Kuffour went on to win the Champions League with Bayern Munich. Gargo and Duah have been well rewarded in Serie A and Portugal respectively.
Other high-profile young players failed. ‚You have a better opportunity to do things here [in the US] than in Ghana,’ says 17-year-old Freddie Adu, the Nike-backed wunderkind who left West Africa for America in 1997 and became a millionaire through endorsements. ‚Players just disappear there. They would be so good and win all these youth tournaments and then just disappear.’ Adu, now a dual national, has opted to play for the US rather than the Black Stars.
According to a highly placed Ghana FA executive, this failure beyond international age-group level for individual players and the senior team is because of endemic dishonesty regarding players’ ages, rather than failure to develop promising teenagers into world-class seniors. It has been going on for years.
‚It is an African problem,’ the official says. ‚For years Ghana has cheated. It brings success at junior level canada goose coat 1000 bulbs reviews but makes the step up to senior level very difficult.’
Domenico Ricci, the agent who did the deal that took Kuffour, Gargo and Duah to Torino, agrees that age is an issue. ‚I can’t tell you how old those three were. But what is said is that in Ghana players are faking their age by three, maybe four years. It is the same throughout Africa.’
Ghana’s former Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, Joe Aggrey, is in no doubt. ‚In the past, we were cheating and winning, but the right thing must be done now. Years of lopsided policies, which put premium on juvenile football, adversely affected standards of the senior national team.’
Sources claim that this age discrepancy can be as high as nine years for some players. Many births in Ghana are not registered by a hospital, so there are no official certificates.
While the African Brazil opted for the short-term policy of fiddling players’ ages to win trophies, the Brazilian Brazil were concentrating on senior competition, winning two of the past three World Cups.
At last, there is a change in attitudes. The starting XI that beat the US had 10 players officially aged 26 or younger on the teamsheet. For the first time in many years there best canada goose jacket reddit is a good chance those ages were, more or less, correct.
And now, while Essien’s absence is poignant, Ghana can at last rejoice in an achievement that should have occurred many years ago. A population of about 20 million – tiny in comparison to the 128 million of fellow West Africans, Nigeria – has still produced a number of quality players, including former Leeds United striker Tony Yeboah and Champions League winner Kuffour. Pele’s success – he was man of the match for the Marseille team who won the 1993 European Cup – made him the first prominent African player in Europe. It began the now-taken-for-granted exodus of footballers to Europe, among them 1995 World Player of the Year George Weah and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o.
Pele should have been the inspiration for the development of the national team and the profile of his continent. But that was left to Roger Milla, of Cameroon, who at the 1990 World Cup finally forced Africa into the world’s consciousness. Milla became the oldest man to score in the finals, at 38 (he was probably in his forties).
According to Pele, that should have been Ghana. ‚The Ghana team then was as good as Cameroon, but what we really lacked was the seriousness to take it to another level,’ he says at Ghana’s World Cup base in Wurzburg, central Germany.
Now Pele, who works closely with the Ghanaian football federation and is an ambassador for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, cannot wait for the encounter with Brazil and a pre-match meeting canada goose coat $5000 no credit check signature loans with the player after whom he was named.
‚I was named after him when I was eight because I liked to dribble,’ he says. Now he sits on various Fifa committees with Pele. ‚He treats me like a brother. We see each other two or three times a year.
‚Now,’ he says, eyes gleaming, ‚remember the focus people put on Brazil before the World Cup? They were in Switzerland and 15,000 people watched them train. And they paid. Imagine the income they make. If we could beat Brazil I think the clock would change the other way, round to Ghana. So I’m looking forward to such buy canada goose jacket toronto a game.’
That Pele chooses to focus on finance may seem mercenary (then again, so does the ‚real’ Pele, who sold his image rights on Friday for $50m), but it is understandable, given the economic situation in Ghana. In 1957, Ghana became the first African country to gain independence from Britain, but there has been negligible growth since then. Back then, output was the same as South Korea’s. Now, Ghanaians make an average of only a dollar a day.
Ghana is a deeply religious country. Before each international match, prayers are led by either a Muslim (there are four in the squad) or a Christian player. ‚We all serve one God,’ says midfielder Derek Boateng. It is another similarity with Brazil, whose captain, Cafu, is one of their more visibly religious players.
‚Around 80 per cent of the current group grew up in the country,’ says former international Anthony Baffoe, who works as Ghana’s general manager. ‚But all of the starting XI against the US, apart from Habib Mohamed and Illiasu Shilla, now play outside Africa.’ The team’s Serbian coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, believes that this is vital. ‚Our players are playing in important games in Europe, so they know everything.’ To this experience, Dujkovic has added team unity. ‚The team I was in, there were a lot of personalities, but they were not one,’ says Baffoe. ‚This team is.’
Has the footballing infrastructure in Ghana improved in Baffoe’s time? ‚Everything lives on sponsorship. We have to try to make our facilities more proficient, like the South Americans do. Also, a youth development programme is important.’
In the 1990s Ajax black canada goose parka began the Ajax Goldfields academy in Obuasi, a mining town, but it was not a success. ‚They also have Ajax Cape Town in South Africa,’ says Pele. ‚So maybe they thought they shouldn’t put the money into it.’
Pele owns one of the few academies in the country, FC Naanji. ‚We have shown with the players we’ve produced that if we had academies like those in the Ivory Coast, which have developed some great talent, then we would create many more.’
Good Ivory Coast players tend to leave for Belgium. And, if successful, they move on to bigger clubs, as Emmanuel Eboue did when leaving Beveren to join national team-mate Kolo Toure at Arsenal. Ghana’s key players, including captain Stephen Appiah and Asamoah Gyan, who scored in the victory over Czech Republic, tend to be at lesser European clubs. Essien’s move to Chelsea was another breakthrough for his country.
For a continent more riven by football’s internecine politics than anywhere else, it is hardly surprisingly that Ghana’s passage to Germany was not smooth. There were five coaches in two years, three during qualification. Dujkovic was recruited after he managed to take Rwanda to the 2004 Nations Cup. Although he won the group by five points, a 2-1 defeat by a Zimbabwe team who had not won a point sent Ghana home early from this year’s Nations Cup.
The public turned on Dujkovic. ‚We had a different team,’ he says of a side that missed an injured Essien and featured a half-fit Appiah. The squad in Germany features 11 changes. ‚With today’s players we would’ve reached the final. When you win in Ghana you are king. When you lose, they are asking for the head. They believe they are best in the world in this moment. I understand. But reality is something different, no?’
Gyan, who returns from suspension on Tuesday, plays in Italy with Modena. Appiah, a former Juventus midfielder, click over here is with Fenerbahce. Essien plays at Stamford Bridge. These arenas are a long way from Ghana’s domestic league, which consists of three divisions. Hearts of Oak and Ashante Kotoko are the country’s Manchester United and Arsenal. ‚It is very strong,’ Dujkovic says. ‚Their teams often play in the international African competitions. But they only have three good stadiums. And clubs don’t have training ground in good conditions.’
At the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund on Tuesday Ghana, urged on by millions around the world, will take another step forward. Without Essien it will be even more difficult. Especially because Brazil’s 4-1 rout of Japan in their final group game indicated that they are improving.
The result, though, hardly matters. The Black Stars’ presence alone will give the people of Ghana a lift. And it could be the start of their team finally leaving behind the off-field mistakes of the past.
‚This World Cup will help tremendously,’ Abedi Pele says. ‚Everyone’s going to open their eyes and say, „Hey, Ghana. It had wonderful talent. Players with discipline and good character.” It’s going to be a boom in Ghana.’