Football is associated with passion, emotion, excitement and dedication across the continent of Africa and Ghana is no exception. The connoisseurs, pundits as well as the teeming fans of the football fraternity in the country have always demonstrated the highest zeal and passion whenever duty calls on the pitch – be it national teams’ engagement or watching their respective favourite football clubs play in the domestic football league or knock-out competitions.
However, such passion for the sports in Ghana was abruptly cut short following the release of investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ “Number 12 masterpiece” which revealed the extent of how corruption has been endemic in the domestic football league.
Though a lot of such pundits and fans have expressed varied views about the investigative work, the fact still remains that the entire administration and handling of all football related activities in the country will never be the same. This not to say that referees will not engage in alleged bribery again or team officials will also not indulge in match fixing anymore; however, each and every stakeholder will be far more cautious whenever approached by anyone to indulge in such activities.
Importantly, most Ghanaians have one way or the other expressed optimism of the new dawn that has befallen Ghana football and are hopeful to see an entirely new administration – regarding player management, player development and quality, development of pitches, player motivation among other factors – that intends making the new football regime a vibrant business entity able to fend for itself.
The nature and level football in Ghana finds itself now is just like a married woman who has been caught in bed cheating with another man. It would be difficult for the husband to accept her back, and even when accepted back, trust would be sorely lacking.
This is to mean that since a new administration will soon be out doored to manage the game, it is important to realize that much work needs to be done to “resuscitate” the game. Supporters and fans might still go to the stadia to watch their respective teams play, but their inevitably muted zeal and enthusiasm may not effectively rouse the players.
Some football experts in Europe have listed four basic principles of how to run a football club as well as football administration in order to create a successful business venture.
Instructively, football administration is said to be similar to managing a business entity. However, the various modalities are quite different. Despite the differences, football and business work together to guarantee the future of football clubs.
With regards to football, the fans and supporters are considered as the major stakeholders since in most cases, they invest heavily into the wellbeing of their respective clubs. In return for this exceptional gesture they demonstrate, their commitment is usually rewarded in the form of the emotional gratification all football fans desire, be it through chasing promotion, surviving relegation or being in a cup run.
Some experts in the football fraternity have noted that for far too long, clubs have not stuck to workable and dependable business strategies aimed at making football a viable business entity. Just like business management, succession planning – regarding long term and independent survival in the league – must be clearly stated and paramount to every club.
Succession planning also takes into account bonding the playing body, most especially certain key influential players who have the charisma to draw a substantial number of fans to the stadium, to play for a number of seasons.
This measure might not only result in continuity, but also lead to improving the level of player quality which adequately prepares them in continuing their respective professional football careers outside the country. Till today, there are Ghanaian footballers playing in countries less reputed for their football capabilities, like Tanzania, Kenya, Taiwan, Indonesia among others. This should not be surprising however because the game is better managed in such countries that we least consider as having Ghana’s pedigree.
A football expert and former Vice Chairman of Southend United in the United Kingdom, Mark Rubin writes in The Guardian (of London) and has pointed out a number of principles that can make football a viable business entity.
“Firstly, employ a manager who knows the dictates of the game. Secondly, continuity breeds success in football, thus the thought of sacking a “non-performing manager” must carefully be looked at unless necessary. Thirdly, use all income generated to run the club — players need to be paid fairly and on time, while bills must also be paid promptly. Fourthly, to generate further income, assets must be made to ‘sweat’ “.
In the case of the football club thus, for example, assets being made to sweat includes applying all reasonable means in securing funding through shirt sponsorship, corporate sales as well as individual sales. This ensures that everyone who wants to support the club are not left out. However, how can assets be made to sweat if the quality – regarding playing body and organization of the domestic league – are far below the expectations of the fans?
In a dissertation this writer conducted in 2014 which was centred on the factors affecting the decline in the attendance of Ghana premier league matches, 60 percent of the respondents stated that poor organization of the domestic league was rather contributing to the decline of the league as against 40 percent respondents who stated that poor player quality was the main factor affecting the league.
Beyond the four principles, there is also a responsibility on the shoulders of club managers and directors in ensuring that any income the club generates after compliance with principle three, is re-invested in the team. This is seen as imperative in the sense that many directors have used such income to finance their own external activities that are not related to football.
“Further, the directors must also be in a position to fund any additional player purchases, repayable on an interest free basis, and not to the detriment of continued compliance of principle three, should the manager make a good case for that investment. Beyond successful management of club financial affairs by directors, there needs to be assistance from the football league to guarantee the long-term survival of all clubs”, experts say.
Newly elected Ghana Football Association (GFA) President, Kurt Okraku has insisted that so long as Ghana is a developing country, the need arises for football organisers to work closely with government to ignite a sense of passion for the game and “create wealth for everybody”.
He has admitted that there is lots of work to be done and his manifesto addresses the need to offer basic logistical and infrastructure support for all clubs notably improving on the nature of pitches; player motivation among other things. “This is because the only way we can put the clubs back on track is to provide such facilities”, he reiterates.
It is also imperative to note that some key areas that need urgent funding and attention aside the poor nature of the pitches, include club branding and marketing, player quality and best organizational structure.
Most followers of the domestic football league, agree that watching some teams play at the stadium has never been encouraging to the teeming fans. This is to say that, the technical aspects of the playing body in terms ball possession and passing; shooting and heading all leave much to be desired. Their attempt to implement these key basic skills in football is very poor. This crucial shortcoming has the capacity to drive away investors as well as fans.
Player motivation plays an important role in ensuring the good quality of footballers in every league worldwide. When players are paid well, they tend to give out their best possible performance which impacts positively on the patronage of the league by fans. The reverse situation is largely responsible for the low patronage of the Ghana Premier League.
These circumstances indicate the need to invest heavily into youth (colts) football in an attempt to identify talents early and groom them. In effect, a premier league coach should not need to be teaching premier league players how to pass or when to shoot the ball on the field of play, but that is the unfortunate reality in Ghana today.
Bad pitches undermining quality of Ghana football
The importance of good facilities to player development should not be underestimated. Currently, the Baba Yara sports stadium in Kumasi, the Accra sports stadium and few other match venues constitute the small number of stadia with good pitches which make football very interesting and exciting to watch.
In effect, bad pitches have largely been characterized with the Ghana Premier League to the extent that during a live premier league game encounter, officials are forced to dye the pitch in order to enable sufficiently good watching on television, but in reality, that is not the case.
The officials of the Ghana Premier League have not adequately taken into account the effects of playing on bad and dangerous pitches, which pose health risk to players in the domestic league.
Elsewhere in Europe or some parts of the African continents notably North African countries and South Africa, organiers of their domestic leagues have always put up adequate measures in place to ensure the safety of their players by playing all reputable football matches on good pitches.
This measure has branded the quality of their domestic leagues which has further attracted a number of sponsors into their leagues. Bad pitches do not only cause dangerous injuries to players, but also make it very difficult for players to control the ball on the field of play. The situation is even worse during FA cup encounters as various first divisional teams lock horns with premier league sides where some of these matches are played at the home grounds of the second-tier sides.
In 2014, Head of Kumasi Asante Kotoko medical team, Dr. Kwaku Boateng made a passionate appeal to the Inspection Team of the Premier League Board (PLB) to carefully take another look at the nature and kinds of pitches they approve to hold league matches. The appeal follows data analysis compiled by the club’s medical team which stated that the major cause of injuries suffered by players of the club are as a result of bad pitches.
The inability of the 2010/11 Ghana Premier League Champions, Berekum Chelsea to continue playing at their favourite home grounds, the Golden City Park for the CAF Champions League group stage was as a result of the poor nature of their pitch then. Despite the club’s effort made to rehabilitate the stadium, CAF still insisted on a change of venue.
In the nut shell, the resulting value chain of playing on dangerous, uneven pitches drives away potential investors and sponsors and this turns to affect every aspect of the game.
Meanwhile, expectations of the football fraternity, as the new administration prepares to begin work are enormous. Majority have raised issues concerning over concentration on football to the detriment and seeming collapse of other sporting disciplines such as boxing, and athletics.
Even with football, the national senior men’s team, the Black Stars are given overwhelmingly more prominence than the other national teams as officials of the football association see it as money making venture since this is where they can most easily get corporate and institutional; sponsorship from, creating the opportunity to line their own pockets as a result.
These are the pertinent issues where the public are expecting a total change in direction. Failure to change that indicates a true reincarnation of the previous administration.