I have read and listened to some commentaries on the performance of Ghana’s national under 17 team, the Black starlets at the just ended CAF under 17 championships in Gabon where they placed second after their defeat to Mali on the final day.
There are diverse views on the team at the moment regarding what went wrong and what could have been done better for them to have clinched the ultimate prize after missing out for the past eight years, and that has to with our constant believe in juvenile football as the best way to grow our national teams but yet failing to realize that dream.
I was less worried about what was going to happen in Gabon because I strongly believed that winning the championship should not have been our target as a nation and also for the young players but rather how to develop them into mature players for country in the next five to ten years.
Such juvenile competitions from UEFA and FIFA’s perspective are mostly meant to groom young and talented footballers all over the world and to build their confidence, however, winning the cups are just add –ons or better still bonuses to the team.
Since the first FiFA under 16 tournaments in 1989 till date the objective and the narratives have not changed because teams are supposed to grow their players and not leave them to vanish into the football wilderness without any monitoring.
The success of Black Starlets 1991 was not matched until Sam Arday assembled the Black Starlets 1995 team. Though they won the Ecuador 1995 U-17 World Cup, like the 1993 squad before them and the 1997 squad after them, they had relatively minimal success integrating into other national teams as the 1991 squad did.
In fact a talented young Ghanaian is mostly fortunate to be given the basics of football by a trained coach. Even if he is lucky to be groomed by a young coach, he will brawl through an unstructured youth development programme until he is scouted by a league club. It is therefore not surprising that it takes a decade to put together a solid youth squad.
How come the Europeans don’t place much emphasis on these competitions and yet Africans go over the moon after winning the cups and getting players poached by the top teams in Europe and other parts of the world. Why do football agents flood the camps of these Africans teams ready take these seventeen players away from their parents and who are also ready to let them go because of promises of some thousands of dollars.
Over the past few days have been doing some thinking on the Starlets and why Ghanaians should proud of them and not disappointed, why we should understand their mistakes and not overly criticize them, why should embrace them and develop them mentally and not push them away.
Interestingly while the African Under 17 championship was on going in Gabon the European under 17 championship was also being played in Croatia where Spain won the title of the third time, meanwhile they played eighty minutes in regulation time (40 minutes each half) and the African championship was played full ninety minutes.
Don’t be surprised because the Under 17 world cup is played under ninety minutes and that means the African teams and other confederations that played full ninety minutes would have a competitive advantage over the Europeans.
My simple understanding of the European system is based on their scientific calculations of the ages of their players and their endurance levels at that stage. They also know that at the ages of 15, 16, 17 their hearts are not well developed enough to cover certain distances and therefore they have limitations for the players.
My recent discussions with the CAF and FIFA technical director at the Ghana Football Association, Oti Akenteng even indicate that the FA’s current under 15 tournaments is played in three halves (25 minutes in each half) and that fits into the main objectives of developing the players at the stage gradually.
Oti Akenteng revealed to me that the FA knowing the difficulties the coaches go through in selecting their players to make up the national Under 17 team would and the MRI embarrassments would now focus on the milo under 13 tournaments and other juvenile competitions in order to catch them young.
I know that some agents and scouts have approached these players already for contracts abroad, more so, since the country does have a youth policy to protect and monitor our young players, we can only hope that these players will be better managed in order to keep their form in the future, my target for the team is to have at least six or more for them forming the nucleus of the Black stars team in 2022 world cup in Qatar.