Beating Brazil at any level in world football is no mean achievement. And to walk over the stylish and hugely successful South Americans to be crowned world champions is something every nation on earth aspires to.
That’s exactly what the national under-20 football team, the Black Satellites, did at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup which recently ended in Egypt. They are true conquerors of the world. They’ve brought joy and happiness to many Ghanaian hearts and for that, they deserve all the accolades being showered on them.
As we celebrate the triumph of the Satellites, there are some issues engaging my mind.
First, who are our true champions and how do we differentiate them from the glorified losers?
When we send out our warriors and they return with a golden diadem, we shower praises on them and hang medals around their necks – as will be done for the Black Satellites. With these gestures we encourage others to go out there and achieve more, not less. Unfortunately, in this country we tend to shower the praises that should be reserved for the true champions on the glorified losers as well.
Cast your mind back to 2006 when similar celebrations greeted the failure of the senior national team to make it to the quarter finals of the World Cup in Germany. They were offered national honours for failing to equal the records of the likes of Cameroon and Senegal. Was that justified, I don’t think so. You could argue that the sort of recognition accorded the Black Stars in 2006 encouraged the Black Satellites to go out there and actually conquer the world.
But now that the Satellites have actually done what the Stars failed to do and I am wondering what’s going to be a befitting honour for them. Are we going to lay out same red carpet that the glorified losers trod on? That’s for the authorities to decide. But my point is that next time we shouldn’t make losers feel like champions. We can pat them on the back for trying but there is no point in honouring them like was done for the Black Stars in 2006 – making it to the 1/16th stage of the World Cup is nothing to be proud of.
The second issue engaging my mind is the need to groom the current under-20 squad to win the senior World Cup in about a decade. Michael Essien and some members of the current crop of Black Stars players almost conquered the world at the under-20 level in 2001. The generation that has just faded away (the likes of C. K. Akunnor and Samuel Osei Kufuor) narrowly lost out to Brazil in 1993. They made it to the finals and were only beaten by Brazil. If they had been groomed properly, the current Black Stars should be in very strong contention for the World Cup next year. But they are not. It’s all well and good that we hope but no amount of hoping will make the Black Stars l win the World Cup next year. If they do, I will offer myself for community service, sweeping the streets of Makola for two hours for 365 days. Twelve years from now, however, I shouldn’t be placing a bet like this because I am hoping that the young ones who conquered the world under the gaze of the pharaohs will be nurtured to do it again at a higher level.
The third issue has to do with coaching. I don’t like foreign coaches. Few of them have done us any good – that is win us the trophies. Most of the trophies we’ve won at the junior level have been with local coaches – Selas Tetteh being the latest. Why is it then, that at the senior level, the football association tends to have an unhealthy (almost obscene) preference for foreign coaches? I won’t accept the argument that the senior players do not respect the local coaches. I also reject comparison which is often made with a country like England, which has for more than a decade relied on foreign coaches. What did Sven Goran Erikson win for England? Nothing.
I think it’s high time we gave local coaches like Selas Tetteh the chance to take charge of the senior national team. If they can win laurels at the junior level there is no reason why they should fail at the senior level. The problem is that we have not being as patient with them as we’ve been with the foreign coaches. We have also not given them half the incentives we give the foreign coaches. At the very least, they should be given a chance to take their best shots. Take a Selas Tetteh or Sam Arday, give him half the salary we pay the current Black Stars coach, put him in a nice house and give him three or four years – I am sure they will, at least, win the African Cup of Nations.