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Sports Features of Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Source: Lt Col John Kuzigeyem Buntuguh

A letter to the Minister of Sports

Let me join the 28 million soccer coaches in Ghana to welcome Mister Minister to the hot seat of Minister in-charge of the Ministry for Youth and Sports.

As ranking member for youth and sports for some years, you must be aware that your position is arguably one of the most coveted non-cabinet posts in government.

In the past eight years of the NDC regime, we had so many sports ministers that I have virtually lost count. In no particular order, they included Akua Dansoa, Rashid Pelpuo, Clement Kofi Humado, Mahama Ayariga, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah and Nii Lantei Vandapuye.

Except for Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, the others were members of parliament, so I am tempted to believe that some of them were appointed to satisfy the provision of having a certain percentage of ministers coming from parliament.

Others got the nod, perhaps, because they participated actively in sports during their school days, were interested in youth affairs or for political reasons, such as gender-inclusion or regional balance.

The last two ministers, however, interest me a lot, as far as this article is concerned. Elvis Afriyie Ankrah had what we call in the armed forces "high morale". He was also the "samamo" type of leader.

He believed in cheer-leading. That was why he got personally involved in flying hordes of supporters, including celebrities, to Brazil for the world cup.

I am not necessarily saying this was bad, as it was another way of inspiring the performers on the field of play. The unfortunate thing was that, as often happens in Ghana, some of his decisions and actions were tainted with political considerations.

For instance, the selection of most of the so-called supporters was influenced by party affiliation, which resulted in foot-soldiers infiltrating the list and absconding thereafter. The tears he shed at the post-Brazil soccer probe amply sums up his performance as a minister.

When Honourable Nii Lantei Vandapuye was appointed sports minister, some of us were quite happy, given his background. This was a real sports person, who had participated actively in sports as a player, manager and journalist. Personally, I hoped he would succeed, especially with Kwasi Nyantakyi as GFA boss.

I remembered the period 2001-2004, when I used to eat sweets with Nii Lantei Vandapuye, Kwasi Nyantakyi, Oduro Nyarko, then of Okwahu United, now of Wa All Stars fame and many others who freely paid for the sweets.

I enjoyed the interactions at the VIP Annex, where we sat, more than the games being played. However, my honest assessment is that Honourable Nii Lantei was a disaster. He became the "too known" type of leader.

He started by saying that he would not be minister for only football, but sports in general, as they all said on taking up the mantle, but ended up being just that. In fact, he went a step further by being the de facto coach, team manager, supporter and chairman of the Black Stars.

He virtually arrogated to himself the power to decide on who should be GFA boss, who should form the management committee, who should travel with the team, how much the players should be paid.

Instead of being the policy maker, who supervised others to carry out these tasks, he was right at the centre of everything. No wonder he failed.

Honourable Minister Asiamah, which type of minister are we going to remember you as? The interfering type? The too known type? The money-making type or the laissez-faire type? Like everyone else, you have said that, you will not be minister for football only. I am not a soothsayer, but I dare say, you will soon be proved wrong.

Football is our flagship sport, in fact, it is the flagship sport of the world today, so I will not blame you if you fail to keep that promise.

The aim of this brief write-up is to welcome you to the hot seat and to point out a few things which will help you to start on a good footing.

This is purely unsolicited advice, but I hold a stake in this dear nation of ours and I refuse to sit idly by, knowing that I can contribute in a way to promote good governance in a sector I cherish so much.

Coach Avram Grant

Many have said that coach Avram Grant was a failure. That is simply not true. With less than a month with the Black Stars, he took the team to the finals of the Cup of Nations (CAN) in Equatorial Guinea and only lost on penalties. For the qualifiers to the 2016 CAN tournament in Gabon, Ghana qualified at the top of her group, with a match to spare.

When you view this against the background of the bad blood that existed between the then sports minister and the FA, then his success was all the more remarkable. For instance, before the return match with Rwanda, the Sports Minister commanded that a home-based team be used to reduce cost.

The coach thought otherwise, because, to him, in as much as the Black Stars had already qualified for the CAN, every other match ought to be used as preparation towards the tournament.

As a result, the players had to buy their own air tickets to come down for the match, with some players even footing the air fares of those of their colleagues playing for less-endowed teams.

The match itself ended in a 1-1 draw, but that result was hardly surprising, given the low morale of the players.

From there, the team played a friendly match with South Africa which also ended in a 1-1 draw and subsequently lost a friendly match 0-1 to Russia in Russia. The team also only managed a goalless draw with Uganda in their first world cup qualifying match.

Finally, when it really mattered, the Black Stars lost 0-2 to Egypt in Egypt. These were the results which convinced Ghanaians that Avram Grant was a losing coach.

But truth be told, apart from the draw with Uganda and the loss to Egypt, none of the other matches really mattered. And losing in Egypt was not such a big deal; remember in 2014, after defeating Egypt 6-1 in Kumasi, we lost the return leg by 2-1 in Egypt.

It was at this stage that our intolerant press came in. They claimed that Avram Grant was not a good coach and should be sacked. Some even claimed that the GFA had already taken the decision to terminate his contract, with Kwasi Appiah standing in the wings to replace him.

Indeed, some even said that Kwasi Appiah had been approached to take the team to Gabon for the CAN 2016. So the sword of Damocles was already hanging over Avram Grant’s neck before the commencement of the CAN competition in Gabon.

They pretended not to be aware of the irretrievable harm the former sports minister had already landed the team. To begin with, if Nii Lantei Vandapuye had remained Sports Minister, I don’t think Ghana would have won a single match in Gabon.

Note that he even vetoed the plan to have the team’s training camp in Dubai, when more than half of the participating countries had their training camps in that country. Secondly, he had the propensity to dictate to the coach who to called into the team.

In the CAN tournament itself, the Black Stars qualified with a game to spare thereby giving the coach the opportunity to field some players who had not played a single match thus far.

In the process, the team lost to Egypt. The naysayers once again descended on the coach, blaming him for their loss. While some condemned him for daring to play Jonathan Mensah and others, who had not had any game time before then, others questioned his tactical awareness in the earlier two matches.

In the quarter-final match, the team beat a resurgent Democratic Republic of Congo to qualify to meet Cameroon in the semi-finals. While some gave credit to the coach, others thought it was the players’ effort that gave Ghana victory.

I remember reading somewhere that the goal scored by Jordan Ayew could have been scored by just about anyone because it had been cooked for him. Nothing could be further from the reality. We have seen so-called world class strikers miss what is commonly referred to as “me-and-you” chances.

So Jordan should have been applauded for eluding three defenders and scoring that goal rather than being sneered at. Anyway, with high hopes, the team met Cameroon, but lost through a defensive blunder.

It must be pointed out that all the goals conceded by the team in the tournament were through defensive blunders. Indeed, even in the matches the team won, there were blunders which were not punished.

John Boye himself admitted later that he tried to duck out of the way to enable the goalkeeper catch the ball, but unfortunately, it hit his back and fell in front of the prowling central defender of Cameroon to score.

How will anyone blame the coach for this? I was surprised that Osei Kufuor, whom some of us admire so much, immediately called for the sack of the coach after the match.

When I sum up the performance of the Black Stars in Gabon, I will rate the team as above average. Placing fourth was just about what we deserved. Which top players did we have in our team to deserve better?

We played with an Andre Ayew who had just returned from injury and an Asamoah Gyan whom, to all intents and purposes, is semi-retired. We played with a Jordan Ayew whose morale was quite low, having had his team relegated to the championship, where he was not even very regular.

Thomas Partey of Athletico Madrid fame was not a regular either; in fact, he has recently enjoyed more playing time than before the CAN.

Our goalkeeper was a second division player in Spain. The only in-form player at the time was Amartey, whose team, Leicester City were finding it rough in the English premiere league.

Compare the Black Stars to a team like Senegal, which boasted the most expensive player on the continent, Sadio Mane, and a host of players plying their trades in the best leagues in Europe and featuring regularly.

Again, compare our team to Algeria, which boasted the best player on the continent, in the person of Ryad Mahrez of Leicester City. Not only him; they had other equally good players who play for top teams in Europe.

These two teams occupied the first and second positions on the continent, at the time of the tournament, yet neither of them went beyond the quarter-final. Ghana, therefore, did not fail in Gabon, though we could have done better. For Avram Grant, he was a sad victim of circumstances.

Return of Kwasi Appiah

Kwasi Appiah is back as the coach of the national team, which must be good news for those who believe that the Ghana national football team must be coached by a Ghanaian. Unfortunately, I don't share that view. England, who introduced the game of football into the world, at a point, engaged a foreign coach.

It is true that Ghana won all her CAN trophies with local coaches, but that was when local players formed the bulk of our team. There was no serious professionalism at the time, so the players could be assembled and trained together for long periods of time before tournaments.

In fact, apart from 1982 when George Alhassan, Opoku Nti and one or two others were plying their trade with some less glamorous teams, the Black Stars had always been home-based.

However, I must point out that I have nothing against Kwasi Appiah returning as our national coach. Currently, he appears to be the most exposed coach, though not necessarily the most experienced.

Until his engagement with the Sudanese team, Kwasi had not coached any club side to any appreciable level. There are claims that he once coached Kotoko, but even little- known people like Opeele Aboagye once coached Kotoko.

There was a fallacy pervading social platforms that Kwasi Appiah was adjudged the best coach in Sudan. That is a complete lie. Kwasi Appiah's team placed fifth in the Sudanese league before his departure.

Are we to believe that those whose teams placed first to fourth were not given that accolade but the fifth placed team coach was the best?

In 2014, when Kwasi arrived in Sudan, the team placed fourth in the league and oscillated between fourth and fifth since his engagement, apart from once when they came third. So it is not true that he was adjudged the best coach in Sudan.

Now to the charade, which we were made to believe was an interview process from which Kwasi Appiah was reappointed as the national coach. We were told that over 70 coaches applied for the job, including three local coaches.

Then again we were told three of them had been shortlisted for the job, with Willy Sagnol and Hugo Broos being the other two, together with Kwasi Appiah. Willy Sagnol, who never hid his desire for the job, duly came down and was interviewed by the panel of six.

We were told Kwasi Appiah and Broos were interviewed via skype. At the end of the day, Kwasi Appiah was declared the best of the lot. Untrue! Broos said he had never been interviewed for the Black Stars job. Then we were told that Willy Sagnol was demanding a hefty US$70,000 to take up the job.

What were Kwasi Appiah's terms? Is it true that Broos was not even interviewed? So why the charade? The GFA could have simply reappointed Kwasi Appiah without subjecting Ghanaians to this joke. From what the minister let slip recently, he had always favoured a local coach over foreign ones.

Some of us knew from the onset that Kwasi Appiah was coming back, so it would not have surprised us if he had simply been given the job after Avram Grant. Better still, he could have been interviewed alongside other Ghanaian coaches, since the preference was for a local coach.

In any case, ex-President Kufuor, whose party is in power, had rooted heavily for Kwasi Appiah long before the selection process began. Moreover, Dr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, who was the government nominee on the committee, openly said that the government favoured the appointment of a local coach.

So it was a done deal for Kwasi Appiah. As a Ghanaian, I would be proud if Kwasi Appiah succeeds, but if he doesn’t, the blame should be placed where it is due. I wish the FA and Kwasi Appiah all the best.

Ways and Means

This is a very sensitive subject and I wished I wouldn't have to touch it, but it is important that I comment on it. What is ways and means? I am not referring to the bribery of match officials to influence results, even though that appears to be rampant in our local league.

I had a mentor whom I used to discuss officiating blunders with, being a qualified match commissioner myself. Sadly, the Lord has called him home, so I am unable to call him to dissect controversial decisions anymore.

Ex-Warrant Officer Class 1 SK Antwi, may you enjoy eternal rest. By ways and means, I am referring to the use of supernatural means, real or imagined, to get favourable results in football matches.

This may include teams performing rituals at stadia, often in the middle of the night; it may include players using unauthorized routes into stadia; it may mean players refusing to shake hands with dignitaries; it may mean players smearing themselves with substances prior to entering the field of play.

It may even mean players drinking concoctions prior to matches. I am not in a position to discuss the potency or otherwise of these things. I only want to state that this extends to the national teams.

If Elvis Afriyie Ankrah is honest enough, he will tell you what happened before the Ghana-Egypt world cup qualifying match, which we won by 6-1. The big men of God from some religious persuasions, who were deployed for this mission, know themselves.

Nii Lantei Vandapuye once said that the FA wanted him to approve monies for certain things, but he refused, because he did not believe in such things.

The media thought and indeed, a few of them reported that, it had to do with bribing match officials. It will be recalled that the Egyptian FA wanted to make capital out of it, perhaps to appease their fans for the humiliating defeat.

Nii did not want to elaborate, but it had to do with ways and means. I don't know your belief, but these things sometimes have a psychological effect on the players.

In 2000, when Ghana and Nigeria jointly hosted the CAN, a mallam allegedly performed some rituals for South Africa during the semi-final match against the Black Stars. Ghana lost the match by 1-0. Those who claimed to know said the mallam was fished out, but the harm had already been done.

These things will, therefore, come to you requiring your attention and you must be prepared to act in the interest of the nation, based on your own convictions.

Local Component of Black Stars

Honourable Minister, during your vetting, you said you would advocate for a percentage of the senior national team to be composed of players who ply their trade in our local league.

That would be the worse decision ever taken by a minister. It would be worse than what Nii Lantei Vanderpuye did during his ill-fated tenure of office. Please leave technical matters to technical people. Not even the FA should interfere in who should be invited to play for the Black Stars.

Truth be told, our league is nothing to write home about. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that, in recent years, our champion clubs have not been able to reach the group stages of the African club competitions. Other less endowed countries like Zimbabwe are performing far better than us.

The truth is that, any player who is deemed a potential in our league, immediately jumps on the bandwagon into professionalism, no matter where. Now some are even playing in Tanzania and boasting that they can buy teams in our league.

If we still had the inter-regional sports competitions, any serious regional team could easily beat our premiere division teams. The low standard of our league can be gauged from the fact that the local Black Stars has not qualified for the African championships for some time now.

Indeed, at the moment, the Black Starlets (under-17 national team), Black Satelites (under-20 national team) and the Local Black Stars (CHAN team) are virtually all of the same standard. If you doubt this, organize a tournament between the three and see if one of the junior teams might not win, or if the scores will not be close.

In any case, even if our local league was competitive, it would still be wrong for you to use your ministerial powers to determine who should or should not be in the team.

Local Football League

In spite of what people say, the standard of our local league is at an all-time low. It is comparable to the second division leagues of yesteryears. Some Ghanaians have lost interest in the league, so much so that, they would rather watch foreign league matches on TV than go to watch our matches at the stadia.

It is said that football is business, so what is happening is that players are groomed not to entertain in the country, but to sell them and make money for the running of the clubs.

As I stated earlier, it is no longer the European leagues alone that our players aspire to go to. Other country, including Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia are fertile destinations for our players. Some go to places such as Lebanon, where no serious football is placed.

I remember reading about a German fourth division team beating the Lebanese national team by 4 goals to nil in a friendly football game. That is where some of our stars are starring. To be blunt, those playing in our own league now are sub-standard.

Anyone who shines a little is on the next plane to some obscure country, where the currency is not Ghana Cedis. For example, Kadir Mohammed was the only outfield player of the Black Stars in 2015/16; he was not even a regular squad player.

Today, he has joined the exodus-bandwagon. Interestingly, teams cheat their way to win matches or create stars out of mediocre players, just to sell them and make money. In 2015, a player scored three goals on the final day of the season to win the goal king award. The match itself ended in a 3-3 draw. The other team was ready to concede three goals but not to lose the match.

The player in question was subsequently sold to a team abroad. Until people are ready to spend on our league and keep our best players in the country, we shall continue to have a sub-standard league.
GFA Presidency.

Kwasi Nyantakyi has been GFA President for just over ten years, but it has already rankled some people. He has been described variously as Mugabe and Methuselah because they claim he has been on the seat for too long. Until the departure of Sep Blatter and Issa Hayatou, it was generally believed that football administrators were untouchable.

However, with the wind of change blowing around the football world, our chairman has also come to the realization that his days are truly numbered.

In defence of Kwasi, let me say that he has taken all these years to build his brand, which will be difficult to replicate. Ghana football has seen many chairmen or presidents, as they are now known, and we know the legacies they left behind.

The last but one chairman before Nyantakyi was Ben Kwofie, an ex-international star, coach and administrator.

He was appointed in the early days of the Kufuor regime, because it wanted football to be run by those who had seen it all on the field of play. No wonder, his deputy was Abedi Pele, another international. In my candid opinion, they achieved nothing worthy of note.

Then we had Dr Nyaho Nyahoe Tamakloe, a self-acclaimed disciplinarian, whose only achievement of note was the sacking of an entire senior squad of Accra Hearts of Oak Football Club and replacing them with youthful players.

I don't know if that is an achievement, because they did not win the league that year; they only placed respectably on the log. Fast forward to the era of Kwasi Nyantakyi. In 2006, he qualified the team to the world cup, the first time ever.

He followed up in 2010 and 2014. He won the world under-20 tournament. Admittedly, the format for qualifying for the world cup has become easier than used to be the case in the past. It might therefore not be apt to compare the eras.

The number of slots for Africa increased and the draw also sometimes favoured some teams. Remember, even Togo qualified for the 2006 World Cup. The achievement is nonetheless worthy of mention.

I am by no means saying that Kwasi has done well and should be president for life. Change is inevitable and will come when it will come. However, Kwasi is the first Ghanaian to be elected to the FIFA Executive Council. He has recently been appointed the First Vice President of CAF and could ascend to the ultimate in the not too distant future.

If we are in a hurry to push him out, he might not reach his fullest potential. These positions are not given on impulse or by parochial scheming. One must make a mark to be noticed and to reach that level.

It is interesting to note that those who are in a hurry to see his back do not want to contest him in elections, which is the only way he can be unseated. They want him to voluntarily step down or be removed in a coup d'etat, seeing that he is unbeatable.

I urge Mister Minister not to allow yourself to be used as a tool to create chaos in Ghana football, by trying to remove him "by force". Nii Lantei tried it just as he did with the Ghana Olympic Committee.

Others campaigned against him but changed their minds when they realized that, per the GFA constitution, he can only be removed in an election. Kwasi is a gem that must be nurtured rather than discarded.

Ex-footballers have found their voices once again and are agitating to take over the running of our football. Admittedly, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, we had a former player at the helm before, in the person of Ben Kwofie.

I know that in Germany, for instance, Franz Beckenbauer, Karl Henz Ruminigge and others transited from players to coaches and finally administrators.

The problem with our ex-stars is that some of them did not combine their footballing with education, hence their academic attainments are limited.

Having money to run football teams does not necessarily make one a good administrator. Ben Kwofie was different, because, obviously, he was well schooled, given his analysis of issues when he was in-charge.

That is why I doffed my hat to Nii Odartey Lamptey, when he admitted that he would have been a better player, if he had an education. No wonder, he has started a school to give children what he lacked, an education.

I stand to be corrected but all the FIFA executive members are also their confederations’ chiefs and all confederation executive members are heads of their federations or associations.

Forcing Kwasi Nyantakyi out because he is a CAF Vice Chairman and FIFA Executive Committee member is akin to producing a crown on the head of a king without a neck.

However, must one necessarily belong to a club side in Ghana to qualify to be part of the GFA? This is a question that has bothered a lot of people. I know that you cannot be the president of the Ghana Journalists Association unless you are a journalist.

In the same way, you cannot be chairman or president of other associations for, say, engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, unless you are one of them.

How different is the GFA from those? What readily comes to mind is the fact that our national teams are sponsored by government.

So why should only club football-affiliated persons qualify to lead or belong to the national teams. Recently, the GFA introduced another provision; that even the General Secretary must be appointed from within.

This used not to be the case, with people like Dasobere and Nsiah at various times serving as general secretaries by reason of the fact that they were technocrats. I shall return to this subject in future.


In conclusion, dear Minister, welcome once again to the hot seat. As the ranking member for Youth and Sports during the NDC era, you acquitted yourself creditably with your vociferous utterances on issues affecting the ministry and Ghana sports in general. However, now you must begin to see that it is easier to criticize when someone else is in-charge.

That explains why Nii Lantei Vandapuye sought to discredit you during your vetting on the payment of bonuses to the Black Stars players during the CAN in Gabon.

I can assure you that you will enjoy some goodwill from Ghanaians initially, but if you begin to repeat the mistakes of your predecessors, you will experience the typical Ghanaian hostility.

You should particularly guard against interfering in the affairs of the GFA, particularly the selection of players into the national teams and other technical matters. As a loyal and patriotic Ghanaian, I shall pray for your success and the success of Ghana football.

I also take this opportunity to formally welcome Kwasi Appiah back to the helm as our national football coach. May God continue to bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation greater and stronger.

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