Sports Features Tue, 26 Jun 2012

Victims of our false success!

There was genuine fear when it was first announced that FIFA in a bid to reduce cheating by mainly third world African countries would introduce the test before the U'17 competition began. Memories of having to jettison a squad that had taken months to prepare we're fresh in the minds of several West African countries that fell foul of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test. Top of the list was Nigeria who were the current U'17 FIFA World Cup holders, who in August of 2009 had as many as 16 players from a 35 man Golden Eagle Squad that had to be released for failing the MRI test. The Golden Eagles coach, John Obuh at the time warned that this would have a drastic affect on the teams performance at the U'17 FIFA World Cup that was ironically to be held in Nigeria that year! The coach said: "If they wanted to do this, it should have been carried out long before now, not when I am rounding off preparations for the competition. "How am I now expected to screen new players in this short time and produce a good team? If these boys are removed now, Nigerians should not expect us to do well at the World Cup because it will be very difficult to identify new players and build a strong team."

Nigerian Barrister Adokie Amiesimaka joined the furore in his weekly column in a national newspaper and singled out the U'17 team captain Fortune Chukwudi claiming he was over aged, stating that that Chukwudi played for him seven years ago in his feeder team as an 18 year old. The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) reacted angrily by calling the ex international names and the Port Harcourt based lawyer fired back saying their reaction was "childish." Well looking back at it now I guess the Golden Eagles coach John Obuh and the Nigerian Football Federation were making a case for age cheating and justifying why despite the fact that their boys were not under 17 they should be maintained in order to enhance the possibility of Nigeria defending and winning the FIFA U'17 World Cup! Crazy if you ask me but man has the ability to justify anything the he intends or has already done, no matter how irrational it may be. Needless to say Nigeria did not win the FIFA World Cup and neither did any West African country in that year.

FIFA have been irked for a very long time by the fact that many third world countries had been fielding over aged players for many years to the consternation of mainly European countries some of whom decided to boycott such competitions because of it. Indeed FIFA could not understand why the principle of "football development" had been substituted with the desire to "win at all costs" and "by any means" virtually in the long run at the cost of the Senior National Team remaining a team that would always only end up "doing well" and nothing more! For them and to be honest myself; who had never encountered this syndrome before until I returned home to Ghana; it was incomprehensible! But age cheating in Ghana did not start there but began much earlier in schools and for decades now too in the Junior schools when participating in "inter-schools" regionally and national competitions the Physical Education tutors, the Headmaster/mistress and the rest of the staff would collectively conspire to field pupils in age restricted competitions who were over the age simply because they physically did not look like a child of that age and of course because they were good in the event too. In effect our children were taught to lie about their age by the very people we entrusted their education with and they became very skilled cheats too who practiced the art of cheating on an annual basis. Unfortunately for us the practice is as rampant today as it was then with no apparent end in sight!

Looking back on the triumphs of of previous U'17's at the FIFA World Cup and it throws up too many optical illusions of grandeur that never was anything more than a candle in the wind, constantly flickering but unable to provide the light needed to pave a clear way forward for the future development of football at the Senior National Team level! Unable to distinguish between developmental football and the desire to win trophies the football authorities were and still are unable to educate the general public about the due process Ghana has to go through to ensure that we become a football "super power" and not merely a participant with a good FIFA rating but which performs poorly at Inter-Continental and World football tournaments and competitions.

Yes we have seen the establishment over the years of some great footballers in our time at that level but the problem is they fell off the radar once they were propelled from junior ranked football to the senior ranks, thus leaving their counterparts to excell thrilling world football supporters in their wake and contributing to the success of their various Domestic and National Teams. Meanwhile many of our talents have been forced to retire from the game much earlier than anticipated citing a variety of reasons.

For those who were able to play through the age barrier their achievements were nominal to say the least bt suffice to say they were able to make an "honest" living with many of them returning to Ghana to take up othe active roles within the football industry. Well just before you get on the defensive because of the lack of hard core evidence, non other than Yaw Preku has come to to publicly admit that back in the day when the Black Stalets won the FIFA World Cup in 1991 in Italy his age had been reduced in order to ensure that he would feature for the Starlets not only then but even when the Meteors appeared at the Olympic games in Barcelona in 1992 too! Consecutive successful appearances in Japan 1993, where they were runners up, Ecuador 1995 where they won once again and finally Egypt 1997 where they were once again runners up attract a high level of public suspicion now. I have never had any doubts about this practice way back then and to my mind this is the main reason why we have never been able to translate our success from the Starlets to the Senior National Team the Ghana Black Stars. Furthermore I dont expect that we will ever do until we desist from fielding over aged players in specific age restricted competitions!

Well meanwhile at home unconfirmed reports have revealed that between 12-18 players from the National U'17 football team the Black Starlets have failed the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Test and because of that have been dismissed from the camp. Unconfirmed reports have also indicated that there are only four players left and that these four players themselves are currently under investigation concerning their ages. You may well ask if this is the case where does this leave the Black Starlets campaign which begins in three months time with the African Cup of Nations which doubles up as the U'17's World Cup Qualifiers once the team reaches the Semi Finals. Personally I don't know who has the answer to that one but the Head Coach, Paa Kwesi Fabien confirmed the news in a radio interview. He also added that the new development will not affect his team because replacements would be called in quickly once a nationwide exercise is done to scout for talents is completed. May I ask when that will be done? Paa Kwesi went on to further say that "he cannot be blamed for the latest development since he only selected players based on the ages on their passports."

Quite frankly I don't and won't buy that one because even if he (Coach Paa Kwesi Fabian) was guided by the dates in the players passports and on their cards isn't he aware that it would be virtually impossible to camp a group of U'17 boys for six months without them attending one day in school? That in itself is indication enough that they are not within the age bracket required to feature for the Black Starlets and reason enough why he must accept some of the blame! Clearly the coaching staff and the Starlets management team are somehow more concerned with being able to win than with the development of football in Ghana! I think it's so important to ensure that we are truthful to ourselves irst more than anything else in life. I have seen the dismissed crop of players and to be honest only a blind man can put his and on his heart and say they were under the age of 17 years! Quite frankly I wouldn't be surprised if the MRI test if conducted on the current crop of U'20's now wouldn't come up with similar results......

What the heck lets blame it on the rain!
Source: Nana Kwaku agyemang