Ghana's humiliating history of underachievement unearths deeper problems

The failure of Wa All Stars, as expected as it was, served a reminder of how low Ghana's football has sunk.

Wa All Stars, who last year pulled a surprising fairy tale to clinch the Ghana league title only 10 years after their founding, were given the proverbial baptism of fire by losing 5-1 on aggregate to Libyan champions Al Ahly Tripoli.

Following a 3-1 loss at home in Tamale, the Northern Blues, making their continental debut, went on to ship in more goals, falling 3-1 away in Tunis to say goodbye to the Champions League after only 180 minutes.

The club, founded and owned by Ghana Football Association (GFA) President Kwesi Nyantakyi, became only the 11th club to rule Ghana last year, a feat that won them admission into the circle of Africa football's elite.

But their inexperience has seen them expelled in a flash.

The performance of the Wa-based club though, albeit abysmal, was neither new nor disappointing from the Ghanaian perspective.

It was merely the continuation of a tradition of mediocrity.

For a country with such a high profile football reputation, it is ironical that Ghana is used to Preliminary Round exits: this is the fourth consecutive time a Ghanaian club has been knocked out at this level.

Indeed, the streak of underperformance stretches beyond. The last time a club from Ghana won the CAF Champions League was 2000 - 17 years ago.

Hearts of Oak, playing in their third final, and inspired by their widely heralded golden generation dubbed '64 Battalion', beat Esperance de Tunis to be crowned Kings of Africa - only the third time for a Ghanaian club after Asante Kotoko's victories in 1970 and 1982.

Since then, there have been only two instances (2006 and 2012) of Ghanaian clubs reaching the Group Phase - popularly referred to as 'The Money Zone'.

This is two out of 14 editions. Now that's worrying.

Some of those exits have been downright humiliating.

Asante Kotoko, who have played in seven Champions League finals and were named 'African Club of the Century' by the International Football Federation of History and Statistics (IFFHS) in 2010, went into the 2014 CAF Champions League as freshly minted Ghanaian champions, yet got knocked out in the Preliminary round to Liberian club Barrack Young Controllers, a club founded in 1997 and playing their football at a 2,500 capacity venue.

The failure of Ghanaian clubs to make an impact in the Champions League has seen the country's slots reduced from two to one.

And, if things could get worse - if having no slots at all was a possibility - Ghana would fall victim to it, would be eligible for this mark of disgrace. No doubt.

Perhaps Ghana should even strive to make this 'slotless' scenario a possibility. We need it - a break from the wastage of time and resources - to afford ourselves time to fix the problems that continue to plague the country's domestic football, stifling the growth of continental influence.

Yes. These appalling performances spring from deep problems that need fixing. The fact that Wa All Stars had to play Ahly Tripoli at the Tamale Sports Stadium instead of their own Wa Stadium, spoke volumes of how unready Ghana is for the big time: The champions could not even boast of a stadium good enough to satisfy the standards of the competiton.

For the past four seasons, champions of the Ghana Premier League have won the title without even crossing 55 points - and this is a league whose maximum point buildup is 90. Teams are ruling not because they are great, but because they are the best of a sorry lot.

There is thus a dubious, deceptive cycle that keeps churning out unworthy champions: and this is dangerous.

But there seems to be a bigger danger: The Ghana Football Association thinks there is nothing to fix.

There is a sense that the FA overestimates the value of its baby. In 2013, the FA President came to the defence of the top flight amid some serious criticism. "If you compare the Ghanaian league with that of England, Germany, Italy, you will get it completely wrong," he said. "But if you look at it in the African context, you will find that Ghana's league is one of the best."

He continued: "I have seen league matches all across Africa and I can boldly say that Ghana's league ranks very high on the continent."

Of course, this assessment came four years ago, and things may be different now, but the FA clearly remains blind to the disappointing realities of its league, continues to think very highly of it.

If you need pointers, look no further than the fact that the body failed to accept the offer of African sports media giants Supersport when the bells of contract renegotiation chimed, reportedly because the money was not enough (never mind that the reach certainly was more than enough).

Instead, they chose to bizarrely sell the broadcast rights to Chinese satellite TV operators Star Times, who are, in all fairness, light years behind Supersport in terms of the knowledge of the coverage of African leagues, despite having a great reputation of their own.

The FA feels that their league, which produces champions that can't even go past Preliminary stages of the Champions League, which doesn't have a title sponsor, and which sees some players earn as low as GHS 100 a month, is worth so much as to make them turn their backs on the prestige and endless reach of Supersport for the cash of Star Times.

Star Times, of course, are paying $17,950,000 - about $1,795,000 per season, in a deal which covers more than just the league - way more that SuperSport was offering and indeed were willing to offer for just the league, but the fact that the FA would think its league worthy of 'more money' in the face of such glaring problems in performance and infrastructure is interesting.

The chronic accusation levelled against the FA has been that they tend to view the development of Ghana football from the top down; which is true, because there is stark evidence in how the Black Stars are serially prioritized year in year out.

The concentration on the Black Stars, the apex of a complex system, is in itself is a sad paradox, given the fact that the team is the very personification of underachievement, having been trophyless for the last three and a half decades.

The Ghana League, when it was set-up by then FA chairman Ohene Djan in 1958, was intended to provide a 'constant flow of material' for Ghana's national team, but 59 years on, the Black Stars team that went to the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon did not even include the League's Most Valuable Player, the exciting Latif Blessing of Liberty Professionals. Excuses flew about, from the coach ("Latif was very good as a talent but at the moment, I am not segmenting this team") and from the FA President ("The national team is not a district assembly. Neither is it a Parliament where people are chosen on the basis of electoral areas or constituencies.")

In the end, they all seemed to be evading the expression of their true feeling, a feeling echoing so loudly through their actions: The league just doesn't cut it.

The era of boom is long gone, and now what remains is an age of a of doom and gloom.

Both the Black Stars (record six consecutive AFCON semis without a single win) and the league (producing consistent flops on the continent) are failing. The junior national teams are too: Ghana hasn't qualified for the Olympic Games football tournament since 2004; the Under 17 team - two-time World champions in 1991 and 1995 - haven't won the Africa Cup since 1999; the Under 20 team - which is the only African side to win the World Cup (2009) - haven't won the Africa Cup in eight years, and have indeed failed to qualify for the 2017 edition. The female teams aren't achieving much either: The Black Queens have never won the Africa Cup and haven't been to the World Cup in a decade.

All of this - despite being depressingly bad and sad - is actually good, ultimately, because it serves as a reality check for the stakeholders, forcing them to take actions of positive change.

The question is whether the people with the power to effect this change see the need for it at all.


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