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01.04.2006 Sports News

Our Beloved Blacks Stars Will Only Do Well ...

By Bannerman , Nii Lantey Okunka

...As A Real Team: Do You Hear Me Doya? I watched the soccer match between Ghana and Mexico and what I saw did not sit well with me. Indeed, I watched the game again with a good friend of mine and we both had reasons to be concerned. Not about the color of the jersey or whether the men tucked in their jerseys or not. As one who vehemently supports the notion or idea that the coach must be allowed to his job, I found it rather troubling but not enough to change my steadfast position. Perhaps, it will help if we know what the coach is trying to do with the team. Unfortunately, this coach says very little and the press has failed to push their long snouts into his office. If I were a journalist, I will visit his office every week until he leaves for the world cup. Maybe mandatory bi-weekly press conferences by the coach will help keep us posted. We need to hear more from the coach on a frequent basis. More importantly though, the sports authorities must sit down with him and ask the right questions. They should watch previous matches with him and find out what his strategy is. This effort should not be an excuse to tell him what to do but an attempt to understand what he is trying to do and provided useful and constructive feedback. I am not sure if we are playing defensive soccer or just kicking the ball around till ninety minutes is over. We need some answers.

Ghanaians love their soccer! As kids, some of us played it everywhere we were allowed to. It was probably the most interesting and cheapest sport to play growing up. I remember gutter to gutter and other renditions of soccer that we employed and some of us still have the never healing scars to show for it. I also remember those dark days when one ended up with hard cold cassava and light soup, with a fly or two swimming in the soup because we opted to play soccer instead of showing up to pound fufu. Shieeee!! Now you know why I am not a fun of fufu. Rice is my thing! For some reason, laboriously preparing fufu seem to always be in the way of exciting soccer. This love for soccer later translated into supporting teams of our choice at the national level. Logically, therefore, one can understand why we love our national team and will like to see them do well at the upcoming world cup tournament. In the midst of political tension and tribal orchestrations, our national team is one thing that can bring us together. If even it means sharing a beer or two with political opponents. Our whole summer hinges on it and Doya better not forget that. Nothing short of doing well at the world cup will do. I seriously mean nothing! We are not hooligans like English soccer funs but we can be heard if we want to.

As with most sports organizations, leadership is nested at various levels. The same goes with the Black Stars. We have the sports minister, the GFA, the coach, technical team, team captain and other de facto leaders on the field. A team is basically two or more people united around a mission, acting reasonably and purposefully towards results they share collectively and responsibly. It was interesting to hear Duke University basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski say, after losing to big baby and the LSU team, that, “we win and lose together”. I hope the Black Stars and its management will adopt the wise words of the seasoned coach on what teamwork means. The leadership will also be better served if they note the fine difference between a team and teamwork. Having a team does not guarantee teamwork. It takes hard work to get teamwork out of a team. If the right levers are not in place all we will have is a team without any teamwork to accomplish the mission. Collective responsibility must be preached and practiced daily to cultivate the culture of real teamwork.

The mission of the Black Stars is to win and to do that everyone on the team must do their job flawlessly. This includes all (from minister to players) because they will collectively be held responsible if they fail to produce. We want a team effort from the whole group. No exceptions! To get the job done as a team, roles must be clearly defined, communication polished and effective, decisions made appropriately and inclusively, conflicts settled in a timely fashion, motivation spruced and synergy at a very high level. It is critical that all on the team be on the same wavelength if success is to be achieved. A collection of stand alone talent is not going to cut it. Ghanaian men are known for ego issues. All the players must endeavor to check their ego at the door. They should come to the team with a simple understanding that they are all peers gathered together to accomplish the goal of winning. The mission must override all personal goals and interests that are not consistent with the mission. The latter goes especially to those foreign players who either condescend towards the local players or assume that the world owes them a living. This is not the time to bitch about jerseys or cry for not being allowed to wear your own custom made boots. If I have something to say or do about this, everyone will wear the same jersey and boots. Screw the sponsors and advertisers who end up subverting team morale by forcing players to appear different as a way of promoting their wares. Our national interest must override all commercial interest. Discipline is going to be key on and off the field. Our men are ambassadors of the country and should not do anything that will tarnish the image of Ghana.

Since we qualified for the world cup, Ghana has not shown much promise as it prepares toward the world cup. This is cause to worry but worrying alone is not going to get the job done. We have to use the little time that is left to clean up our act so that we can show up and play great football at the tournament. I don't know what the coach is trying to do and how he plans on pulling it off. Perhaps it will be helpful if the press can ferret out the scoop to put our minds at ease. This is not the time for soviet style secrecy. Some coaches don't like giving out their strategy and if that is the case with Doya, I can relate. However, Doya will be better served if he finds a way to at least hint the Ghanaian population at large on what he is doing. His best bet at the moment is a well informed yet restive Ghanaian football followership. He will get a lot more support and tolerance from the public if he communicates his intent, instead of the silence and continued failures we experience since we qualified for the tournament.

Doya must also understand and I am sure he probably knows this more than I do, that, a team is not just a collection of pedigreed players. You can have the best eleven players in the world on your team but if they don't know or learn how to play with each other, a less than average team that knows how to play with each other will give them fits and bouts. If you think I am just blowing hot steam, follow the story of George Mason University men's basketball team. There is no better example of teamwork from a group with average talent. It takes more than a gaggle of world class players to win. There must be synergy and cohesion. I frankly did not see the latter in our match with Mexico. I also did not see a sense of purpose. The players played as if there was not much at stake and we lost over half our balls as soon as we went past midfield. Indeed, one could not tell a striker from a defender. There was also ineffective communication and it clearly showed. The players have not mastered each other's idiosyncrasies. That sixth sense of knowing where the pass is going to go instinctively did not show. All the above point to a team without clearly defined roles and not in sink. A team that is not communicating well. The rest of the work that needs to be done at this moment is more mental than anything else.

Also, in every team, there are core players around whom the team is built. These players carry their unfair share of the load for the good of the team. The coach defines their role and motivates them as such to carry that load. The players accept that role and execute accordingly. I did not see this as well with our team. Where is the core of the black stars? Perhaps Stephen Appiah is the epitome of this notion. Our midfield did not show up at all. No wonder our strikers were not visible. Who had the task of feeding the strikers? Never once did I see Doya on the touch line showing any emotion whatsoever. Maybe that is not his style but I would love to see more emotion from him. When that legitimate goal was strangely disallowed in the Mexico match, it was Kufour that protested and not the coach. Come on coach! Stand up for the men and the country! Ghana is an African team and there is no doubt that the ruling on the field during the world cup will go against us when we play these Europeans and others. We don't belong to the elite of world soccer and must expect crappy and often batty treatment. That has been the trend if you watched Senegal and Cameroon play in previous world cups. The odds are stacked against us and it will take some assertiveness to palliate the situation.

As we inch towards the world cup, there is no doubt that the mind games have already started. Lately, the Italian coach is reported to have intimated that Ghana has a very good team and that most of our losses occurred without our top players. I implore Doya to ignore these kinds of mind games. Every game that we lost, we lost on merit. We must accept these losses as if we played with our best and brightest and learn from them. We don't need any one to make excuses that will make us feel good or become complacent. We must be highly motivated against any team that we play. Every team is an enemy that must be dealt with ruthlessly. As we all know, in the game of soccer, injuries can and do happen anytime. If it does, you play with who you have. So what if all our so-called best players are hurt and can't play? Will we be making these kinds of excuses? This is why our bench players should be just as good as the starters.

It might be interesting for the coach of the Blacks Stars and indeed the sports authorities to note that Klinsman, the coach of the German team, has already hired a sports psychologist to work with his players on mental toughness and other aspects of the game. You see, at this level, the game is more than just physical abilities. Indeed most players are probably at their best physically and athletically. What is often lacking is the psychological piece. For example, will we show so much respect to Italy because of their soccer history or will we cower to the Checzs because they are ranked number two in the world? How do you overcome early goals? How do you size up the strategy of the opponent? Soccer is not just brawn but brains as well. As a group of people who are overly superstitious, it may be very critical to have a sports psychologist work with our players to overcome inane issue like the color of jerseys and whether the rainbow is up or not. Yes, a black cat may run across the field but we can win without anyone dying. Please don't take any rotten eggs onto the field as well. Lock out all the Malams, Juju charlatans and false prophets because we are not going to need them. Well, when all is said and done, we are going to need all the mental toughness we can harness to pull through.

Let me end by sounding this warning to all the leaders involved in getting our beloved Black Star ready. We will hold you responsible for any failures collectively. We therefore ask that the minister of sports create a team environment for all the leaders to come together to work towards victory. This is not the time to point fingers or blame. It is also not the time to create doubts and suspicion. It is not the time to undermine anyone, especially the coach. It is also not the time for partisan politics. This is the time to bonk seriously for Ghana and nothing short of that will be acceptable. My two cents to coach Doya is this, play a slow game against the fast European game and 4-2-4 may not be such a bad idea Also try some long shots on top of the eighteen (hahahahahaha). In the end coach, do what you know is right and bring glory to a country we so much cherish and love. I mean very dearly. It is time to communicate, motivate, share and provide collective support. We must all act as a team to cheer on our men on to victory. We will be with you in spirit and may the flag of Ghana be lifted higher! I am already packing my bag for Ghana! Yes Ghana, that is where I will be cheering from and may our ancestors lead us to complete victory. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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