If you think keeping up with the Kardashians is tough, well, try keeping up with the Black Stars.
Ghana’s flagship national team is a reality show and a soap opera rolled into one; blink, even for a moment, and you’d miss a great deal. On the pitch or away from it, it seldom fails to generate box-office stuff — and somehow, regardless of how indifferent we claim to be, Ghanaians are hooked on the Stars’ rather unhealthy diet of drama.
Granted, national teams — with all the egos they house — are natural breeding grounds for theatre; the likes of Cameroon, France and Nigeria have all had their moments on the biggest stages. Still, Ghana does hold its own even in such company, boasting expertise in brewing rich, frothing controversy out of the most basic ingredients. The most spectacular episode yet, of course, played out at the 2014 Fifa World Cup where two players were sacked from camp (both are still in exile, by the way) for alleged misbehavior and the entire playing body revolted over unpaid fees, ultimately signing off with a Hollywood-worthy finale.
But indiscipline and money haven’t always troubled the Stars’ — a stretchy piece of polyester has. I can only think as far back as the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations — still an awfully long time, wouldn’t you say? — with respect to Ghana’s captaincy chronicles. That was when the team’s handlers felt France-based/French-speaking Abedi Ayew, as skipper, would appreciate the Francophone flavour of that particular edition of the Nations Cup better than incumbent Kwesi Appiah (more on him later) would, and thus triggered a switch. The transition, despite Ghana going on to the reach the final and narrowly miss out on glory, was uneasy. It would not be the last time.
Ayew would continue in the role for a while, eventually being succeeded on his retirement by Germany-based Charles Akonnor. The latter had the ‘luxury’ of a smooth handing-over, but his tenure itself soon came to an abrupt end when, after applying for — and receiving — German citizenship in 2001, he was never again considered for national selection. It left Akonnor bitter — just like Appiah before him — and left the team requiring a new leader. Samuel Osei Kuffour — also playing in Germany at the time — declined the honour, perhaps in solidarity with Akonnor, and it fell to another Osei Kuffour, Emmanuel (not a relation of the former), for the 2002 Nations Cup.
But it wasn’t until the sterling captaincy of Stephen Appiah that the armband ceased being a flaming subject. Under Appiah, there was calm and quiet, and even when he was eventually phased out, the office of a ‘general captain’ (whatever that means) was created to supposedly ease the changeover. It worked then, as it did when Appiah’s successor — John Mensah — also came and went.
Appiah (remember him from 1992?) became Ghana head coach for a first time in 2012 and almost immediately replaced Mensah with Asamoah Gyan. That went well. This year, in his second stint at the helm, Appiah has found reason to negotiate and oversee another change in leadership of the Stars, but it has quickly rolled into a giant ball of mess in the last few days, probably because of everything that’s happened in the intervening seven years — namely, a rumored long-running power tussle between Gyan and his deputy, Andre Ayew (bearer of a surname you might recall from the Senegal brouhaha).
Appiah’s decision to elevate Ayew to the main job and ‘demote’ his superior to general captain mere months ahead of Ghana’s participation at the 2019 Nations Cup was not received well by Mr. Gyan, prompting the Kayserispor forward’s retirement on Monday evening. It lasted all of 41 hours, however, with a ‘presidential request’ by H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo dragging Gyan right back to the Stars.
Gyan’s place in Appiah’s squad for the tournament — announced not long after the player rescinded his decision — is secure, but his exact place in Appiah’s plans at the event itself remains to be seen. Whatever happens, even if Ghana go all the way again as they did 27 years ago in a bid to end a barren spell that began a decade prior, this episode would be a constant theme throughout the team’s run in Egypt — and that’s not to suggest there wouldn’t be even more drama along the way, knowing the Stars.
Brace yourselves, people!
Sammie Frimpong — Daily Mail GH