The apathy towards the Black Stars has credible roots but latest world cup qualifiers should force a change of fan but crucially player attitude towards the national team.
This week has served a bit of a reminder about just how low it has fallen in order of importance. Even the Ghana Football Association seems to have fallen into that trap. The election of GFA president Kwesi Nyantekyi unto the FIFA Council seems to have consumed them more than anything else so much that they organised a welcome ceremony at the airport, at their premises, delivered grand sound bites. Then when no one was looking, released the squad for Ghana’s world cup qualifier against Uganda in a no frills, no fancy style.
In the past the squad announcement itself was part of the hype. We went over each name, debated it endlessly on radio, filled the Accra Sports Stadium for training and just ensured that in the week leading up to the qualifier, nothing else mattered.
Things would change as the week progresses but whether the nation would become consumed by it again remains to be seen. Three world cups brought further recognition for Ghana football, entrenched people’s hold on Ghana football, enhanced many individual careers but left Ghana football with very little to hold unto. As another qualifiers gets to the business end, fan fatigue has taken roots.
A lot of the fan fatigue has been fuelled by what seems to be the never ending feud between the GFA on one hand and the Ministry of Youth and Sports on the hand. The Ministry likes to claim it is simply facing opposition in its bid to reform Ghana football in terms of spending and priorities. The GFA thinks it is more personal and fears the national interest is being sacrificed.
In the process, this has become like war with information a vital weapon. It has been intense but like most wars a lot of the information has been suspect.
There are a few things that are not in doubt though. One of them is that this is a society that has become tired of the Black Stars. They may turn out in good numbers in Tamale but the recent numbers don’t lie. And while the GFA likes to blame a few journalists for the growing resentment towards the team, the truth is that this is a self-inflicted problem.
When Ghana attempted to reach its first World Cup in 2006, the collective will of the nation was strong. We had become tired of never qualifying. We were bored watching on TV. And we got there we proved we belong. That appetite was still there in 2010 as well as 2014 when against Zambia and Egypt, the stadium was so packed you could not get anywhere to stand.
“What I really want is for the fans to return to the stadium and create good atmospheres like the ones against Egypt and Zambia,” assistant coach Maxwell Konadu said recently. Dede Ayew has made reference to that too.
The problem for the team it seems is that people simply don’t care. In many people’s mind in willing the team during qualification with that huge support, they were merely helping people DO THEIR JOBS, jobs that paid them handsomely while the rest went home with pain of defeat and embarrassment on a worldwide stage. There are those who genuinely fear that backing the team would be akin to helping a fund manager amass as much fortune as he can. Ultimately the fear, backed by credible history is that qualification would simply usher another round of intense debate about huge appearance fees, long hours of negotiation about bonuses and a list of officials lining up to convince us one month in Russia must be rewarded with a bonus package the ordinary Joe won’t earn in a year. No one cheers on the guy whose motivation they are convinced is purely money.
The sorry episode in Brazil 2014 has hurt this nation so bad that people just have not forgotten but it was not just about that. It has been about this growing notion that regardless of how much you back them, the Black Stars never quiet win. It is about the growing idea that instead of rewarding excellence, the Black Stars actively encourages mediocrity and goes further by rewarding it.
There are signs of all that in the team now. Avram Grant’s call ups seem to be straight out of a template. It doesn’t matter if the players are playing or not and the coach clearly doesn’t quiet care about a lot of others who are playing too.
But those lucky to have permanent slots on that template have a big task on Friday. In Tamale, they would get the support they need inside the stadium. In many homes, Ghanaians would watch and wonder whether it is worth it at all. The fact that people now ask that question so often is not the fault of journalists. It is a realisation by many independent people that this world cup thing may have changed careers, put food on tables and enhanced lives but that it did not do much for this country.
The players can begin to change that. First they have to ditch this mentality that the current anger against them is the design of a few people. Failing to recognise that they have festered this foul mood is their biggest mistake so far.
Then they have to get on the field and blow us away with a really good performance against a Uganda team who have always know how to frustrate and make us look ordinary.
It won’t win back the love immediately but it would help. Because no matter how much we have come not to care, we still care. It is true the World Cup would not solve our problems overnight but would you rather be watching Ghana or Egypt in Russia next year at the World Cup if you are Ghanaian.