Sports Features of Friday, 11 January 2013

Source: Papa Appiah

Ceasefire! - Our Boys Deserve our Support

I lived in Kumasi during the 1992 African Cup of Nations in Senegal. Actually, I lived in the very heart of the city just three minutes walk from the Kejetia roundabout. The morning after each Black Stars match, I would take a gentle stroll to the centre to buy the day’s edition of the Daily Graphic, Graphic Sports and a few others. When it came to the issue of the Black Stars, I could never have too much information. But one other reason was just to “soak” in the atmosphere. I was sad, I know. I loved to stand quietly listening to groups of taxi drivers discussing the previous day’s game and be regaled with their often humorous take on the game.

The 1992 African Cup of Nations was the one competition I followed more than any other before or since. It started with the appointment of Burkhard Ziese as coach, tasked to get the team into a competition they had failed to attend for a few years. I was so excited, that I would often travel all the way to Winneba to watch the team train. This was the year the Black Stars camped together with Asante Kotoko in Winneba because they were both preparing for major competitions, so the Kotoko boys in the Black Stars could train with both sides. Burkhard Ziese was there and so were Osam Duodu and Sunday Ibrahim. Coaches Sam Arday and Paha were also in the same camp training the under-23 team. It was like a festival of football and a trip to Winneba was always worth it.

The Black Stars under Burkhard qualified for the games without having conceded a single goal but after one argument too many with the authorities, they found an excuse to get rid of him before the 1992 tournament and replaced him with Otto Pfister. Remember, that Burkhard Ziese was one of the first coaches to realize, that while Accra was the capital, there was a certain “spirit” and dedicated support in Kumasi that favoured the Black Stars and so decided to play all Black Stars games in Kumasi. Again, his handling of players like Chairman Ampeah, Frimpong Manso, Kwesi Appiah, Micheal Osei, Stanley Aborrah and Joe Debrah and his snobbery of Shamo Quaye who was then Heart’s best player, impressed the Kotoko fans immensely. They warmed to him.

Otto Pfister then made the one mistake that has been at the heart of most of our problems in the Black Stars since and the effect of which still seems to be rippling through generations. He not only stripped Kwesi Appiah of the captaincy and handed it to Abedi Pele, but in doing so gave a rather lame excuse that seemed to embarrass Kwesi Appiah – Abedi Pele could speak both French and English well. Kumasi never forgave him and the hatred for Abedi Pele began.

So, in the morning taxi driver discussions I listened to, it seemed almost taboo to mention Abedi Pele’s name even though the guy was having the tournament of his life. The best comment you would hear about Abedi would be something like, well, if he thinks he can play the Black Stars alone, leave him to it. You can imagine what the worse comments were. The tribalistic undercurrent hurt me deeply. After all, this was a guy who was only doing his bit for his country. Whether he should have refused the captaincy or not, however, is something we could debate all day.

The semi-final match against Nigeria had been a roller-coaster affair. Abedi had scored the winner but had then received a second yellow card that meant he would be out of the final. The sight of him carried shoulder high by Salifu Ansah, draped in the national flag and crying his eyes out was one of the most poignant moments of the competition. I was shocked to notice the next morning, that Kumasi was celebrating, not the fact that we were in the final, but because Abedi Pele would not be in the final and the armband would revert to its “rightful” owner. They looked forward to Kwesi Appiah holding the cup aloft. As it turned out, the armband was given to Tony Baffoe and Ghana lost the final. The Black Stars was never the same again.

And just when we were beginning to reap the benefits of Stephen Appiah’s unifying efforts, we have, by a sheer stroke of genius that only Ghana is capable of, resurrected the same dispute that has been the bane of the Stars for years by appointing Kwesi Appiah, who was never the best man for the job anyway, as coach. The rest, as they say, is history. Be that as it may, I hope and plead that my fellow Ghanaians will not allow festering wounds affect support of our dear team. I promise to do the same.

I still believe Kwesi Appiah is not the right man for the job. I still think we will struggle to qualify for the World Cup or do badly in the competition if he remains in charge and I would be a hypocrite not to have said so. But he remains our coach for the AFCON and we should all cease fire and support the guy. We have all said our bit. I have received my fair share of some choice words as well but now that we face the outside world, we need to bury our differences, as all good families do, and support the team with all our heart. To start it off, and as a gesture of goodwill and not because my opinion has changed, I will discuss below, the good points about Kwesi Appiah.

Kwesi Appiah has endured the worse outbursts of criticisms and vilifications of any coach ever to handle the Black Stars. Through all that, he has maintained his dignity and carried on with his work. He is even-tempered and seems to command a certain quiet authority. When he was captain of Kotoko, he was never one to be seen throwing his arms about. A look was enough. There must be a reason why he was captain of Kotoko for a long time and both footballers and fans were upset when he lost the captaincy of the Black Stars. He probably has a way of influencing people and statements from the Black Star players seem to indicate he is having that effect already on them.

He appears single-minded and that is a good quality to have as coach of a country with 20 million coaches. His refusal to take the Ayews upset most of us but he has stuck to his guns and done what he believes is right. At the end of the day, if he is going to be blamed for poor results, then he might as well do it his way. The siege mentality he could generate among the players from all the criticisms coming their way could work in his favour. The GFA genuinely want him to succeed to justify their appointment and that support can go a long way. Finally, Ghana has won four AFCONS, all under local coaches. We don’t seem to do foreign coaches when it comes to the African Cup.

There comes a time in the life of man that we are called to defend our nation and raise up the red, gold, green and the Black Star. History abounds in stories of greatness achieved from the unexpected. The current Black Stars have this opportunity, to have their names etched in stone in the annals of football. And as Robert Kennedy once said, few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. I hope and pray that God gives them the strength to conquer all.

Papa Appiah