26.10.2003 Sports News

Local league calendar, a cause for our continental club demise

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(A GNA feature by Cecil Adom, GNA Sports Desk)

Accra, Oct 26, GNA - For the past three years, most Ghanaians have tried to find out why the sudden demise of our local clubs in continental championships soon after Accra Hearts of Oak had reached the pinnacle by winning the Champions League trophy and the African Super Cup.

Hearts victory and the total dominance they showed over all their opponents gave connoisseurs of the local game some hope that "we have finally arrived".

But what we all thought was the arrival of the "Midas touch" that would open CAF's Pandora box for further dominance on the continent was just a flash in the pan.

After the euphoria of continental success, Hearts were given a rude awakening when they were eliminated in the first round of two successive championships by clubs from Congo and Mali. Since then, Hearts are yet to make any meaningful impact on a tournament they reigned over, four years ago.

Ghana's other representatives on the continent Kumasi Asante Kotoko had also not fared well. For over 20 years since their last triumph on the continent, they have laboured for years without reaching the high level they attained when they were crowned champions of Africa in 1972 and 1983. The closest they came was a final berth in the Cup Winners Cup competition last year when they lost to Wydad Casablanca on goal aggregate.

But apart from these few successes enumerated above, our clubs have done virtually nothing on the continent, whilst we watch in awe clubs from less fancied soccer nations making great strides year after year. Various interpretations have been given for our present predicament ranging from poor infrastructure, lack of sound technical foundation, and indiscipline among others.

But in our search for a solution, we have over the years missed an important factor that might have contributed significantly to the poor standards that we exhibit in our game today. This has to do with our local football calendar which starts somewhere in April and ends between October and November.

It is the candid opinion of some football analysts that the late start always makes our clubs to lag behind other countries in terms of preparations and readiness for Africa's clubs competitions.

Sometimes, I find it difficult to understand why a national football association, loaded with former football players and managers, should stick to such a strange calendar, which does not run concurrently with those of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) or the European governing body (UEFA) which actions affect Ghana football.

In the light of the above, a major question arises: What is the rationale for our calendar and what does it intend to achieve? One reason that was unofficially proffered in defence of our calendar has been the May 9, 2001 tragedy, which resulted in some months break to allow for proper measures to be put in place before the restart of the league. We all know what delay the break cost, which forced the GFA to ask CAF for an extension of the deadline for the submission of our continental representatives for the following years.

But this was two years ago and does not give as the lee way to keep running to CAF year after year to ask for an extension in our submission date because our league is always behind time.

Even now, what do we see? For the past two years, the GFA has not been able to organise the FA Cup which winners represent the country in the Cup Winners Cup competition.

Indications are that the GFA will once again send the second placed team in the league to represent the country in the Cup Winners Cup competition.

Currently we are in November and our league still has seven matches to run before completion. The CAF deadline for the submission of clubs is on November 5, but as usual we know the GFA would ask for an extension.

Even though the GFA gets their way, the problem starts for the clubs, as they have to complete registration of player they intend using by December 31. This situation leaves the clubs in a very difficult state. They do not have time to recruit players to strengthen their squads for the campaign and hence have to quickly register their old players with the hope of further strengthening their teams at the quarterfinals stage, when the registration window opens again.

This unfortunate state of affairs robs the clubs of the ability to compete at the same level with clubs from other countries, who by the registration deadline have had time to recruit to fill in the weal spots in their teams as their league had long ended.

This was the same situation Hearts went through in their championship winning years when they started the competition without their top players of Ishmael Addo, Osei Kuffour and Charles Taylor who later joined after Hearts had struggled through the preliminary stages of the competition.

Transfers to Europe as well as internal player movements during the preseason, further worsen the situation. Kumasi Asante Kotoko suffered a similar fate when six of their registered players for the CAF Cup Winners Cup Competition - Isaac Boakye, Godwin Ablodey, Kwadjo Poku, Hamza Mohammed, William Thompson and Abass Inusah all left to join local and foreign clubs, further depleting their squad.

Faced with all these difficulties, the teams are forced to start the campaign on difficult notes, because by the time the competition starts in January, the league would not have started, hence they go into battle not well prepared to face clubs that have already started their league season and are in better shape.

After going through all these troubles, club administrators are blamed for not doing enough to keep their clubs in continental competitions. But when our clubs are faced with all these difficulties, how do you expect them to perform creditably.

So, the question goes back to the GFA; Are they aware of the harmful effects of their calendar on the clubs and what measures are they putting in place to ensure that the situation where our clubs are forced to put up weak teams for CAF clubs competitions are a thing of the past?

If the calendar is not given a second look in the immediate future, it should not surprise anyone that we continue to struggle year after year, whilst clubs from lesser known football countries continue to make great strides as a result of good planning.

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