A World Cup without Ghana. The reality has been utterly disappointing for all Ghanaian football fans who have become used to seeing the Black Stars on the world’s biggest stage. But could the failure of the Black Stars be a result of the fallen standards of the Ghana Premier League?
For many years, the Ghana Football Association has based their ‘success’ as an association on the performance of the Black Stars, while neglecting the league. But the disappointment of the 2017 football calendar has exposed the faults in the country’s system.
The quest to qualify Ghana for her first World Cup took an eternity but finally paid off in 2005 and the backbone of this feat was the strength of the Ghana Premier League. This was clearly evident in the 2005 CAF Confederation Cup which had an all Ghanaian final, with traditional rivals Hearts and Kotoko going up against each other.
The local league contributed immensely to the Black Stars during that spell providing a host of players to the team that qualified to the World Cup. The likes of Dan Quaye, Habib Mohammed, George Owu and Shilla Iliasu were the four locally based players named in the final squad for the 2006 World Cup, while others like Sammy Adjei and Issah Ahmed, who were also part of the squad, left the Ghana Premier League for foreign clubs after helping the team qualify for the World Cup.
In fact, the local league has been at the core of the Black Stars success over the years with all four of Ghana’s AFCON winning squads constituting about 80% of locally based players.
So the big question is: why did we take our eyes off the secret to our success after entering the promise land which is the World Cup?
Since 2010 the local league has been on the decline and it reflected in how Ghanaian clubs have fared in continental competitions.
Shockingly only two Ghanaian clubs; Berekum Chelsea (2011) and Medeama (2016) have made it to the group stages in any CAF competition since 2010.
The Black Stars since 2010 have performed poorly in the 2014 edition of the World Cup, finishing last in their group with just one point from three games, and subsequently failed to reach the 2018 edition.
The Ghana Premier League cannot even attract a major headline sponsor these days as the league is heading into the third season without a headline sponsor.
The importance of a strong league cannot be played down in anyway and there is almost always a correlation between a national team’s success in major competitions and the strength of their local clubs in continental competitions.
Take Egypt for example, Al Ahly dominated the CAF Champions League from 2005 to 2010 winning the competition on three occasions and unsurprisingly the Egyptian national team also won all the AFCON competitions during that time; 3 in all (2006, 2008,2010).
Bayern Munich conquered Europe winning the UEFA Champions League in 2013 after beating fellow German club and rivals Borrusia Dortmund in the final; the following year Germany won the World Cup.
Egypt’s Ahly Players celebrate winning their African Champions League (CAF) after their final soccer match against Tunisia’s Esperance Sportive de Tunis at the Rades stadium in Tunis (Photo: Reuters)
The Ghana Premier League, in recent years, has added almost no financial benefit to the clubs who struggle to generate income; with most of them opting out of CAF Competitions due to the financial burden the Competitions bring.
Another advantage associated with the local league producing players for the national team is the better level of understanding of what wearing the national jersey means.
Players who live and play in Ghana are more likely to have a better understanding of what it means to play for Ghana.
We have grown accustomed to relying on foreign based talents who usually have spent a majority of their lives abroad and don’t understand the football culture in Ghana. This always shows in their attitudes on the pitch. It is very important to have players who fully grasp the meaning of representing Ghana at senior level.
Donning the Black Stars Jersey is a privilege and not a right, and it is only a player with the right upbringing and foundation who will understand this.
The GFA needs to re-visit the foundation of football in the country which is the Ghana Premier league and fix it.
We felt as if qualifying for the World Cup was a right but our systems have been exposed and our negligence of the league has finally caught up with us.