Sports Features of Thursday, 12 September 2013
Source: Michael Quaye/Graphic Sports
On a wet afternoon sometime in 1990, an overflowing crowd at the then Kumasi Stadium witnessed a special “lap of honour”, flag-bearing giant frame of Tony Baffoe waving the national colours with pride.
It was the day when the then Germany-based defender made his debut for Ghana against Benin before going on to become a regular and an important part of a squad that finished as runners-up at the 1992 African Cup of Nations in Senegal.
The Black Stars’ German trainer at the time, the late Burkhard Ziese, had taken off his six-foot-plus right full back three minutes from time, and he showed his appreciation for Ghanaian hospitality as he basked in the welcome parade. The Dusseldorf player had opted to represent Ghana in an era when the prospects of representing Germany looked every bit more lucrative, even though it was never guaranteed.
That spectacle of seeming patriotism – his huge frame embellished by a rasta hair that distinguished him easily – remains engraved in Ghana’s football folklore.
Some 22 years on, that piece of history saw a semblance of a re-stage at the reconstructed Kumasi Stadium, now Baba Yara Stadium, when Kevin-Prince Boateng , also based in Germany, did his own “lap of appreciation” before Ghana’s 2-1 victory over Zambia ushered the Stars a step closer to Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup berth.
Unlike Baffoe, however, Boateng had long had his debut before the flag-waving episode in Kumasi last Friday, but the significance of the recent occasion as the offensive midfielder made his return into the national side could not have been lost on the average watcher.
At the time Baffoe staged that memorable one-lap tour, Boateng may be too young to remember the event even if he was at the stadium, but the characters who supervised drafted the script may have lived the occasion.
Indeed, even before Boateng completed his journey on the oval, the apparent public relations gimmick was very much evident – and has thus far succeeded in muting the potential backlash which could have followed his supposedly injury-inspired exclusion from the game.
Born to a Ghanaian father and a German mother, Boateng obliged the overtures of Ghanaian officials to switch allegiance to the Black Stars even though he had represented Germany at junior level football – thanks to FIFA’s tampering of the laws to allow players below 22 years switch nationality, football-wise.
His brother, Jerome, plays for Bayern Munich and remains a key defender for the German national side. The siblings made history when they appeared on opposite sides at the FIFA World Cup when Germany beat Ghana 1-0 at South Africa 2010.
The Black Stars’ campaign at South Africa 2010 had launched Kevin-Prince from the depths of being one of Portsmouth’s unknown quantities to prominence at illustrious AC Milan where he later became the custodian of the revered No. 10 shirt.
The story behind his unexpected, premature retirement from national team duties to concentrate on club football in the immediate post-World Cup period has never been fully told, and in like manner questions had lingered about his patriotism as opposed to opportunism until he announced his availability to the Stars on the eve of potentially another World Cup berth.
Doubts may have remained about his real motive for returning to a side he abandoned to concentrate on club football when conditions (before he left AC Milan for Schalke two weeks ago) had not changed to make his schedule any less engaging. But when he flew into town last week Monday, the statement of intent and reform seemed profound only to be dampened by his unexplained lack of fitness and subsequent exclusion from the tie with Zambia.
During the build-up to last Friday’s tension-packed game, the official website of the Ghana Football Association reported Coach Kwasi Appiah to have expressed concern about striker Asamoah Gyan’s “muscle cramps” and Boateng’s lack of fitness. Why and how his condition did not have a specific name or description are open to debate.
His background as a “half cast” with virtually no history of life in Africa makes him unique among home-bred Ghanaian players who are accustomed to local culture of various kinds. For instance, he may never come to grips with the oft-mentioned Ghanaian’s sense of time or the lack of it, maybe the Ghanaian’s way of expressing humour, etc.
There is, therefore, little wonder that his best pal in the Ghanaian squad is said to be Andre Dede Ayew, another of the younger generation with an almost European mentality, having grown up in Marseille where he plays football in France.
Timing of return
Yet, the issues provide no excuses to the obvious charade at play. As a Ghanaian, he has the right to represent the nation at any time if found competent by the coach. As one of Ghana’s players with true playing time in the tough European leagues, his competence cannot be challenged at the moment. Can the same be said about his commitment to the national cause?
That he timed his return to the Black Stars around a period when another chance at World Cup football seems very bright must be very instructive. There is no doubt that the world will focus attention on Brazil next year when the global festival comes around.
Boateng’s only appearance for Ghana on home soil was a 45-minute participation in a Nations Cup qualifier in Kumasi following which he announced his earlier retirement.
It is no secret that the pitch at the Baba Yara Stadium cannot compare to the finely laid surfaces across European venues. But could there be other factors that might have intervened when he was reported to be unfit upon the team reaching Kumasi from Accra last Wednesday, particularly when the cause of his “unfitness” has never been stated?
The scenario makes sense then that he showed up somehow with Ghana’s tri-colour flag adorned with a black star in the middle as an “appeal for forgiveness” for being unable to play.
The issue of premature retirement from and a subsequent return to the Black Stars is not new or limited to Kevin-Prince. The only difference between him and the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, and to a lesser extent Dede Ayew is the fact that they have lives in Ghana. Kevin-Prince doesn’t seem to have a life in Ghana so it is easier to take a walk.
The only unlucky one among that group is goalkeeper Sammy Adjei whose brief time on returning has been effectively truncated by Fatau Dauda’s recent brilliance and his own lack of playing time recently.
The Black Stars may not have seen the last of early retirements and a subsequent comeback yet, but the lenses will remain on Kevin-Prince for now up to Ghana’s next qualifying campaign when matches will be scattered across the African continent.
For now, he only needs the best of wishes to hold fast to the flag he bore in front of 41,000 cheering Ghanaian fans in Kumasi last Friday. That way he might attain a measure of the reverence Tony Baffoe enjoys in Ghana even till today.