Sports Features Sun, 11 Jul 2010

A native coach more likely to win Africa’s first FIFA World Cup trophy

The curtain on South Africa 2010 has been successfully lowered and the Brazil 2014 logo duly unveiled. Without an iota of doubt the Ghana Black Stars gave very good account of our participation in the tournament. The Stars might not have achieved the ultimate but at least they equalled Africa’s best record at the FIFA World Cup and that is indeed very impressive and commendable. Their greatness was admired and hailed across Africa and many parts of the world. All hail BaGhana BaGhana, Pride of Africa, The Black Stars of Africa! As Ghanaians, we must all be proud of the remarkable unity that we exhibited across the country and in the Diaspora in total unflinching support for our gallant players. This show of national solidarity and patriotism in no small way contributed immensely to the remarkable success of the team. If we would continue with such show of national solidarity and patriotism coupled with hard work in all spheres of our national life, there is no doubt that Ghana will sooner become one of the greatest nations on earth.

To many Ghanaian football fans and administrators, it is now time to reflect and take stock of our performance at South Africa 2010. Yes, we performed well but a close examination of our strength indicates that we had the potential to have done much better, so why could we not achieve more than we did? What did we not do right, and how can we correct our mistakes? Do not forget that we are over 22 million football coaches across the length and breadth of our country so diverse reasons could be adduced as to our underperformance. In this regard, a number of debates have already ensued and currently ongoing in the public domain. Among these is the issue of local/native or foreign coaches for our national teams, particularly the Black Stars. This dilemma as to whether to hire native instead of foreign coaches to manage our national teams has often reared its head normally just after major tournaments or after an abysmal showing by any of the national teams at any assignment.

Anytime this debate comes up it has generated divergent views for or against. There are those who argue that we are better off with foreign coaches. This group, besides other reasons use the claim that our foreign players do not accord the native coaches the respect due them as coaches for which reason discipline easily breakdowns among the playing body. They emphasize that native coaches are not able to instil and maintain the expected discipline in camp. In addition, there is claim that native coaches more easily succumb to interference from the powers-that-be for which reason they normally underperform. However, an important question is what do the foreign trainers significantly contribute to our game? We have had a number of them yet the fundamental problems with our game such as the art of goal scoring, taking set pieces or penalty kicks that have plagued our national teams since time immemorial continue to persist. These problems seriously haunted us in South Africa more than ever before. There are also those who are of the opinion native coaches should be given the chance because they have proven time and again that they are achievers. Irrespective of which side one belongs on this issue, it is important that the historical performance of our native and foreign coaches with respect to our achievements as a nation in international football is closely examined and noted. The Ghana Black Stars have been coached by six native and 20 foreign technical handlers since independence to date.

Ghana has won the African Cup of Nations on four occasions in 1963, 1965, 1978, and 1982 all by Ghanaians namely Coach Charles Kumi (C.K.) Gyamfi (1963, 1965 and 1982) and Coach Fred Osam Duodu (1978). As twice Under-17 World Champions and twice U-17 runners-up, Ghana is one of the top favourites in this category at the FIFA World Championship. We won our first FIFA U-17 World Championship at Italy 1991 with the German Coach, Otto Pfister. Two years later that feat was nearly equalled by Coach Isaac Paha when the Black Starlets finished runners-up. However, in 1995 Coach Sam Arday led the team to win Ghana’s second FIFA U-17 World Championship trophy in Ecuador. Before then three years earlier, under the tutelage of the same Coach Sam Arday, Ghana’s Olympic Team the Black Meteors, at Bacelona 1992 became the first African team to win a medal (Bronze) at Olympic football. Recently at Egypt 2009, the Black Satellites under the directive of Coach Sellas Tetteh, became the first African team to be crowned FIFA Under-20 World Champions. And on our local league scene, let all the teams cross check their historical records for how many league trophies or continental glories they have won with the assistance of native or foreign coaches. Without doubt their findings will heavily tilt towards native handlers.

It will also be worthwhile to consider what pertains on the international scene. South Africa 2010 was the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup. South American countries have won the trophy nine times and the European countries 10 times. Interestingly, all of these countries won the championship with native coaches or managers. In other words, a coach is yet to win the FIFA World Cup for a country he is foreign to. There is always a first time anyway. At South Africa 2010, a total of 20 teams had native coaches. Of these, the only African country was Algeria. On the other hand, 12 teams hired foreign or non-native coaches. At the group stage, eight teams with native coaches and another eight led by foreign ones were eliminated. Of the eight foreign coaches who could not make it to the last 16, four were managers of African teams. 12 Native and four foreign coaches advanced to the last 16 of the tournament from which six native and two foreign coaches qualified to the quarter finals. All the teams that made it to the semi final stage had native coaches. It therefore goes without saying that a native coach was the eventual champion, a tradition that is yet to be broken since 1930.

Algeria had a native coach and yet could not make it to the last 16 just as those who were led by foreign coaches. So what is so special about the capability of native coaches one may ask? Well, Ghana getting to the quarter finals appears to make a case for foreign coaches. But then, which native coaches in the four other countries could not have achieved what these foreign coaches did in South Africa? The sad part is that whatever experiences these foreign coaches acquired at the tournament, after performing abysmally they have packed bag and baggage and headed back to where they came from. These countries have thus lost totally any World Cup experience coaching wise. The gain for Algeria in using a native is that at least the country now has someone who has experienced how tough things can get at the World Cup. He may do better should he get another opportunity to coach any team at any level. Any wonder Ghana is now faced with a dilemma as to whether our current Coach, Milovan Rajevac will continue with us or seek opportunities elsewhere? What happens if he eventually decides to go after his contract expires? A new coach will be contracted and then the players will have to perhaps start all over again to practice a new system of play. For how long will this pendulum swing continue? Essentially, members of CAF must from now on consider seriously the issue of native capacity building in coaching without which Africa’s hopes of winning the ultimate prize in world football may remain a mirage for a long time.

Despite the successes Ghana has chalked in international football with native coaches at the helm, it is obvious that many of these laurels were won by our junior teams who were mostly local players at the time before playing in these tournaments. Ghanaian legend Abedi Ayew Pelé was once asked the probable reason Ghana has been very successful at the junior sphere of international football and here is what he had to say "Ghana is a poor country. Youngsters there have football and not much more. As a consequence, these lads are hungry and motivated, they want to concentrate all their energy on getting to the top. There is only one avenue open for a poor person in Ghana to establish a career and make money: be a good footballer and go to Europe.” And rightly so, this has been one of the major motivations for local players which make them give off their best at such tournaments. At this stage they are mostly resident in the country, play consistently together, they are easily accessible and easier to manage for tournament preparations and participation.

However, at the senior stage the situation is quite different since most of the players are foreign based. They find themselves under the instruction of different coaches and play different styles and roles in their various teams. Then when there is a national assignment to honour, they are assembled for few weeks and subjected to yet again a different coaching style, totally different roles and formations from what they are used to in their various clubs. Therefore, to maintain consistency and continuity in our team play it will be important to maintain a coach at the helm of affairs for as long as possible. As much as feasible, we must desist from changing coaches at the least mishap. The other issue with some of the senior players is that they seem to have already formed their careers and not much motivates them. The Black Stars level is therefore more complex and thus requires a more advanced managerial or coaching skills, better player psychology and motivation. This is where things get quite murky and tough for the native technical directors. The foreign handlers appear to effectively deal with the situation of the seniors much better. Nonetheless, it behoves our football administrators to assist the native coaches to overcome their limitations at this stage. Whatever problems that hinder their performance at the senior level must be carefully studied and resolved to enable them contribute effectively.

Though their impact is yet to be strongly felt, there is the possibility that foreign coaches could bring us major trophies like the German, Otto Pfister did in 1991 but then the achievement record available to us now speaks a lot for our native coaches. Given the necessary training, exposure and logistics as well as similar conditions of service as given to their foreign counterparts, not even the sky will be the limit for our native coaches. Over the years they have shown overwhelmingly that they can perform. They have conquered the junior level of world football and given the chance they will in no time rule the senior level as well. All that our native coaches require is our trust, respect and belief in them. We dare not write them off in our attempt to decide who manages our senior national team. Otherwise, we may find ourselves failing too many times in our strive to annex the FIFA World Cup trophy.

Finally, to the national Under-20 Women’s Football Team the Black Princesses, I say note that “what men can do, women can do it better.” All the best ladies as you face the world at the 2010 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany. The whole of Ghana is solidly behind you in prayers and with unflinching moral support all the way. Our Black Princesses, Go and Conquer them All!

Samuel Amiteye, International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) Jena, Heidelberg University, Germany. samamiteye@yahoo.com

Source: Amiteye, Samuel