I honestly cannot vouch for what pertained in the post-colonial era regarding the niche the Black Stars carved for themselves in the world of football because of my relatively young age. Nonetheless, from my avid interest in sports in those days as per my conversations with ex-sportsmen like Rev. Osei Kofi, Alhaji Sidiku Buari and Malik Jabir to mention but a few, Ghana was held in high esteem. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah showed keen interest in sports as part of his ‘African Personality’ philosophy, which advocated in effect that “the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs.” As a result, any sportsman who got a call to serve Ghana in any capacity did so with ineffable love AND NOT FOR MONEY. Because of this, Ghana topped the charts on the African continent and even when the Black Stars, for instance, had not played at the world stage, the supposedly big teams feared them. But times have changed!
Black Stars and world cup
Since the Black Stars qualification to the world cup in 2006, the stakes of the country in the world of football has soared high. At least, there and then, Ghana was regarded as one of the best 32 football nations in the world. The stakes even got higher when Ghana made it into the last 16 of the Germany tournament to confirm that the Black Stars were not only a force to reckon with on the African continent but also in the world. It thus came with little surprise when the team became the first African nation in 2009 to qualify on merit to the first ‘African’ World Cup. Indeed, the Black Stars qualified in grand style by booking a place in the finals in unprecedented fashion as they even had two matches to go before the end of the qualifiers.
The Black Stars sent signals to patrons of world football at the 2010 World Cup to prove that the performance four years earlier was no fluke. The team came within aces of making a record semi-final berth with just a penalty away. What happened afterwards is history now though that history is there to give lessons so mistakes are not repeated. But reaching the quarter finals in South Africa further attested to the flying image of Ghana as a force to reckon with in the world of football. From the statistics gathered, Ghana came 5th best at South Africa 2010 ahead of even fellow quarter-finalists Brazil and Argentina.
Status of Black Stars
Indisputably, the status of the Black Stars changed on the backdrop of these flying performances. Indeed, the new status also came along with concomitant vicissitudes as regards administration. I was happy when Kwesi Nyantakyi, President of the Ghana Football Association, blurted out, in the face of who becomes coach after Milovan Rajevac left, that the Black Stars is no more a ‘low’ team but rather a world class team and so selecting a coach for the team should go beyond ‘Ghanaian or non-Ghanaian, foreign or local, black or white.’ According to him, competence should be the watchword. He was right! The image of the Black Stars, after those two world cups, changed to the levels of the Englands, Brazils, Spains and the likes. As a result, big wig coaches were attracted to the team during the period of the hiatus created by Rajevac.
It is in this same vein that some of the Black Stars players must know that the team is no more a ‘low’ team and that representing the Black Stars affords a player the same opportunity like what the likes in Spain, England, the Netherlands, France and suchlike enjoy. Similarly, the Black Stars also obtain the same media leverage matches involving these nations receive. Therefore, playing for the Black Stars has higher stakes as tube viewership has risen in the past few years. Support for the team has also soared. At a point in time, Ghana was second only to Brazil as the team with the most international or cosmopolitan supporters.
After watching Ghana’s matches after the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, I feel strongly about the selection of some players into the national team. These players, perhaps, think they are playing for an abandoned team or, in Ghanaian parlance, ‘their father’s team’. Their work rates are poor, involvements in games are shallow and no remorse is shown about their poor outing for the country. Gone were those days when Stephen Appiah and co gave their hearts out to the team! Unfortunately, these poor players are consistently invited to play for the team leaving one to wonder what the technical team sees in them. It is important to mention that the era of getting a psychologist for the team should be brought back as perhaps some of these selected players may have other worries boggling them.
Honestly, Ghana could have beaten Zambia on the opening of the Levi Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola if some players had not been given starting roles. It is high time the spirit of patriotism in playing for the ‘red, gold and green’ was inculcated in some of these players and if some take bribes before playing for the team, they should have a second thought at it.
Bribery and match-fixing
Yes! The status of the Black Stars currently as a world class team inasmuch as is attracting goodies to the team, attracts evil as well. Betting companies have found their way into the camp of the team to corrupt some players to, in effect, fix results of their matches. This issue of match fixing came up some time ago though Stephen Appiah came to debunk it. However, the recent revelation by Richard Kingson at The Synagogue, Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria should be a cause of worry to Ghanaian football lovers. Kingson revealed that he was approached by a betting syndicate to let in goals in Ghana’s group game against Czech Republic (at the 2006 World Cup) and that he will be rewarded $200,000 if Ghana lost that match. According to the former Blackpool shotstopper, it took his wife to lure him away from that. Good as the attitude of Kingson may sound, it opens the Pandoras’ box regarding what some players are capable of doing. Honestly, if I cast my mind back to Ghana’s 5-0 thrashing by Saudi Arabia in 2007, 4-0 thrashing by the Netherlands prior to the 2010 World Cup and even that 3-0 defeat to Brazil at the 2006 World Cup, then I am left with more unanswered questions. In fact, much more needs to be done in terms of patriotism in representing the national colours. Sometimes it even involves officials of the team. Please, representing one’s nation in any capacity should not be regarded as an opportunity to amass wealth. It should rather be an opportunity to show utmost honesty. This is the foundation of steady performances of some nations. Sacrifice today for that wealth tomorrow.