By Aristo Dotse
Where are Ghana's natural football talents gone to? Where is the DNA that gave birth to the uncountable gifted talents that graciously graced Ghanaian football so rampantly in the past and brought so much success and pure happiness to our football?
These are some of the telling observations and pertinent questions that have confronted Ghanaian football, especially the local game, for some good time now.
It is indeed a curios matter to ask this interesting question of why Ghana no more get or bring up the brilliant football players it used to.
It seems a bit ludicrous when you consider that there are currently quite a good number of Ghanaian players, most of whom form the core of the current Black Stars team, playing in Europe and elsewhere.
Even, on quantity level, the number of current Ghanaian overseas players far outnumbers that of the supposedly good old days. However, only one, just one player Thomas Partey - a regular and a top player at Spanish giants Atletico Madrid - is a top Ghanaian name in Europe at the moment, although Jordan Ayew at Crystal Palace in England is also doing quite well.
Thus, the quality of the recent and present generation of Ghanaian players, those of today and especially of the last ten to 15 years, particularly on the local front, leaves a lot to desire and is a serious matter opened to question and discussion.
Again, where are our talents gone to? Where is the DNA that gave birth to countless of them over the years in the distant past?
''The quality of Ghanaian players of today and especially of the last ten to 15 years, particularly the local ones in particular, leaves a lot to desire and is a matter opened to question and discussion. Where is the DNA that gave birth to the countless gifted talents over the years in the distant past?''
Fantastic players all over
Let's not even talk of the countless Ghanaian greats of the past starting from the likes of James Adjei, Charles Kumi Gyamfi (better known as C.K. Gyamfi), Baba Yara, Aggrey Fynn, Osei Kofi, Addo Odametey, Ofei Dodoo, John Eshun, Dodoo Ankrah, Malik Jabir, Robert Mensah, Wilberforce Mfum, Edward Acquah, Jones Attuquayefio, Ibrahim Sunday, Mohammed Ahmed 'Polo', Abdul Razak, Adolf Armah, Mama 'Acquah' Musah, Peter Lamptey, Robert Hammond, John Nketiah Yawson, Opoku Afriyie, Ofei Ansah, Awuley Quaye, John Baker, P.S.K Paha, Dan Owusu, Kwesi Owusu, Joe Dakota, Anas Seidu, Joe Odoi, James Kuuku Dadzie, John Bannerman, Windsor Kofi Abbrey, George Alhassan, Owusu Mensah, Hesse Odamtten, Haruna Yusif, Seth Ampadu, Samuel Opoku Nti, Kofi Badu, Albert Asase, Addae Kyenkyenhene, Joe Carr, Emmanuel Quarshie, Justice Moore, Francis Kumi, Sampson Lamptey, Abedi 'Pele' Ayew, Anthony Yeboah, and the other uncountable quality players always dotted in every team in the country.
Those days are long gone when one happily went to the stadium or sat behind TV to watch the so many wonderful players like Papa Arko, Opoku Sampene (nicknamed Maradona), Isaac Nana Eshun, Kwesi Appiah, Sarfo Gyamfi, Emmanuel Akwetey (Joetex), Isaac Acquaye, Abdul Aziz (Rikichiman), Ben Kayode, Olabode William, Issah Alhassan, Philip Tagoe, Rauf Iddi, Henry Acquah, Abu Umar (better known as Abu Imoro), Salifu Ansah, Mohammed Odoom, Kwabena Asiedu, Emmanuel Quarshie (nicknamed Abega), Anane Kobo, Kwesi Bonsu, Geoge Lamptey,Joe Amoateng, Alhaji Bello, Isaac Ayipey, Sam Ayipey, Ibrahim Meriga, Ebo Smith, George Arthur, Santrofi Acquah, Emmanuel Sackey, Ayitey Dormon, Asare Boateng, Shamo Quaye, Joe Debrah, Anthony Osei Kwadwo Mensah, Ablade Kumah, Ezekiel Alamu, Bernard Aryee, Thomas Boakye, Thomas Quaye, Laud Oscar, Robert Eshun, Michael Osei, Isaac Kwakye, Robert Boateng, Stanley Aborah, Kelvin Essien, Ali Jarra, Frank Amankwah, Richard Naawu, Nii Darku Ankrah, Joe Addo, Frimpong Manso, Emmanuel Armah, Kalilu Dramani, Ali Ibrahim, Mahmoud Ahmed, Kofi Deblah, Adjetey Lee, Alex Nyarko, Sam Johnson, Yaw Acheampong, C.K. Akonnor, Augustine Ahinful, Nii Odartey Lamptey, Yaw Preko, Alex Opoku, Isaac Asare, Baba Musah, Emmanuel Duah, Daniel Addo, Mohammed Gargo, Sebastian Ebo Barnes, Samuel Osei Kuffour, Nii Aryee Welbeck, Joe Fameyeh, Christian Saba, Stephen Appiah, Awudu Isssaka, Abu Iddrissu, Prince Adu-Poku, Joe Okyere, Baba 'Armando' Adamu, Eben Hagan, Emmanuel Yartey, Sanni Wahab, Abdul Issah Rahman, George Blay, Michael Essien, Laryea Kingston, Godwin Attram, Stephen Tetteh, Eric Bekoe, and even Tawrick Jibril. This is painful truth and very sad.
Proud landmarks for Ghanaian players
Apart from Ghana being the first country to win the African Nations Cup three and then four times, and first African side to win an Olympic football medal and the FIFA U-20 World Cup,
Ghana have seen some of its players made the country proud with some remarkable individual feats in African football.
C.K. Gyamfi, one of the first topmost players in Ghana and coach in three of Ghana's four African Nations Cup titles to become the first of two coaches to win the competition three times, was the first African to play professional football in Germany. He signed for Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1960.
When the famous 'France Football' magazine started to give the African Footballer of the Year award in 1970, Ibrahim Sunday, a talented midfielder who captained Kotoko to win the African Cup in 1971 and also coached them to victory in 1983, won the second edition in 1971 as the first Ghanaian to be crowned. Robert Mensah, seen by the older generation as Ghana's best ever goalkeeper, placed second to Sunday.
Around the same time in 1972, defender John Eshun captained an African XI side for the Brazil Independence Cup, an invitational international tournament called 'Mini Copa' by the Brazilians to mark Brazil's 150th independence anniversary celebration. Together with Egypt, Ghana had the highest contingent of three players in the 18-man squad that also played in the Afro-Latin Games in Mexico. The other two Ghanaians were forwards Edward Acquah and Malik Jabir.
That was a long time, a quarter of a century, before Abedi Ayew, the ‘Pele’ and maestro of African football, emulated Eshun and led Africa as captain and inspirer to beat Europe in a specially arranged friendly game as part of the European Union's Year Against Racism' observance in January 1997. He didn't only score the opening goal, a wonderful chip over great Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, in the 2-1 victory at the famous Benfica Stadium of Light in Lisbon but also shone, as usual, with his brilliant all-action performance in Portugal.
The former Ghana captain had earlier shone brighter, winning the UEFA man-of the-match award in his side Olympique Marseille's victory over AC Milan in the 1993 European Champions League final, to become the first African to achieve that feat. Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o emulated that achievement in 2006. And it was Abedi's second European Cup final, making him again the first African outfield player to feature twice in the final after Zimbabwean goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar (1984, 1985), before compatriot Samuel Osei Kuffour became the second and so far last Ghanaian to replicate it in 2001.
Abedi Pele also won the first CAF African Footballer of the Year award in 1992 to help him become the first three-time winner of the African Player of the Year title the following year. And when the BBC began their African Player of the Year award in 1992, he was again the first winner, long before his son and current Ghana captain Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew succeeded Asamoah Gyan, winner in 2010, in 2011. Meanwhile, Gyan is proudly still Africa's all-time top scorer in FIFA World Cup history since 2014.
It's a shame that since Abedi last won the African Footballer of the Year crown in 1993, no Ghanaian player has won it 27 years on. Only three players have been able to come close, Samuel Osei Kuffour (1999, 2001), Michael Essien (2007) and Gyan (2010) being unlucky as runner-ups - same feats by Adolf Armah and Opoku Nti in 1979 and 1983 respectively. Essien was also third in 2008 as was Andre Ayew in 2011.
Another proud moment for Ghana was the Black Stars' 3-3 draw with Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puska's Real Madrid in August 1962. That was the great Madrid team that won the first five European Cups, from 1956 to 1960, but Ghana was a real match for them at the Accra Stadium.
The same venue also witnessed another memorable moment in 1969 when Accra Hearts of Oak held Pele's Santos of Brazil to a 2-2 draw in a friendly game. With Pele, the best player in the world at the time and still widely regarded today as the greatest ever, Santos - who were regarded the world's best team in the 1960s - were Brazilian champions for five consecutive years (1961-1965) and 1968, South American and world (inter-continental) champions in 1962 and 1963, and inter-continental super champions in 1968. But they could not beat Hearts on their African tour in a match the Ghanaian giants would have won if not because of a perfect third goal disallowed.
It is true that within the last 14 years Ghana have played in three consecutive FIFA World Cups, between 2006 and 2014, after the Black Stars failed to qualify for even once during the preceding eras when Ghana was supposed to have all the great players in its history.
During this somehow golden era of the 2000s when Ghana made lots of headway in world football, the players of this good time for Ghanaian football at international level are truly some of the finest players in the country's football history.
Thus, names such as Stephen Appiah, Asamoah, Gyan, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, John Mensah, John Paintsil, Richard Kingson, and Andre Ayew and to an extent Mathew Amoah, Kwadwo Asamoah, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Anthony Annan will always be mentioned as some of the great players in the annals of Ghanaian football mostly for their World Cup exploits.
To be continued........................................