Goal chronicles the widening gap between Ghana’s national team and the supporters left disgusted by their attitude towards financial gain
Ask any Ghanaian what three symbols encapsulate everything about their country and the nation’s flag, coat of arms and national football team will almost certainly spring to mind.
Starting this week, however, the final entry on that list has lost its place. It could be replaced by anything else, but it just won’t be the Black Stars.
The events of the last few days have significantly shattered general confidence in the team, with Ghanaians alienated from the Stars as never before.
It all began a couple of months ago, when fairly credible stories emerged about how certain senior members of the side had demanded sums of €73,000 and €14,000 respectively as appearance fees and [group stage] winning bonuses for the 2014 Fifa World Cup.
These supposed requests were met with huge outcry from a Ghanaian public that has been struggling amid a paralysing economic downturn in recent months. The issue eventually got watered down as, when the endorsed budget was finally released, it was reported that the respective figures had been reduced to €55,000 and $12,000.
Reduced, yet still significantly high for a country with a nominal GDP per capita estimate of just €1393.
Ghanaians, ever adoring and indulgent of their national team, cast their reservations aside and quietened the protests, as if doing so would ensure a repeat of the performances at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Thus Brazil 2014 commenced, with a nation’s hopes higher than they’d ever been, with an entire population of 25 million staying wake to catch Ghana’s opening Group G game against the USA at 22:00 (local time).
It didn’t yield the start many had expected, though, as Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactically superior side edged a famous 2-1 triumph.
That result was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, given that the Americans had succumbed to Ghana by the same scoreline at the two previous editions of the tournament.
Down but undeterred, those unfulfilled expectations were carried into the second fixture, versus three-time world champions Germany.
The Stars didn’t disappoint, almost pulling off a shock result over the Germans – only for Miroslav Klose’s record-equalling 15th Fifa World Cup goal to level the score at 2-2.
But in producing a performance that inspired new belief, the team’s popularity levels soared back home and around the world.
With the group’s other sides, Portugal and the USA, playing out a stalemate that opened up a sliver of space for Ghana to slip through pending the results of the final matchday, public opinion of the team was picking up again.
Beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on Thursday, perhaps find a way into the last 16, and the Stars would be loved – really loved – again.
It never happened. The team has instead suffered a stunning relapse – before even kicking a ball against the Portuguese – and they are unlikely to recover anytime soon.
By the beginning of the week, reports were already surfacing of how the players had refused to board the plane for Brasilia to honour their date with Portugal, essentially holding their nation to ransom.
The reason? Hefty appearance fees which had been demanded in cash (and in US Dollars) – in spite of the fact that payments in America’s currency is now deemed illegal in Ghana – hadn’t yet been paid.
Subsequently, John Mahama, Ghana’s Head-of-state, had to intervene by pleading with the team and promising the arrival of the sum via airplane delivery by close of Wednesday.
Shockingly enough, he wasn’t kidding. Before long, a sum in excess of €2m had been airlifted to Brazil, and the story was granted considerable coverage across the world’s media.
While that episode was yet unfolding, another bout of crisis, this time of a different sort, had plagued Ghana’s Maceio-based camp.
An alleged training ground bust-up between Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari – former team-mates at AC Milan and two of the squad’s genuine prima donnas – got even messier when Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah found himself caught up in the fracas.
Ultimately Boateng got verbally tough with 53-year-old Appiah, while Muntari – for some unrelated cause – physically assaulted one of the high-ranking Ghanaian football officials present with the team in Brazil. He then reportedly went on to wreak further havoc, for which reason both have been ousted from camp.
All these, just hours before the Stars took to the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha turf to wrestle with Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.
It is a script even the infamous France squad that participated at the last World Cup couldn’t have dreamt up, such has been the depths of embarrassment the usually insulated, dignified west African nation has been plunged into.
The cumulative effect of these nasty incidents has been felt by many, not least the team’s coach who didn’t mince any words when speaking to the press pre-match.
“It’s not the best for me. For the past two days I have had sleepless nights,” Appiah said with as much disapointment as shame. “I have not been able to close my eyes.”
It isn’t exactly the kind of present Appiah, who turns 54 on Monday, would have wanted as a birthday gift, yet that’s just the situation – brewed by administrative failings, poor man-management, and player power – he has had to contend with until Ghana’s latest, and worst, World Cup campaign ended with a limp 2-1 defeat to Portugal. For many, that anti-climax couldn’t have come sooner.
Really, in contrast to Appiah’s confessed insomnia, not many Ghanaians would lose sleep over the Stars’ exit. Apathy in the hearts of the country’s football fans has replaced what had once been unbridled adulation, and where pride in the Black Stars once reigned, disgust has taken root.
Ghanaians’ romance with their national team is over, even if only temporarily so, and the players would need to outdo themselves in the coming months to repair and restore their collectively shattered image.