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Soccer News of Thursday, 20 February 2003

Source: Graphic

Is it the Burkhard we know?

IN the comedy of "A Coach For The Black Stars", another confusing chapter was opened last Tuesday when the Ghana Football Association was said to have announced the appointment of German Burkhard Ziese.

Then yesterday, FA scribe, Kofi Nsiah, to whom the story was attributed, denied it on radio.

The earlier announcement itself was a denial in content, annulling what had been attributed to the higher Executive Council body that three shortlisted men (a Ghanaian and two Europeans) all failed the GFA's scrutiny.

There can't be anything more comical than the FA's current behaviour. But it is a welcome relief from what was becoming obvious that between Sports Minister Osei Kwaku and GFA giant Ben Koufie, someone was 'monkeying' around with the real issues involved.

Until the Executive Council staggered into this football version of the Papa Adjasco television series, the main characters were two men: Hon Osei Kwaku and Mr Ben Koufie, who were united by a common belief that the Black Stars needed a substantive coach as a matter of urgency. The two were, however, divided on the nationality and pigmentation of the ideal man for the job, with all the financial variations.

Osei Kwaku's conviction was that there is nothing about football that a well-motivated Ghanaian coach cannot teach at the most senior level.

Ben Koufie's stand was the direct opposite, that given the speed at which the science and business of football is growing, only a foreign teacher, preferably a European, can help Ghana keep pace.

Indeed, the comedy at the FA and all the pretensions of democratising the process through adverts, interviews and the intervention of the Executive Council only provide a screen behind which the decision makers are wrestling one another over the fundamental differences.

The GFA, by its functions, has no business wasting anybody's time by the process it went through. It has the powers to go out there and shop for the talent it wants and forward it to the ministry for approval or otherwise. It is only engaging in this diversion under the compulsion of its immediate embarrassing past created by the 'Zivadinovic Affair.'

At a press conference to officially present the man, Chairman Ben Koufie was forewarned about the unpredictable character of Milan, with examples from his native Yugoslavia and also in Iran. Instead of Uncle Ben employing the information as a tool for vigilance, he mistook it as a newsman's ploy to intimidate the new coach. Ghana turned out the loser for that.

After causing the nation to lose $65,000, Milan, further dented Ghana's football image with a 0-1 loss to Uganda. He then vamoosed.

There are men on the FA who know that if the Burkhard the GFA is said to have settled on is the same man we knew in 1990-91, then we may have another Milan on hand because the German shares all Zivadinovic's erratic attributes. So who is to bell the tiger?

After his rancorous departure from Ghana, and later suing the nation at the court of FIFA, the only place he has worked is Zambia where he left after a bitter quarrel with that country's all-time best player, Kalusha Bwalya. He was fired while the Zambian team was still at the Nations Cup in Burkina Faso.

These facts notwithstanding, Mr Ben Kuofie appears to be in the lead with Tuesday's announcement that Burkhard Ziese had been appointed by the GFA. At least that appears to be the verdict in the market of public opinion, given all the charisma and controversy that the self-assertive German brings on board.

Aside the populist card he wields in Burkhard, Uncle Ben also rides on a massive loss of confidence by Ghanaians in the ability of a local coach to lead the Black Stars to glory.

Forty years after C.K. Gyamfi took over from Coach Ember and broke the myth of African inferiority by winning three Africa Nations Cups (the only coach to have done so by 1982), Ghanaian coaches are still battling low self-esteem. Not too long ago, when Cecil Jones Attuquayefio steered Hearts of Oak to carve for himself a grand local and continental image, the mandate fell on him to help regain some dignity for the Ghanaian coach.

With a well-knit local squad under his command, the core of which he had used to conquer Africa, Jones rather reinforced the notion of complex, discarded the side he was familiar with and imported over 20 players of doubtful form and intentions from Europe.

And yet before he took over from Italian Giusseppe Dossena, the leadership of Attuquayefio's foreign imports, including then skipper C.K Akonnor, his deputy Samuel Osei Kuffour and defender Sam Johnson, had sworn publicly to withdraw their services to the nation if Dossena was not retained. The result was a total flop by Jones and his men who were flogged 3-1 by Liberia in Accra.

With Ghana's World Cup chances already ruined, Jones was left with no other option but to fall on the men he had rejected to hold a star-studded Super Eagles side to a goalless draw in Accra. But that was too late to repair the damage already inflicted on his reputation.

That and Osam Duodu's modest show at the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali were what provided the advocates of "the foreign coach is superior" idea with another opportunity to go shopping in Europe. What they came up with was that disaster of a Yugoslav.

The FA still retains the power to choose, but let it be guided by the fact that in spite of all the real and perceived minuses of Ghanaian coaches, what is strange is that no foreign coach has yet achieved anything that no other Ghanaian has done.

Since Burkhard?s departure in 1991, Ghana has experimented with eight other expartriates, with the familiar excuse that Ghanaian coaches lack the nerves to discipline players who are living affluently in Europe. And yet the Stars were under foreign coaches in 1996, 1998 and 2000 when Ghana?s Nations Cup dreams were shattered by some of the most bizzarre stories of indiscipline in South Africa, Burkina Faso and Ghana respectively.

By Ghanaian standards, the figures often quoted, between $10,000 and $30,000, are big deals, not to talk of the staggering signing-on fees.

But our history teaches us that it has all been waste and we have not had value for monies spent on foreign coaches. Indeed, with the facilities often at their disposal, they have performed poorer than our own men, the unfortunate example of Attuquayefio notwithstanding.

The choice, though, is for the GFA to make and be bold enough to stand by it. But if the money is coming from the national kitty, then it is the responsibility of all Ghanaians to ensure that the man who takes the job would not be remunerated according to the colour of his skin.

It would be unacceptable for whoever receives so much, with free everything, to be holidaying in Accra only to assemble Europe-based players for a week or two to engage in two or three matches in a year.

If such a man has no magic to do what no other Ghanaian has achieved before, we shall demand an explanation for the payment of such extraordinary salary for the routine that our own men go through for less than a tenth that much. That for sure would not be swept under the carpet, Zivadinovic-style.