A Diluted Friendly

Diluted Games

Fabio Capello pours cold water on Ghana friendly diluting its impact

I promised not to talk about Ghana versus England until the African Cup of Nations qualifier between Ghana and Congo was over. Well it was over by halftime when two goals from Partizan Belgrade pair Prince Tagoe and Dominic Adiyiah had Ghana sitting comfortably. The match ended 3-0 with substitute Sulley Muntari continuing to reinvent himself under Goran Stevanovic by scoring in the second half. Thanks to our beloved GTV there was no coverage so other than the scoreline and the scorers there is very little I gleaned but that’s another story.

So by half time I should have been able to break my self-imposed embargo in order to respond to what I consider the disrespect Fabio Capello has shown by releasing Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson and Frank Lampard ahead of the friendly tomorrow. It is a sentiment shared by former Black Stars captain.

Between getting over my annoyance and enjoying some good live football between Cote d’ Ivoire and Benin I could not break the embargo on this space earlier, my immediate response limited to 140 characters at a time.

All he could muster in response to queries over his action is that the match is going to be ‘interesting.’ The remainder of what he said in his press conference is simply patronizing.

The one dominant message I take from Capello’s action is that this is not a serious match. He has in one fell swoop devalued a game many had hyped since it was announced. After all, it was a chance for England to test its mettle against a World Cup quarter finalist. Would he have done same if the match was against another European team or a South American team? While I can understand resting your players, the match’s status as a friendly meaning you can basically sub your whole team in the course of the match. Would it have hurt him so much if he kept his released players and played them a half? Combing through his statement there is a clear contradiction. We organized the friendly because we want to keep the boys together for a long period, he says. If that’s the case doesn’t releasing your most important players as well as your newly re-installed captain defeat the purpose?

When it was first announced I was angry. You always want to play against the best in my opinion. Also, in the event that the best played against Ghana and lost there would be no excuses.

The saving grace might be that for the many fans who will feel aggrieved, the atmosphere will make up for it. Radio shows in Ghana and social networking sites, while unscientific, show that a large number of Ghanaians in London are excited about the match. The enthusiasm for this game is so intense that people with split allegiances are confused and depending on who you believe, injured player Kevin Prince Boateng is suddenly healed.

In all of this, there is no doubt in my mind that a victory will be sweet and will not be enjoyed any less.

Any way to put one over your former colonial masters I guess.


Abedi Pele. Tony Baffoe. Stephen Appiah of Step App fame. C K Akonnor… What do all these names have in common? They have at one point or another captained the Black Stars and done it with distinction. John Mensah next? If Nyaho Tamakloe has his way, Mensah will be installed as the permanent captain of the national team.

My first thought was how can you rely on a player whose health chart reads like a multi-page inventory list to be your captain?However, in Mensah’s case the crocky condition for his clubs has not necessarily translated to the national team. He has not missed many games for the national team so he must be given the benefit of the doubt.

The next thought was what qualities should one be looking for in a captain? After all, the captain dilemma is not peculiar to Ghana. 

England  and France have recently had their issues surrounding captaincy. Fabio Capello has re-installed John Terry as captain, a tacit admission that it was a mistake to remove him in the first place or truly believing that Terry has served his penance. Perhaps the knowledge that Wayne Bridge will probably never play for England again has given Capello room  to make that decision. Of course, you can cue the thou shalt not leave your significant other around JT jokes. 

France had their own leadership issue with Patrice Evra deemed persona non grata after being a central figure in the mutiny among players at the 2010 World Cup. A leader of men he was, but clearly in the wrong direction.  

In any case, as with all teams, there needs to be a leader. There is no more clear example of this as with the Ivorian team in Accra this past week. Didier Drogba is the unquestioned leader of this team, ‘le grand chef’. His presence is palpable off the field as well as on it. Drogba’s two goals against Benin merely cemented his leadership resume. It reminds me of when Abedi Pele was captain. Some individuals just have it and sometimes the choice is that easy. 

Listening to a BBC program two weekends ago shed some light on what other cultures look for in determining who should be a captain. South America football correspondent Tim Vickery shed light on the things people in South America particularly Brazil and Argentina look for. Vickery quickly dispelled any notion that the wearer of the ’10’ shirt automatically gets it. While Maradona might have made the number synonymous with captaincy, Vickery explained that in 1986, the choice was between Armando the great and erstwhile captain, Daniel Passarela. If previous practice was anything to go by the captain would naturally have been Passarella because he was the strong man. Passarella was tough, brash, no-nonsense and every player feared him according to Vickery.  The coach at the time, Bilardo went against the grain and picked Maradona, a decision few can argue with now. Bilardo may have decided that it was better for his players to be in awe of their captain than to fear him.

Passarella’s take on captaincy in this interview is interesting. The players choose the captain he says. Vickery also pointed out that despite his enormous talent and influence, Pele was never captain.

There are lessons in each of the examples above.  A captain must be someone peers are willing to follow. The consternation over Terry’s reinstatement suggests that there is a moral dimension to being captain which must certainly account for the ninth and tenth commandments. In other words, while no one expects footballers to be saints there are certain codes that they must follow and Terry broke that code.

In Evra’s example we understand that while a captain must stand up for his men, he must also be a voice of reason, a liaison between players and management – a skilled negotiator. Stephen Appiah was called on to do this a number of times in his tenure and he was often at the center of negotiations between the playing body and football administrators. Appiah may have been key in Ghana avoiding scenes similar to France at the recent World Cup. 

Finally, in Diego Armando and Abedi Pele’s case, the ability to inspire through individual efforts of brilliance cannot be underestimated. There is nothing like a wow factor to keep players attentive to your words. In all of these examples however, the passion for the game is paramount.

This list is not exhaustive. I would happy to hear your criteria.



When it comes to bonuses players want no gimmicks. SHOW THEM THE MONEY!

In business, the saying goes, “cash is king,” in reference to a company’s cash flow. Evidently, the same can be said of Ghanaian footballers. The Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports is allegedly carrying as much as 250,000 US dollars to dole out as winning bonuses in the event the team wins. I presume he will be accompanied by a ministry accountant and together they will ensure that the players will be smiling. This practice is not new. It has been done since the Flinstone era of Ghana Football and as with many things in the country ‘this is just how we do it here ohhhhhh.’

Carrying cash in this age of pirates on the high seas and break-ins in hotel rooms has always fascinated me. In this day when the superfast highway called the ‘internets‘ by the linguistically challenged and internet by many has made personal banking easier we are still handing out cash? The conjured image of a mafia operation with Consigliere Dua giving cash to the Underboss (accountant) who in turn makes sure the  soldiers (footballers) receive and sign for it would be great for a Nollywood movie set. In real life though, this practice is soooooooo not cool.

It lends itself to abuse on so many fronts it is not possible. And questions. Does the minister or accountant sleep with the money? As in do they hold it as tight as they can to their chests and other body parts because the buck would literally stop with him in the event of a disappearance? And what of the temptation to covet your neighbor’s cash?

Despite all these concerns and my reservations, I understand why it happens. Over the years the players have had cause to distrust the hierarchy when it comes to the delivery of bonuses. The most recent example was the long drawn out bonus saga after the world cup. After representing the country well and being toasted everywhere they went and promised everything under the scorching Ghanaian sun, they had to wait months before they were rewarded. Now, I don’t know about you but have you ever been promised money for work you did and made plans for that money to the last dollar only to be disappointed? Yes, while many of these players are professionals in Europe and probably can survive a few weeks of disappointment, five months is ridiculous. I remember seeing some of the players in the mall in Sandton, Johannesburg a day after they lost to Uruguay. Can you imagine what those bonuses could have done for their shopping experience? Wonders, because that mall had everything I could never dream of affording. But I digress.

The players attitudes to bonus delivery after a few weeks can be summarized  as “you promised? Now pay up. Enough with the excuses already!!!” Or else well I will take the law into my own hands a la John Mensah. To be fair, Mensah later refuted this alleged indiscipline.

The distrust by the players is warranted on some level. I personally wouldn’t trust the officials after so many disappointments in the past. Nevertheless, I think there is an alternative that can take into consideration their past failures. What if someone pointed out that you could actually deliver money in cash and by direct transfer. It has been done before you know. It is not a new invention. So that payment becomes a combination of all three. Readily available cash is a good thing. Checks are secure in the event of a break in and outside of public officials not using the players’ account information for its intended purpose there is little risk in direct deposits.

Direct deposits leave the thorny  issue of banking fees as the last hurdle. If the players’ monies were to be transferred who is to say that various fees will not be charged by ‘greedy’ banks for the services? This is an issue that could again be handled easily with the State bearing all the transfer costs but with the way things work here there is no telling what could go wrong.

So, cash it shall be for the foreseeable future until such a time that there is enough trust to pursue safer

Black Stars Take on Congo in Brazzavile

Will Dede ensure the Ayew name is etched in Congolese football history? Photo Credit: Senyuiedzorm Adadevoh

The Black Stars take on Congo in Brazzaville on Sunday and yet all anyone wants to talk about is the friendly next week Tuesday against England. There are too many story lines to speak of when it comes to England. The colonial legacy, World Cup performances, pride to name a few. So it is not a shock that we have divided attention.

In a superstitious world, I would say the Congolese conjured the England friendly in order to distract us. Oh wait, we do live in a part of the world that believes in superstition (See shenanigans before Hearts versus Kotoko game last weekend). Never mind. All this has the potential to derail our march to what we all hope will be a fifth nations cup. We all need to transmit focus to the players for Sunday’s match so I am placing an embargo on this blog. No more England talk until Sunday evening.

The African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Congo reminds me of one of the most exciting moments in my football watching life. Abedi Pele’s winner against Congo in Dakar during the Cup of Nations in 1992. He made one of the best African keepers of that era Samba Brice look foolish. The pony-tailed maestro Abedi dribbles one, takes on another, gets to the touchline to cross? No, he shoots!!! Left footed from an impossible angle!!! A curler around Brice and it’s in. Ghana led with that classy goal and went on to win the match and face Nigeria in the next round.

That image from Senegal ’92 is one of the lasting ones from that tournament and it sticks out in my mind like yesterday. One of the greatest individual goals I have seen scored. If only GTV were up on their game we would probably be seeing replays of that game ahead of this weekend’s crucial match.

This match is important for a few reasons. While the boys played great against Togo in a friendly in Belgium last month, it was a friendly and it was Togo. Our last competitive match against Sudan was a disaster with heavy rainfall at the end of a drab draw enough evidence that it wasn’t meant to be our day. This match presents the first real chance to gauge the team and answer some lingering questions. Have they settled after their World Cup high? How do Goran Stevanovic’s tactics used effectively in the friendly to bang in goals translate to a competitive match? Most of all though it is a chance to put a major dent in the aspirations of one of our main competitors. Not to pull the cart before the horse but… Maximum points in this match as well as the return encounter in June would effectively rob the Congolese of any chance of winning the group and make it a two horse race between Ghana and Sudan.

Congo has three points from two matches and a win for them would vault them past the Black Stars. With a formidable Sudanese team expected to take all three points against Swaziland we would all of a sudden go from first position to a tricky third.

A win would ensure that the doubters of Goran continue to be silenced. It is important that he tastes early success so that no doubts into his leadership creep in. The match itself would give another platform for Goran to assess his players directly as he builds a winning team.

By winning on Sunday the Stars would depart Brazzavile with confidence and head into that friendly I promised not to talk about on a definite high.

Last and not in the least trivial, the match is a chance for Dede Ayew to continue the Ayew domination of the Congolese. Come on my son!!!

Players In Camp

Goalkeepers: Sammy Adjei, Ernest Sowah, Richard Kingston

Defenders: Samuel Inkoom, David Addy, Lee Addy, John Mensah, Jonathan Mensah, Isaac Vorsah, John Paintsil, Daniel Opare

Midfielders: Anthony Annan, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari, Dede Ayew, Bernard Kumordzi, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Emmanuel Clottey, Opoku Agyemang

Strikers: Prince Tagoe, Dominic Adiyiah, Nathaniel Asamoah, Asamoah Gyan ***

***Gyan is in camp but is ineligible to play because he is suspended for the game.

Les Elephants sont a Accra


King Didier holds court over Marcel Desailly-owned Lizzy's Complex

Oil and water do not mix. Politics and football are not supposed to either according to FIFA dictates. History is replete with examples where the lines blur. This week presents another one. The Cote d’ Ivoire national team, ‘Les Elephants’ is in Accra practicing for a ‘home’ match against Benin on Saturday March 26. Originally scheduled for Abidjan, the match has been shifted to Accra, a result of continuing post-electoral violence in the World’s largest cocoa-producing nation. 

While the politicians and armed men steer the country ever so closely towards war, football fans in Accra will be treated to the skills of some of the best in the world. Paradoxically, if the multiplying ‘CI’ number plates on the roads is anything to go by, the growing Ivorian population in Ghana’s capital will be able to witness an event they would otherwise not have if Ivorian federation president, Jacques Anouma had his way. Of course, they would probably rather savor the match among their compatriots in peace. For a few hours they will relegate matters of survival to the background and watch a game that more than any shows what a people can accomplish when they come together. 

King Didier, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora and Gervinho are but a few names in town. Yaya Toure, another star player has been heard of but not seen at the training grounds yet. He arrived on Tuesday evening. There are less heralded names too. Diminutive Leeds United winger Max Gradel is seeking his first cap. Daniel Yeboah, a highly touted ASEC Mimosa goalkeeper was yet to arrive as of Wednesday’s afternoon training session. 

Watching the Ivorians there is no doubt of their individual quality. To a man, they are strong, fast, technically gifted. At the risk of self promotion, I would say if they could cultivate some of the team spirit Ghana had at the 2010 World Cup, they would be world beaters. Still, as Ghana itself saw at the Cup of Nations against these very Ivorians, team spirit sometimes only goes so far against great players. So all things being equal, expect the Elephants to stomp the Squirrels.

Kickoff is on Sunday March 27, 1730 GMT. It will be preceded by the Ivorian Olympic team’s qualifying match against Liberia at 1500 GMT