The Senior National Team would return to action later on Thursday after a disastrous Cup of Nations in Egypt where they failed to progress to the Semi-Finals or better like they had done since 2008. Many a Ghanaian were left disappointed with the outcome of what transpired in that Round of 16 clash against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the Egyptian City of Ismailia.
I have lived through the good and bad times of the team all my life and the passion with which many supported the team had always been up there. The memories of Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 would live on my mind for long. 2014 though would be remembered for all the wrong reasons for reasons we all do know. The stage was painfully set for a hate relationship which sadly found its way into the media. Had the privilege of covering the Cup of Nations in Egypt a couple of mongo where Ghana failed to go pass the second round.
The reaction on social media you have to say was strange. May appeared not amused by the loss or just did not care about what transpired. The relationship appeared deteriorated.
Fast forward that to the election of new FA boss Kurt Okraku and you get the feeling from the corridors of power of the local football controlling body that every effort is going to be made to bring back the love. Sounds like great an idea. I have seen quite a number of top football officials and even members of the general public doing their bit to help with this drive. Part of this plan was to see the players the Stars make some whistle stops at Winneba and Mankessim. The reception appeared great from the pictures and the videos I have seen. Beyond this though, many in the inky fraternity are wondering whether this is a one off or otherwise.
I am not familiar with a plan yet from official quarters, herein being the Communications Department of the FA which would naturally be mandated to effectively carry it . It’s great to get the love back if it appears to have disappeared but can we do more?
I have always believed that sport has a way of drawing many an inhabitant in any community the world over together which naturally transcends the various geographical spaces all the way to the national level. The question then arises as to whether a whistle stop in two towns ahead of a CAN qualifier would be enough to do the trick. Are we engaging the various communities enough to appreciate the importance the sport of football does to the individuals in the community as a life transforming venture and its economic and social impact to that space?
Football is a product way beyond what transpires on the pitch and for a brand that has received such a bashing and has been bruised from the effects of Number 12, we all have to put our hands behind the wheel by helping ignite the passion and create wealth for all. As a lecturer who believes in the impact of Corporate Social Responsibility winning the minds of people, I believe this is a fine opportunity for the FA to tap into that space as well. Has the FA done enough to shed off the derided football people tag and to make the waakye seller on matchdays or the kids in Zabzugu-Tatale feel a big part of the football space? There is very little anyone can reference as a legacy project impacting the lives of many beyond Match days. Whatever happened to the funds from FIFA which could be channeled a lot more to the grassroots level? Construction of community pitches should be led by the FA, donation of footballs to as many schools and communities all over the country, the FA boss personally visible at many of these events as possible, engaging the clubs to foster a lot more Communal engagements in their home areas and more. This would do a great deal to the image and ultimately for the sport as a whole.
For the Black Stars, the plan should be clear and succinct.
A NEW FEELING
When brands are not doing well, they have a careful introspection of themselves. Qualifying for tournaments is great but what the performances at these tournaments is what has brought this conversation into sharp focus. The Stars have not been good enough and the performances have not been up to scratch. When players have been called up, do their performances suggest that even when they have failed, they had given everything on the pitch? The jury has always been out on them. It is difficult to get a nation onside when you have not won in 37 years and counting. There should be a plan to win starting with the AFCON.
A NEW RELATIONSHIP
The press can be a vicious beast but it is also susceptible to having its belly tickled. The events surrounding the Ghana-Uganda game a couple of years ago and the repercussions from Brazil has given the team very bad publicity. The FA in my opinion struggled to get the Press onside with all these happenings. There over 500 radio stations dotted all over the country with a good number of minutes allotted to sports programming on a daily basis. Add Television and print and the saturation tells its own story. Add New Media and it’s a whole kettle of fish. It is almost impossible to do battle against the media. It is impossible getting everyone onside but it’s very possible getting as many onside especially the ones with numbers or a greater audience share. The FA’s Communications Department has to build a very strong relationship with the Press which should translate to a good vibe with the public. When the players are in town, hold Media days. Get the players mingling with the fans. Encourage them to build relationships and feed off the positive energy. Help the players communicate the right things. Get them to meet kids in schools, hospitals, the Market. Go to the prisons, the destitute. Take pictures with them. Go to the prisons, the destitute. It works.
A NEW APPROACH
Players and squads are developed over the time. A Classic example of Ghana befitting significantly from youth was in 2009 when a chunk of the national U-20 graduated to play in the National team purely based on merit. Yes merit. Call ups to the national teams have not always been smooth. The national gaffer appears to be at variance on why there should be a presser to announce his squad and take questions. Fair. But good stories can be told of why certain players have made the grade from the gaffers own lips. They sell better than the Pseudo PR journos and their statistics. When the nation knows that players have been called up purely on merit, it pushes as many players in contention for spots to up their game which reflects on the team’s performance whilst creating a lot of competition in the side.
A NEW FACE
Sometimes, if not all the time, difficult decisions would have to be taken to get the best out of a team. I am not in anyways suggesting that certain players should be discarded but it gets to the point where some players simply have to be culled off. Rights of entitlement should not be entertained. Giving a younger generation a chance is always a tough one. It may not reap immediate results but could be very decisive in the long term. The Stars have done a semi-final or better since 2008. A round of 16 exit was clearly a decline. Hard decisions on player call ups should be taken. The manager has tinkered with his call ups by inviting a number of new players. I hope they get the opportunity at some point. The story of Christian Atsu who was virtually unknown but blossomed to become player of the tournament in Equatorial Guinea in 2015 comes to mind.
A NEW MENTALITY
July 8th 2019. The Ismailia stadium, Ismailia. One of the toughest days in Ghana’s recent CAN history. As Ghana was knocked out of CAN 2019 by Tunisia on the dreaded penalty shoot-out, the players lay strewn across the turf, united in turmoil and grief. It was as if they had frozen during the match, panicked by the reaction that would follow a defeat of this magnitude, sickened by the rising bile in their stomachs. It was a night when all of the psychological insecurities of penalties affecting Ghana came to the surface and forced one massive collective brain fade. Kwasi Appiah is still at post and might be around for some time. It is up to him to instill a stronger mentality on the back of the poor showing in Egypt. He has since recruited former Stars skipper CK Akunnor to serve as his assistant. I am not too sure of any hustle with qualification to Cameroon but there should be a mentality to go win it with a certain level of belief.
A NEW CONNECTION
On the day of England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia on June 11, London’s Hyde Park hosted a hastily-arranged festival of football. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 applied for the 30,000 tickets on offer after a frenzy erupted when mayor Sadiq Khan announced the free screening. Hollywood legends were jockeying for admission. Soap stars and music legends were besieging contacts in an attempt to gain access. For the throngs who made it through the gates, it was an unforgettable occasion. Oasis played Knebworth three weeks after England took on Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 96 – in 2018, it was as though the two events had melded together in a compelling confluence of football and festival. When a brand is doing so well, everyone wants to be a part. The last time England had played at the semi-final of a World Cup was 1990 in Italy. If the Stars play well and win, the fans would get behind the team. If they continue
to flatter to deceive, the love would continue to shrink. The English story is a good guide
A NEW STORY
‘We are igniting the passion of the sport and creating wealth for all’. New FA boss Kurt Okraku has made this phrase very popular. He is smart enough to know that it should not just be talk but should translate into results on the pitch. The new FA leadership and Head Coach Kwasi Appiah together with the players should embark on a project to uncouple Ghana from the oppression of their past failures. Ghanaians have had enough in the last 37 years. Effort is just not enough. Results appear to be everything these days. The talk around the camp should be results and nothing less.
I wish the Stars the best of luck in the games against South African, Sao Tome and all through the qualifiers. A win in 2021 in Cameroon would do a lot more to win the Love Back. For now, results would do the team a world of good to build that momentum. The love would surely be back when they win. AFCON 2021 on my mind.
The writer is Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang, Sports Editor at Class 91.3FM and an Adjunct Communications lecturer at Pentecost & Knutsford University College.