01.04.2004 League Report

Hearts And Co Add Spin to Club Versus Country Debate

By Michael Oti Adjei
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It's an age-old debate but certainly one that national team coach Mariano Barreto would have loved to avoid as preparations start for Ghana's crucial world cup qualifiers in June.

Who has control over player movement? The clubs who pay the wages or the national teams through whom many players get the utmost satisfaction from football by playing in all the big competitions there are?

It was an alien question to Ghana until sometime back when Herbert Mensah and Ernst Middendorp were in charge of the management and technical direction of Asante Kotoko about three years ago.

The pair insisted on the "right thing" being done and in the end, contributed significantly to the absence of the likes of Joe Hendricks and Osei Boateng from the Ghana squad that impressed in Mali at the 2002 African Nations cup.

Now the issue has cropped up again, prompted by Ghana's friendly match against FC Metz in France last Wednesday.

Mariano Barreto picked a few local players from Hearts, Kotoko and King Faisal but the clubs who are all preparing for African cup games next week were not impressed.

"We pay the wages, we have important matches to play ourselves in Africa and must have the full complement of the players,' was the main refrain.

Hearts of Oak who had two players in the party, Dan Quaye and Sammy Adjei said in a statement that they were disappointed with the FA's approach.

"We are disappointed neither the GFA General Secretary nor the FA itself saw it prudent to officially discuss the trip with our management, given that we as a club also have our corporate objectives which include qualifying for the league stage of the champions league, much the same way as the Black Stars would also want to qualify for the world cup and African cup of nations," a Hearts official said.

King Faisal's complaint was along same lines. With an African Confederations Cup debut to come in Zimbabwe next week, Faisal chief executive George Amoako said the club needed all their players available for the exercise. And their beef was that two of those players, Abubakari Yahuza and Hamza Mohammed had been whisked away to France for the friendly.

Kotoko weighed in with their criticism in their typical and abrasive fashion. Hans Kodric was quoted by the mouthpiece as being unhappy with the development, coming especially in the weeks before a crucial tie against ASEC in the champions league.

"This is one of the most important events on the calendar of the club. Why should the football authorities treat us this way?"

The club's chief executive Major Yaw Larson took the point further. He urged the GFA to change its mechanism of inviting players to the national team. The FA's conduct was labelled unprofessional by the club mouthpiece.

In a way, you must feel for the clubs. They pay the wages, foot the medical bills and have very important games coming up.

That the FA would call up the players without informing the clubs, if it is true, would be another tribute to the present FA's crass incompetence. You surely don't allow simple issues like communicating the invitation of players to the national side to create the sort of discontent that surfaced earlier this week.

I imagine the FA calling up Sammy Kuffuor without informing Bayern. They wouldn't dream and expect for a moment that Stephen Appiah would have made the short trip from Italy to France without first communicating the decision to Juventus.

So the clubs have a right to feel peeved. And like Larson said, it is about time the GFA revised its mode of inviting players to the national team.

But apart from properly informing the clubs about the invitation, what else do you do if you are the Ghana Football Association? Do you leave rare dates, which could be utilised bare because the clubs wouldn't be happy with the move?

The merits of the club arguments are many. They pay the wages and as the old saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tunes.

But let's face it. The very players whom the clubs seek to hold onto so dearly would rather be playing for the national team in an European friendly than stay in Accra or Kumasi with their colleagues in camp in preparation for the match.

On a larger scale too, you must feel that the clubs are pushing their case too much and ignoring some really fundamental issues for the larger national interest. It seems that for the clubs like everyone else, self-interest comes first.

Maybe, we all need some education on this but how much would the absence of Dan Quaye and Sammy Adjei for a few days affect Hearts in their first leg game against Aviacao?

Would around five days away from Hearts, Kotoko and King Faisal, to the national camp in the midst of all those players and in quality friendly games affect the clubs so badly to the extent of jeopardising their preparations for Africa?

The clubs were perfectly right to turn down the FA's invitation for camping earlier on in the year because there was no pressing need for that. And then the clubs were involved in those crucial Coca -Cola Top 4 games.

This time though, there was a free date on the international football calendar and the GFA at long last saw the sense in making the most of it. And even though we drew that game, the experience for Mariano Barreto must have been great.

He had in his words, a chance to speak to his players, look them in the eye and impress on them why Ghana is important.

The players got another opportunity to fraternise and build up the sort of spirit that would be so fundamental when the likes of Bafana Bafana and the rest came to town in the race for that all-important world cup qualifiers. And I suppose for the local players, it was another opportunity to stake a claim and earn a few more dollars.

Mali, Senegal and Cameroon have adopted that approach so successfully. They have built up teams by taking advantage of days like last Wednesday when in the whole world, international friendlies were the order of the day.

And in the cases of some players like Thierry Henry and the Arsenal contingent, there are crucial champions league games to come next Wednesday, yet the clubs did not see that as sabotage.

So the next time another day like that becomes available, we must take it with both hands and strengthen the Black Stars further.

But as Larson said, the mode of inviting players must be right. That sorted the protestations of the clubs at the GFA for throwing their African Cup preparations off gear.

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