It was the end of the year 2005 and the Black Stars were yet to taste a defeat having come out of a FIFA World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations [AFCON] qualifiers unscathed. History beckoned and was made.
A Stephen Appiah inspired Black Stars side went to Cape Verde and triumphed. Ghana qualified for football’s biggest and most historic event for the first time ever. That single event was the beginning of a successful decade.
Aside qualifying to play at Germany 2006, the team had reached five consecutive finish in the semi-finals of the AFCON and lost two finals, in Angola and Equatorial Guinea. But for Luis Suarez and Asamoah Gyan’s penalty miss in South Africa 2010 World Cup, the team could have set a continental record as the first and only African nation to have finished in the top four of the World Cup. Undoubtedly, the period between 2005-2015 can be best described as a successful one. Even though there is no trophy to show for.
The success story of the team did not come by chance but by a number of factors. From manpower, administration, team management and public support. The team’s success became a rallying point for even political opponents.
The emergence and maturity of Michael Essien, Muntari, Laryea Kingston among other talented footballers from the country’s youth team [players from the 2001 and 2005 U20 teams], the collaborative efforts of ministers within that period and the Ghana Football Association [GFA] and the unflinching support by Ghanaians set the team on a path to success.
The past year through to this year (2016) has seen the team’s status take a nosedive. The once most glorified and cherished team is now suffering from symptoms that has gained it admission into ‘intensive care unit’. The team is sick.
From the team that boasted of players who commanded starting spots in some of the world’s best clubs. Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari were the team’s stalwarts.
Today, the quality has waned and has hardly been adequately replaced. Blame it on age, dip in form and indiscipline, the Black Stars is now bereft of the quality it boasted few years ago. An ageing Asamoah Gyan, injury prone Kwadwo Asamoah and Dede Ayew are now the faces of the team.
Yet, from goalkeeping to bench it would not be far-fetched for one to argue that this is the worst Black Stars team in the last decade. The quality of the team has depreciated. Black Stars performance in the past year has been nothing short of appalling. Even though the team managed to secure a 2017 AFCON spot their display in the qualification matches was underwhelming.
Back in the day, the collaboration between the GFA and sports ministers was a major factor in the success the team has chalked in the past decade. From Osafo Marfo to Mustapha Ahmed, the management of the team enjoyed a period of cordial and harmonious relationship with the government appointees.
Nii Lante Vanderpuye’s arrival as the Sports Minister has been nightmarish for the FA. The once harmonious working relationship that existed has been replaced with an unending media war between the two institutions.
Unfortunately, this comes at a time when the team needs the two bodies to be behind them as they seek reconciliation with Ghanaians. With each party having a different view on how the team must be managed. The pull and push is clearly not helping the team’s fortunes.
So why do the public have a grudge with the players?
It all started in 2014 during the botched World Cup campaign in Brazil. Before Brazil, Ghana had given a good account at her previous appearances. Reaching round of 16 stage in Germany and exiting South Africa 2010 on the brink of continental history.
In Brazil, the news had nothing to do with on the pitch activity but rather off the pitch. A threat to boycott training and a crucial group fixture and forcing government to fly wads of cash to Brazil to pay appearance fees.
That decision to hold the nation to ransom over unpaid appearance fee betrayed the deep trust and love Ghanaians had in the team. The team that was once the toast of every Ghanaian, from the office cleaner to the Chief Executive Officer [CEO], from the street seller to the managing director, had slipped badly in the eyes of the same public.
Black Stars training before now pulled sizeable supporters. Match day tickets were sold out hours before kickoff whether the fixture was a competitive one or just a friendly. The general atmosphere of flags and paraphernalia always greeted the team wherever in the world they had a game.
So after what was seen as prioritizing money over patriotism, two years after Brazil, the players are still reaping the seeds they sowed. The love and excitement that once greeted the team has been replaced with palpable apathy and indifference. It’s so bad that some Ghanaians now find joy in the team’s loses than their wins.
Dede Ayew’s outcry that GPL matches are now patronized more than Black Stars matches, the continuous movement of Black Stars from one venue to another in search of a friendly atmosphere and some players buying thousands tickets for supporters to attend the World Qualifier against Uganda is the clearest manifestation of how times have changed.
Goldfields, Huawei Technologies, Guinness, Rice master and the long list of companies that sponsored the team have reportedly been withdrawing. The team was at a point one of the most attractive football teams on the continent.
From corporate institutions to match organizing agencies. The team’s impressive form, its star studded composition and overwhelming support of Ghanaians made it an attractive commodity for friendly match agents and corporate bodies. The team enjoyed success on this front with friendly games against some of the world’s powerhouses [Brazil, England and Holland among others].
The list of sponsors has reduced to three according to its management committee chairman. A reflection of how the value of the Black Stars has dropped drastically. The factors that once worked for the Black Stars are against it now. One will therefore not be wrong to assert that the team is in a ‘sick’ state. The healing process is a story for another day.