Home-based Ghanaian players continue to battle against tides of stereotypes ahead of the World Cup
Last Saturday, in South Africa, Ghana’s 32-year trophy drought was extended by a year at least. The loss came in a less fancied tournament, but the disappointment was infectiously palpable. A gallant Ghana team had been beaten 4-3 by on penalties by Libya in the final of the African Nations Championship, a tournament organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) exclusively for players playing in their home nations.
The team – affectionately known in Ghana as ‘Local Black Stars’ - was managed by Maxwell Konadu, a Ghana Premier league-winning coach who is also assistant to first-team coach Akwasi Appiah.
'One or two’, in its worrying depiction of condescension, was unfortunately a general public consensus. There was something revealing about this expectation, an indication of a much deeper problem. The culture of undermining local resources within the Ghanaian national team context is not only limited to the coach’s position, as explored in last month’s blog.
There is also another trend embodying a lack of belief in locally-based players, and, unlike with the coach’s position, this seems much more serious.Since the exodus of Ghanaian players to Europe began gathering momentum in the late 1980s, the national team set-up also underwent a transition, where it became relatively easy to access footballers playing outside Ghana.
Indeed, it wasn’t always like that. The preceding trend placed emphasis on making the local league – though an amateur league until 1993 – relevant by recruiting national team players from there.
It was the norm. When Ghana’s league was properly set up in 1958, Director of Sports Ohene Djan outlined one of the aims as “providing a constant flow of materials for international assignments.” And it worked. Ghana became an African football powerhouse, winning four Africa Cup of Nations titles in the space of 19 years – from 1963 to 1982 – all with immensely talented locally-based amateurs.
Then the thirst for professionalism set in. Players saw their contemporaries basking in the European spotlight, and it inculcated a burning desire. By the early 90s, when the seeds of professionalism were just about to be sown in the Ghanaian top-flight, the culture of going to Europe to pursue professional dreams had become a mainstay.
Gradually, foreign-based players began displacing their locally-based counterparts from the national team with their claim to professionalism. And with that, the culture of disregarding the potential of local players was born.
This culture proved pervasive, persisting into the Ghanaian top-flight’s early professional years, merely starting with a justification hinging on the huge gap in professional standards. But as it evolved, the crux of the justification became compromised. Before we knew it, we had reached a level where the competence of home-based players was just being lazily dismissed without comprehensive assessment– an unfair generalisation that continued to play to the advantage of foreign-based players.
And with that, the local league’s relevance inevitably succumbed to a gradual, painful process of withering, losing it fuelling public interest and trademark liveliness. The Ghana Premier League is now a pale shadow of its former glorious self.
These days, this culture – and the league’s ever deteriorating predicament - seems to have become entrenched. Most Ghanaians have grown oblivious of the gloomy significance of how the MVPs for the last six straight Ghana Premier League seasons have been victims of this self-destructive culture, everyone of them failing to break into the Black Stars.
There is a deeply flawed conceptualisation of the Black Stars as a place for gods, a place beyond the accessible reach of players such as those that participated at the African Nations Championship.
That group, like the league back home brimming with talent, is never going to be considered a viable recruitment field for the Black Stars.
In 2006, Ghana sent four home-based players to the World Cup (three outfield players). In 2010, it reduced to three, two of them goalkeepers. In 2014, there’s sure to be a reduction. Scratch that; there might be none at all.
The home based player, it seems, will continue to wallow in a stigmatic stereotype of not being good enough, whilst any joke of a footballer plying his trade even in lower tiers abroad will continue to benefit from the myth of being automatically better.