Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng's reflection on the performance of Ghana's Black Stars at the on-going African Cup of Nations is revealing in what it omits than what it suggests. I have had my own moments of thought on the same issues Kwasi raises. Sometimes, it is not the coach, although the failures of teams make coaches good scapegoats for good nationalists. It might not even be the players. It might be an absence of a realization on the part of both coach and players about what is at stake in such soccer tournaments. On this point, Kwasi has me on his side.
But what "history" of Ghana's performance in the area of continental and world football is Kwasi writing about? As his piece shows, Ghana may have won the Cup of Nations "four times", but the last time Ghana did so was about 23 years ago. In the "history" of continental and world soccer that is ancient history. Sometimes, nationalism and patriotism need heavy doses of realism. El Hajj Doiuf may be loud-mouth, but he was right, at best prescient in his forecast. If Ghana could not make a mark in the Cup of Nations tournament with all the "pedigree" that Kwasi points to, then Kwasi and all Ghanaians, including myself, should prepare for another "shocker" should the United States beat Ghana in their World Cup encounter this Summer. Should that happen, whose head shall we chop at the block, figuratively-writing? It is not the Coach.
For the Americans, it is not a question of "pedigree" or "history" for they have none in football or "soccer" as the Americans call it. But when the Americans showed up four years ago at the World Cup, and made it to a point where no one expected, they seemed to know what was at stake for each player, the team, the coach, the country, the flag, the Constitution, Disney World, the White House, the Pentagon, Book contracts, autographs, movie-deals etc when eleven human beings don the colors of their nation in front of spectators. For them, it is pride, patriotism, nationalism and "bragging rights" rolled into one. I have not seen the Ghana Black Stars shine to that point where as a Ghanaian, I feel confident in the ability of the team to raise my spirits as Cameroon did in Italia '90 and as Nigeria and Senegal did in recent world cup appearances.
Ghanaians used to refer to their victories over Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s, in the days of Nkruma's Real Republicans, as bases for some obtuse thought that the Ghana Black Stars was superior to the Nigerian Green Eagles. Not anymore. I am a Ghanaian who has observed the Nigerian team in recent years: at the Olympics; Cup of Nations and World Cup and Ghanaians ought now to conclude that the claim of Ghana to soccer fame lies buried in the past. At the very least, Senegal and Nigeria have demonstrated, in this Cup of Nations, that they may not have taken the World Cup quyalifying matches seriously, but they are are a formidable football nation with superb record of success in the past 13 years and not the past 25.
Look at the Elephants of Ivory Coast. They qualified for the World Cup and they have proven, at the Cup of Nations, that their World Cup qualification was not a fluke. Perhaps a wake up call for Ghana. I pray that I can consume my evening meal when Ghana, "four times" winner of the African Cup, meets with the United States, a country that got interested in soccer about ten years ago.
It is not the coach. A coach can only reach a point in strategy. The players ought to take the heat too. And the team needs a psycho-historian. Give the players a reality check about what is at stake at the World stage. Their games would have meaning and symbolism beyond their wildest dreams. They are there for themselves too. Those who shine would get huge contracts to play in Europe and elsewhere. But besides themselves, they carry the emotions of a country on their shoulders and in their boots. The citizens of Ghana may not share in the proceeds of the huge contracts individual players may get when the team shines. But the citizens can pound their chests in pride. The unwell may be well as a surge of contentment reinvigorates them when the Black Stars go as far as Cameroon and Senegal and Nigeria did and even beyond that when they showed up to play for self, country, continent and race. In Africa, the success of any African team in the World Cup is a source of pride for every African. Cast that in racial terms. It is an uplifting feeling.
As Kwasi knows well, the Akans of Ghana say that if Sunday would be a delightful day one can foretell that from Saturday night. I am worried about Ghana at the World Cup. Because there is a history there. A history made by Cameroon; Nigeria and Senegal, to be West African in my focus. Can Ghana continue and even improve upon that history or Ghana is going to ruin that history and raise questions in the world about African soccer? The Black Stars should remember Ephraim Amu's anthem translated, in part, as:
This is our land:
It is a durable possession for us.
The Blood that our ancestors shed to preserve it for us.
It is now our turn to preserve it.
In soccer's case. Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal have shed sweat to preserve, on the World stage, a certain good image of African football. Can the Ghana Black Stars preserve that? Well it is their turn now and we will be watching.
It seems to me Ivory Coast has made it clear at the Cup of Nations that it is not like Ghana or Togo or Angola. When it comes to soccer, I am an emotional creature and I am an African first and Ghanaian second.
Wake up Ghana Black Stars. We will be watching.