Africa, the largest Confederation of the World Football governing body, FIFA, is sadly the least represented confederation in the World Cup since its inception in 1930.
Aside from Europe and South America, no other confederation has ever made it to the semi-final of the competition. All 20 tournaments staged so far have been won by the two confederations. The closest other confederations have gone to chalking the feat are the quarter finals. For example, Ghana’s chance to berth in the semifinals was impeded by the infamous Luis Suarez catch at the 2010 edition in South Africa. Cameroon and Senegal are two other countries from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that also made it to quarter finals in the 1990 and 2002 editions respectively.
By the seventh day into Russia 2018, last Wednesday, Senegal was the only country showing the semblance of capacity to uplift the image of Africa. The seemingly impregnable Egyptian Pharaohs had succumbed to two defeats, the Nigerians had flunked before a less fancied opponent and the Moroccans had gone down twice. When Egypt lost by a whopping one goal to three to hosts Russia and Morocco fell by a goal to Portugal, the over one billion African supporters begun to throw their hands up in despair.
In the 1960s and ‘70s when only one slot was allotted Africa, the likes of Sweden could wallop reps Zaire 7 – 2. Our performance then was terrible. Then came the late 1980s and ‘90s when Roger Miller, Nkono and others donned the Cameroonian jerseys to do Africa proud. Stephen Appiah, Michael Essien, Sulley Ali MuntariAsamoahGyan and some others would lead Ghana to the group stage and quarter finals later. Senegal too came to make their mark. After the abysmal start and the appreciable leap, the continent has clearly been retrogressing in the last two tourneys. The question is what is the cause? How can the 54 nations get out of this cyclical poor performance? Is Africa getting returns commensurate with the financial investments her countries make into football? Is it worth the time and emotions Africans invest in football?
Ghana – our dear nation – is in a worse scenario than the average African nation. We lost our bid to join the elite nations to Russia. Our FA has been rocked by a scandal unprecedented in the annals of the nation. Our local league is like a friendly match between two village ‘Town Elevens’. Even as I admit Ghana is worse than the average, no African country is markedly better. We are passengers in the world tournaments, if not frustrated spectators; whether it is the Olympics or the World Cup. We cannot be doing the same things repeatedly and expect different results. Now, therefore, let us beat a decent retreat to rebuild, or build for the first time, African Football. Call it Football made in Africa. How do we go about it?
We should build our old teams strong. Check the names of clubs in Ghana’s Premier League; with the probable exception of Accra Hearts of Oak which was established in 1911 and Asante Kotoko which was founded in 1935, all others are so new. Where are Ho Sunset and Ho Mighty Eagles? Where are Oly Dade, Accra Standfast, and Tema Dumas Boys? What happened to Cape Coast Venomous Vipers, the Akarakachii Boys, SekondiHassacas and Kumasi Highlanders? WAFU Lords Kumasi Cornerstones and Asaase-AbanOkwawu United have all fallen into oblivion. Real Tamale United produced three-time Africa’s Best Footballer AbediAyew Pele; Savannah Stars produced such gems as Karimu Star Boy; but, today, all these great teams have either died out completely, sunk into First or Second Division or keep ‘dingdonging’ between First Division and Premiership.
Check the age of Manchester United which was born at The Old Trafford in 1878; Chelsea at Central London in 1950; Liverpool in the city that bears that name in 1892. Madrid dwellers will tell you Real Madrid is about 117years old; avid Barcelona fans know their club was established in 1899; Bayern Munich dates back to1900; AC Milan has seen130 years. Turin-based Juventus has survived since being born in 1897. Compare our WAFA, Medeama, New Edubiase, Inter Allies, Dreams FC and the like that mushroom into the Premiership today and wilt like grass tomorrow. Is it any wonder that Ghanaian football fans know the names of players and administrators of European clubs more than they do Ghanaian teams? We are not saying that new clubs should not be established in Ghana; what we are saying is that we should grow the old clubs strong and big so that most new players and administrators will naturally join them. What is the use of forming a new club if it is most likely to die like the ones before it?
Our governments should build sub-regional football federations and associations solid, professional and profitable. If the sub-regional associations are strong and attractive, our players will largely stay here to help develop an African brand of football that can compete favourably in the world arena. It is misleading to contend that some of those performing well at the Olympics and World Cup have their players abroad and they only assemble them when they have to participate in international competitions. Countries that rely on local players more tend to do better than those who adopt the assembly plant policy. On the contrary, parading an unwieldy array of stars from abroad tend to be more disastrous than fielding local, even inexperienced, players.
Show me a continent that has dominated the World Cup and I will point to you a continent that has a strong association football. Do you realise how Europe has snatched the World Cup victories from South America? The clubs competition at the continental level in Europe is much more robust, efficient, than anywhere else in the world.
As Ghana dissolves her FA, albeit amidst threats from FIFA; as Africa continues to embarrass herself at the World Cup and other tourneys, I submit that the time has come for us to withdraw, reorganize and rejoin the competitions. Meanwhile, West Africa icon Senegal, keep our spirits up!
…with A. C. Ohene (firstname.lastname@example.org)