The cool coastal environment of Labadi in Accra was thrown into a state of mourning when the mortal remains of Joe Mensah was finally brought to the family house after it had been retrieved from an Accra bound Turkish airline cargo plane.
Mensah, 23, a talented footballer of the former Feyenoord Rotterdam Ghana Academy (WAFA) had mysteriously died on a football pitch in Moscow in 2018 through heart failure after collapsing whilst jogging.
The journey of Mensah had been a smooth one until the unexpected happened. He was one of the brightest spots in the erstwhile Feyenoord Rotterdam Ghana Academy which was situated in a small fishing town called Fetteh in the central region of Ghana and has produced great players including Harrison Afful, Christian Atsu, and 2009 world under 20 best player Dominic Adiyiah.
The Academy was established in 1998 by Dutch outfit Feyenoord Rotterdam to offer football and educational training to young Africans in the sub region and it was modeled on their European system.
After being released by Feyenoord, Mensah who played as a left-back was on the lookout for another club and was desperate to travel abroad as he hoped to make it in football.
His urge to move higher in his career was massive and to him, football was the only thing which could lead him to have a better life and as far as he had the talent, he was ready to go the extra mile.
I had known Mensah for some time through a mutual friend Who played with him at the Academy and a month before departure, they were in my office as we discussed a wide range of issues.
Though Mensah was eager to travel, he did not inform me that he wanted to go to Russia. It was after he had left that I had a hint he just went as a football fan for the world cup though his main aim was to find a club there.
Prince Chaniss, a colleague of Mensah who played with him at the Feyenoord Academy told me about what caused the player’s death as he maintains the player ignored many signs and symptoms of a health problem.
“No agent got him a deal .. Mensah and one friend went to Russia as football fans for the world cup and they were waiting for me to come and take them to a club but I was doing football business in Kenya so I delayed until I got to Russia. Joe died few days before I got there. It was a heart failure which had happened to him many times before in Ghana according to Mark whom he traveled with.” Chaniss told Sportsworldghana.com.
“I am not sure he really did a proper medical examination before travelling because it is a requirement and doctor’s would have detected his heart problem.”
Mensah’s issue was really a sad one as a whole dream was shattered. He was his mother’s only son and a mother’s dream came crushing.
It even took the intervention of the Professional Players Association of Ghana (PPAG), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) before the body of the player was flown to Accra.
As a matter of fact the number of Ghanaian players and African footballers in general who have died in various parts of the world in such conditions remain a mystery as most are unknown.
For Mensah, he was lucky his whereabouts was known and a follow up was made after news broke out about his demise.
Again last year, one Ghanaian player by name Jojo Sam died on a training pitch in Thailand through heart failure and no one knew his whereabouts. It took the intervention of one Ghanaian guy in Thailand who heard the news and posted the player’s pictures on social media asking if anyone could locate the family and break the news to them.
Seemingly, the dream of every player in Africa is to move away from the continent and play professional football due to the low wages but it should be done in a proper manner and players must assess themselves medically before they move.
In sub Saharan Africa, it is very terrible as players earn less. In the Ghana Premier League, some clubs in the top flight pay as low as 450 Cedis which is equivalent to $40 a month. With this, players just jump to any deal abroad which comes their way whether good or bad and they don’t go through the right channel which includes proper medical examination.
As the players are at fault, the various Football Association’s and the Ministry of Sports in most African countries can also be blamed. They seem not to care about the players and their well being.
Is about time footballers on the African continent enjoyed the fruit of their labor. Samuel Eto’o, president of FECAFOOT has started to change the phase of the game in Cameroon by passing a law that no player in the Cameroonian league 1 should be paid less than $200 monthly salary and $150 for the second tier. This is very impressive as it will cut the unwarranted exodus of players to a point.
Again, Football Associations and the Ministry of Sports in African countries should pass a law which will enable any player traveling outside to play soccer to do a mandatory medical examination test at an accredited government hospital with the results being checked by immigration before they move.
Certainly, football is not rewarding in Africa but players should be wary of fake agents who lure them into foreign lands for their personal gains and they should assess themselves medically before making any trip.
If the various football associations, ministries and the players themselves do things correctly such unfortunate deaths of players like that of Mensah and Sam will be a thing of the past.