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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Columnist: Nathan Gadugah

Even chop bars made money from Black Stars but players can't chop?

Black Stars failed to win the cup Black Stars failed to win the cup

The story of Ghana Football, the Black Stars and where we are now has a history to it. Let no one be overly emotional about the situation we are in today. History helps.

Between 1993 to 2006 is what I call the DARK YEARS of the Black Stars.

During those years the BS was not a branded product. There was no corporate organization supporting it. It was fully funded by government and when govt funds something it means there is no funds.

Black Stars players were invited to camp and in many instances they paid their own plane tickets. The winning bonus mantra was only in name. Most of the times the players left their winning bonuses behind and went back to their European clubs. In essence they played for free.

Playing for free came with its own consequences. There was little or no commitment from the players. 50-50 tackles was a no go area for them because there was nothing much to play for.

Forget about the so-called national pride, the players before them who played for national pride begged for alms to feed. National pride did not feed them or their families. It made them poorer.

As a result, the period between 1993 and 2006 was a disaster. Our long standing dream of playing our first World Cup was still outstanding and always a mirage. Before the 94 or 98 world cup we were eliminated by Algeria in the most painful way I still remember how it felt after that defeat. Abedi Pele was great nonetheless.

In the early 2000s came the most humiliating of them all. We could not qualify for Afcon because we were eliminated by Rwanda, a country that came out from war. Fresh from war with no talent, nothing.

They beat us 1-0 in Kigali and we could not make it to the Afcon. I remember the Kojo Frempong commentary in that match. He sounded like that crying Zimbabwean commentator. Between those heartaches came some bright spots. In 1996 we made the last 4.

In 2002 we were eliminated in AFCON quarters by a Lawal goal. I remember that goal so well. And oo Sammy Kufuor was sacked from the team camp because he complained about our poor quality jersey and they were that horrible. That was the state of the Black Stars at the time.

To be fair, our club football was exciting during that period with the Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak duopoly. Youth football was exciting too with some trophies to show in 1995. But all in all it was my darkest period in football and for many it was.

Fast forward to 2005 we took a decision and said that no success in football was greater than an appearance at the World Cup. We took a decision that the Black Stars must be a branded product. We must commercialize the brand and make money out of the brand. Osafo Maafo then as Sports Minister threatened companies with taxes if they did not sponsor the Black Stars.

Obviously it meant that every thing must change with how we do things. Kwasi Nyantakyi led the charge. He streamlined all activities with respect to the Black Stars. Players no longer played for free. they were paid. They negotiated their bonuses for every tournament because companies had started sponsoring the Black Stars and were willing to be associated with it.

Every company now began to ambush market and take advantage of how successful the Black Stars brand had become. Chop bars, drinking bars, small businesses big businesses all started planning with the Black Stars in mind. Whether they were sponsors of the team or not there was something to gained by associating your brand with that of the stars.

How do you do all these and still look the players in the face and tell them the Black Stars is not for money but national pride. The bonuses were to motivate the players to give off their best.

Ali Jarah was great in his time. Every goal keeper in the country wanted to be like him. Every save by any goal keeper was greeted with the shout of Jaraaaah. His career was snuffed out after his injury in the 1993 youth tournament. We have moved on because the country is bigger too big for small 'flies' like him. And we are surprised the players are now playing for money and their families.

From 2006 to 2019 we have not won a trophy but if anyone told you there has been no improvement and no palpable step closer to winning the trophy that would be a big fat lie.

It is never easy to make six consecutive AFCON semi final outing, two of which were a grand finale. If for 50 or so years we never made it to the world cup since independence and within a period of 12 years we made 3 consecutive appearances and made an impact in 2, we should never discount that. 'Atiyie ma arifi ampa' (Truly it is easy to forget your pain in your day of glory).

To conclude, I will say yes, there are issues with the Black Stars. There will always be issues. But please let no one create the impression as if nothing has happened. Once we have taken a decision to commercialise the Black Stars, players will demand their fair share of the cake.

At a point we felt that paying the Stars winning bonuses for every game they won was unhealthy so changed the strategy by paying a qualification bonus. Which means instead of paying them for every win, we would rather pay if they qualified from the group. Today we are told the Stars were paid $40,000 for beating Equatorial Guinea. That is grossly misleading.

We cannot be emotive about this and cry over taxes without putting our history in context. If we do not rock the boat with the emotional roller coaster we are embarking on, and we plan well, negotiate well, we will win the AFCON and make greater impact at the world stage.

Otherwise if we continue the way we are going with this emotional masturbation it will not only be 37 years without an AFCON it will be more and a World Cup qualification will become another dream never to be realized for years to come.