Incompetent GFA is Leading Ghana Soccer into Oblivion
The headline says it all... June 5, 2004 - World Cup Qualifier: Burkina Faso (1) vs. Ghana (0) For many Ghanaians, this is just another example of a country blessed with abundant soccer talent, yet can't seem to take advantage no matter what. While some may attribute Ghana soccer's woes to lack of commitment from players, inadequate coaching, bad luck, juju, etc., the latest setback for the Black Stars is emblematic of a system in disarray. Sometime ago, I wrote an article for Ghanaweb.com, in which I used Ghana soccer as an example to underscore the use of experts in systems building and engineering. Let me reproduce some relevant excerpts from that article. "No one can deny the abundance of raw football talent in Ghana. Yet, Ghana has consistently underperformed, and has never qualified for the World Cup. These days, we can't even qualify for the African Cup. Why? This is due mainly to the lack of a PROVEN system. Building such a system requires expertise and the willingness to pay for it. The system must identify talent, nurture it, develop it and then "serve it up" to the public. Countries like Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria understood a long time ago that you must hire a proven expert, pay him well and then get the hell out of his way so he can do the job... But in Ghana, we're too smart for our own good. There is always someone who will complain that the cost of procuring such an expert to build the system is too high. So we end up doing things the easy way. And the results always speak for themselves." When the GFA signed Portuguese coach Mariano Barreto to a two-year contract, I was one of many Ghanaians who thought they had turned over a new page. It seemed at the time that the GFA had come to its senses and had finally learned from failures of the past; from the success stories of countries like Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal; and was ready to work with the expert they hired, and accord him all the necessary logistics required to engineer an effective system for Ghana soccer, a system that is capable of delivering results at the highest level. After settling into his new job, coach Barreto drew up a plan of action (among other things, the coach recommended that part of their training be undertaken in France). Lo and behold, there were some grumblings from certain members of the GFA. Don't forget that this same GFA hired coach Barreto and is paying his salary. In other words, by hiring the coach, the GFA tacitly admitted its inability to build and maintain a winning system. So how come when the very coach they hired to help build a winning system draws up a program, it is not supported by the clueless GFA whose policies have, time and time again, wreaked havoc upon Ghana soccer? Demanding accountability from the GFA One needs to ask; on what grounds did the GFA overrule the coach's request to take the team to France for training? The GFA is accountable to the taxpayers of Ghana who ultimately foot the bill, therefore we deserve to know what the GFA is doing and why it's doing it. The burning question is.Why did they hire a coach to build a winning system, only to turn around and overrule the coach's training recommendations for the team? If the GFA fails to voluntarily account to the public, then Parliament should consider hold hearings as soon as possible to compel the GFA to do so. We simply cannot allow the GFA to continue with its failed paradigm run amok. Given that our World Cup/African Cup campaign is still young, we can easily recover from this initial setback, but only if something is done about the situation as quickly as possible. On May 12, 2004, an article on Ghanaweb.com contained the following quote: "The programme for the national teams released by Coach Mariano Barreto at a press conference has not been approved by the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sports and the Ghana Football Association, according to SoccerExpress. Inside sources within the Ministry and the FA said they were surprised the coach decided to go public on a programme that requires huge doses of funds. The two organs that run the national teams, Soccer Express learnt are not too happy with some of the camping plans of the Portuguese, particularly with the planned trip to France for the Stars ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Burkinabe Faso in Ouagadougou and the absence of FA officials at yesterday's briefing was no coincidence. Nagging questions are being asked over the rationale behind travelling to France in cold spring only to return to play a match in hot desert-like conditions in Ouagadougou. According to our investigations the Ministry may veto the France trip on the grounds that it is not feasible." Why are the two "organs" surprised by the coach's program? Why are they surprised that the program requires huge doses of funds? I would hope that before hiring the coach, they would have interviewed him and asked him how he intended to accomplish his goals for the national team. This is standard practice in the hiring process, and always reveals a coach's approach and methodology to building his system, as well as the costs associated with the process. Consequently, the decision to hire or not hire the coach would be derived from the answers he provides to these questions during the interviewing process. Thus, once the coach has been hired, the GFA should not feign any surprise as to what the coach intends to do, how he intends to do it, and how much it will all cost. In other words, the GFA, having done due diligence on coach Barreto before hiring him, now needs to get out of the coach's way and allow him to do his job. The GFA's function should be limited to making available the necessary logistics to the coach and his staff so they can do their job. This painful loss of the Black Stars to the Stallions of Burkina Faso is NOT the fault of the coach or his players. This loss rests squarely on the shoulders of the hapless and clueless GFA. It makes no sense to hire someone to do a job you know you're are not equipped to do, then turn around and tell the person you just hired how to do their job. Identifying the source of Ghana's soccer malaise The malaise that afflicts Ghana soccer is rather simple. This malaise is nothing more than our lack of understanding of systems, how to develop, sustain, and improve upon such a system. In short, we lack the capability to build and maintain a viable soccer system that can met the demands of modern soccer in the 21st century. Truth be told, things weren't always like this in Ghana. You may recall that under Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana developed a viable soccer system (remember the Real Republicans?), which was so successful that Ghana went to four consecutive African cup finals in 1963, 1965, 1968, and 1970, winning the first two. Unfortunately, after Nkrumah's overthrow, while we continued to reap the fruit of the system he built, not enough resources were devoted to maintaining and enhancing the system to meet new challenges. Nevertheless, Ghana still managed to remain competitive and even won two more African cups in 1978 and 1982. Since then, we've been stuck in mediocrity, seemingly unable rise above the shadows of our past soccer accomplishments. Why has Ghana been relegated to the trash heap of soccer? The GFA, which is charged with developing Ghana soccer, has never undertaken a major overhaul of the currently inadequate system to meet new challenges. Their solutions to Ghana's soccer problems are woefully myopic and hopelessly shallow. Rather than focus on the long term, the GFA prefers short term solutions that would make them look good. Take for example Ghana is currently bidding for CAN2008. Of course, hosting CAN2008 will make us feel good, and put the GFA in a positive light as far as the average Ghanaian is concerned. Yet hosting such an event also requires adequate infrastructure, which costs money. Can the GFA justify how they can spend money to host CAN2008, yet are unwilling to commit fully with funding coach Barreto's program, including sponsoring the Black Stars to France for training? (Ghana will reportedly spend between US$100 million to US$150 million dollars to upgrade facilities at the Accra and Kumasi sports stadiums as well as the construction of new ones in Sekondi and Tamale). The GFA seems to think that changing coaches frequently is the solution to making Ghana a soccer power. The GFA must wake up and invest in building a viable system. This involves more than just renovating stadiums. It also involves investing in people, developing players from the grounds up, procedures and processes, as well as coaching, and ancillary personnel that can sustain the system over the long haul. Building a viable system will cost money, but the benefits of a well engineered system has consistently been proven to yield substantial results all over the world. Investing in systems costs money, but dividends far exceed costs Barely 20 years ago, the United States was a weak soccer power and the laughing stock of the soccer world. Prior to 1990, the US had not qualified for the World Cup finals in 40 years, their last appearance being the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. Recognizing that the popularity of soccer at the professional level in the US had declined over time, the US set about building a system that will identify existing talent, develop new talent through a youth farm, and a league system that can consistently improve the product on the field. Their ultimate goal was to make soccer a viable sport in the US, become a world soccer power, and to ultimately win The World Cup. The US approach was simple. After their mediocre performance at the 1990 World Cup tournament in Italy, the US hired a coach that was first and foremost a systems builder, Bora Milutinovic in 1991. At the same time, the US built a "farm" to develop the up-and-coming youth. They bid and successfully hosted the 1994 World Cup tournament. They also established a professional league - Major League Soccer (MLS) - in 1996. To gauge the success of the US soccer investment, please note that barely 20 years after they committed to developing a viable soccer system, the national team has been able to qualify for every single World Cup tournament since 1990. In 2002, the United States soccer team reached the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup in Korea. Majority of the players on that World Cup team came from the MLS. Today, the US is ranked # 8 in the world, with some of its players playing for top European clubs. It is interesting to note that even though organized soccer in the US goes as far back as 1862, the sport had failed to take hold until now because there was no viable system in place at the time. The United States Football Association (now the U.S.A. Soccer Federation), formed in 1913 and was recognized by FIFA, used to rely on aging foreign players. Not even the great Pele's popularity and world appeal was able to save US soccer in the 1970s, when he played for the New York Cosmos. In contrast, it took only 20 years for the US to become a major world soccer power once they were able to build a system. It is that system that discovered, nurtured, and developed the talent of Ghanaian born Freddy Adu. While some may question the enormous amounts of resources that have been poured into the development of soccer in the US, one only need look at the success rate of the US system. Again, let's digest the Freddy Adu story. Here is a boy who was put into the US farm system where his talent was nurtured and developed. Within a few years, he has signed $500,000 contract with MLS and an endorsement deal with NIKE worth a purported $1 million at the age of 14. Prior to coming to the US, Freddy had been right under the nose of the GFA and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, yet they never even knew he existed. Your guess is as good as mine that had Freddy remained in Ghana, he never would have been discovered by the GFA, let alone be developed into a world class potential that can generate a multi million dollar payback for the investment put into developing his talent over such a short period of time. As we speak, there are many more Freddy Adus in Ghana just waiting to be discovered. But the GFA, which is tasked with developing soccer, has neither the foresight, the capability, nor the wherewithal to do the right thing. Thus many of Ghana's future soccer stars will grow up in abject poverty, while the GFA continues to lead us into oblivion in the face of such abundant talent. Hopefully, Ghana can learn a lot from the US. GFA must support the coach in building a viable system Coach Barreto must be given a free hand to do his job. Thus far, he has pointed out some obvious problems and suggested solutions. Yet, no one seems to be paying attention to him. The following is a quote from a Ghanaweb.com article on May 7, 2004: National team coach, Mariano Barreto, has added his voice to the call for this year's Premier League to be rearranged to synchronize with the European calendar in order to save it from its present predicament. The Portuguese believes the nation's interest will be best served if the league is suspended till September to run concurrently with the European leagues. "That is the best option in the circumstance as the current tight situation does not favour a smooth running of the league", he emphasised. Speaking to the Graphic Sports in an interview last Tuesday, Coach Barreto said running the local league alongside that of Europe would afford our national teams an opportunity to arrange friendlies with their European counterparts, as well as pave way for adequate preparation for international assignments. He explained that that option would also facilitate the availability of foreign-based players to feature for the nation when necessary because their break would fit into the break in the national programme. He pointed out that as a national team coach, he expected the policy makers to consult him for his opinion when the issue came up for discussion recently at the GFA Congress." Have the policy makers (GFA and the Ministry of Youth, Education and Sports) consulted Coach Barreto on this issue yet? Do they intend to follow his recommendations, or are they going to continue doing things the same old way? Will the GFA and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports ever figure out how to build a viable soccer system? Coach Barreto presents us with a great opportunity, and we need to take advantage of it to shape our soccer future once and for all. Walter Kwami is an IT Infrastructure and Systems Engineering consultant living in Quincy Massachusetts Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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